BOTS: The Origin of New Species by Andrew Leonard

BOTS: The Origin of New Species

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An intriguing if somewhat frightening view of how the very fringes of a subculture (in this case, the computing subculture) can affect society. Leonard, a contributor to Wired magazine, takes an alternately enthusiastic and cautious view of the technology that has given rise to ""bots""--a shortened form of the word ""robot"" used to describe computer programs that may take on human tasks. The word ""robot,"" the author points out, is from the Czech for ""slave,"" and in one original definition provided by Isaac Asimov in his book I, Robot, these creatures were supposed to be inherently helpful to humans. However, as Bots demonstrates, using numerous examples, computer hackers are more and more using bots to disable computing systems, engage in personal attacks, and generally cause nuisances all over the ever-expanding Internet. Leonard gives his best example of the dual nature of bots in his discussion of Usenet--the bulletin board--type news service that serves special-interest groups. While some bots have been quite helpful in Usenet, as in the case of ""soc.culture.russian,"" a newsgroup once cluttered with off-topic and offensive posts that now uses a bot to moderate the forum, last year's mass cancellation of messages concerning minority groups (most prominently Jews and Asians), also performed by a hot, is an example of technology gone horribly awry. Happily, Leonard is not unaware of the geck factor--he quotes one anonymous hacker who asserts that ""we aren't computer nerds with thick glasses. . . . I wear contacts""--and such levity moderates other meditations, such as Leonard's point that ""as bots get smarter, the fallout that their deeds generate will only intensify."" While Leonard may go a bit far in suggesting with his subtitle that bots could be an artificial form of intelligence, his Darwinian point, that only through conflict can any species (be it human or robotic) improve, is well taken.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1997
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: "Hardwired (520 Third St., 4th Fl., San Francisco, CA 94107)"