Sunday, June 25, 2006

Return of the Cyber Street Walkers

My second worst addiction is Yahoo! Chess, where you can find players of all skill levels--night and day--for a 4-minute blitz game.

Like any web community, Yahoo!Chess has an Instant-Message window, where the chatter alternates between chess nerds flirting and homophobic racists spouting names at Bush-whacking foreigners. That is, until about a year ago, when the streets of our cyber neighborhood--like those of any thriving economy--attracted the online equivalent of hookers. In order to drive traffic to their pornographic web sites, these clever bots engage players with flirtatious chatter crafted to simulate genuine chess-playing hotties.

While the chat window hadn't previously interested me, I now enjoyed watching these bots fool even chess masters smart enough to force checkmate in seconds with just a bishop and a knight. Finally, profit has motivated the development of artificial intelligence that can pass Turing's Test with an A!

Sidebar: the Turing Test

In 1950, the father of computer science Alan Turing published "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" in which he proposed a practical alternative to the meaningless rhetoric around the question of whether machines can think. Turing observed that it would be difficult to deny the presence of cognition in an artifically intelligent machine if a human judge, communicating textually with both the machine and another human being, cannot identify which is which. An unclaimed prize awaits the programmer whose invention passes the test, and meanwhile an annual prize awards the best contenders. (You can appreciate first-hand the progress made from Eliza in 1966 to Jabberwacky in 2005.)

Unlike other AI engines, the Yahoo! bots do not even incorporate the human being's questions into their responses. Rather, they exploit the disjointed nature and shallow personae of adolescent chat to spoof a teenage girl, as demonstrated by these pearls of wisdom recently quoted--typos and all--from A_busty_babe_cc_32 (interjected with comments from armandolinares001, a naive suitor):

can any guys beat me?
you play good
19/f bored with pics in profile
can i see?
Hi... 19/f :-) Pics in my profile
do you have a profile?
yeah, in my profile
armandolinares001: hi
tee hee
armandolinares001: wat?
are you married?
armandolinares001: no u?
I love cheesy poofs
you play good
19?F/Cali web cam and pics in my profile!
I'm feelin gfrisky
thats hot

The enterprising authors of these bots obviously found a market because, as I expected, Yahoo!Chess was soon overrun by them, competing for attention in the sort of bot-on-bot action seen below.

With the bots obviously working--so to speak--I was surprised two weeks ago when they suddenly disappeared, just like that. (For readers of the novel Earth Abides, the life cycle of internet scourges like this one recall the rise and fall of species in the power vacuum of post-human Earth.) And then, just as suddenly one week later, they all re-appeared, as if returning en masse from the Hooker Bot Conference in Vegas.

The only clue I have to their mysterious hiatus is the difficulty logging into game rooms that week, often trying several times before I could get in. In their game of cat and mouse with the pornographers, was Yahoo! testing a new filter mechanism? My guess is that it excluded the bots at the expense of user experience, forcing a retreat to the staus quo.

So the bots are back, but like any good internet scourge (email viruses, spam, P2P song theft, click fraud...), the scammers colonized so quickly that they overhunted their prey--the Fooled Chess Player is now as rare as Japanese coastal tuna or American Buffalo.

Meanwhile, if you're seeking a real bot relationship, I recommend you find one with broader and less prurient interests. The best one out there is Spleak, who will buddy up with any user of MSN Messenger.

Ed. note: If you don't believe this story, check out Yahoo! Chess for yourself (and while you're there, invite me to your table for a quickie).

Blogged with Flock


  1. The bots on yahoo are too annoying. Lately there is no one but bots in the chat rooms.

    The bot conversation gets a little weird when the bots plug in a few common phrases that might be closer to what you have heard about you.

    Like a bot typed in "you ask too many questions" which is what my gf says sometimes. That is when we tend to assume maybe it is not a bot speaking to me but a real person afterall.

  2. Anonymous8:39 AM

    Consider using ICC instead for online chess. Higher quality of player, better controls, no bots.

  3. Anonymous9:15 PM

    This reminded me of the low-tech version I read about here:

    A magazine wrote an article about guys with dolls for girfriends (not the musical).

  4. Okay I have made the rounds and ICC wins by a long shot. I love the game selector, where you can pick tables based on rating and time, and I find opponents to play much faster than at RedHot or Yahoo. Of course, I do miss A_busty_babe_cc_32.


  5. Anonymous8:39 AM

    i totally know what you mean about thw quality of these game chat boxes. While never a fan of the usual nerdy games, i have played a bit of online pool which offers such an opportunity.

    its amazing how crazy the prepubescent nerds go when they realise theres a 'real girl'

    I too could be a bot, you'd never know... cept my nickname is 'Fatty' - nuff said.

  6. Anonymous4:54 AM


    On a serious note, any suggestions for 'safe' chess sites? My 8- year old was really enjoying Yahoo Chess until the chat capability got me somewhat concerned... (correctly, it seems)

  7. vic,

    Yahooligans has a safe chess site for kids, without chat.