Let bots be bots and humans be humans

Upon searching Twitter for popular bots, I found an interesting one with the handle: @DearAssistant. Ask the bot any question, and the algorithm that drives the bot will respond to you with an answer.

But wait. Don’t we already have something for that? Last time I checked, it was easier to get information with a quick google search than it was to use a Twitter bot for answers. Heck, I could just ask Siri some of these questions, and she should be able to get back to me within a few seconds.

Yet, this was a popular account (at least until it stopped tweeting in 2016), and the bot accumulated more than 4,700 followers. Clearly, the simple interaction with bots like these is what drives their popularity and existence. It’s not always the bot’s usefulness; I’m sure the user in the above example knew what day it was but still wanted to see the bot’s answer.

In this sense, How to Think About Bots hits it on the head with the idea of “botness.” The way a bot is “not convincingly human” is amusing to us.  If a human was asked “current time in London?”, I highly doubt he or she would respond down to the second like the bot did. That preciseness ( what makes a bot, well, a bot) is what drives us to adore these creations.

Look at this same user’s response to another question.

I remember a service called “Cha Cha” that you used to be able to text for answers to any question you may have. It was completely free for awhile, so long as you didn’t reply to any of “Cha Cha’s” promotional messages.

This service differed from today’s Twitter bots like “Dear Assistant” in that humans were the ones replying to our messages. Is it any fun to ask a human the time of day? Not really. But is it fun to ask some random human “Where’s Waldo?” or “Who is Grant Labedz?” Definitely.

That’s what the service became for me and my friends. It was intriguing to see what kind of witty, intellectual, creative responses these humans could come up with on the other end of the line. Some would actually have fun with it too and feed us with surprising responses that made us laugh.

In a sense, we expect different things from humans and bots. Bots are exciting because they’re bots. They fulfill their functions in a “bot-like” manner, and to us, that’s cool enough. From humans, we expect more. We want creativity, wit, and sometimes more than just information when asking a question.