The Noisy Channel


The Great Hatsby and Other IM Bots

November 22nd, 2008 · 7 Comments · General

In recent weeks, I’ve been hit several times by instant messenger bots. The bots are rather clever, and evidently started in 2006 as TheGreatHatsby:

TheGreatHatsby[1][2] is an AIM bot which instigates conversations between pairs of AIM accounts. Its name is a play on words from the book The Great Gatsby. It is a relay bot that retrieves the list of most recent LiveJournal posts and obtains the AIM screen names of their authors. It then sends users the message “i say, old bean, have you seen my hat?” from one of its screen names.

Responses from users are forwarded by the bot to another one of the users similarly contacted. These two users are paired up, and any message which one of them sends to the bot will be forwarded to the other. Thus, if neither of the users is aware of TheGreatHatsby, they will each think that the other user contacted them, and that the other user’s screen name is the bot’s screen name.

Messages containing a user’s true screen name will have that screen name replaced with the bot’s screen name; similarly, if a message contains the bot’s screen name, it will be replaced by the screen name of the user receiving the message. This adds to the confusion, since copy-and-pasted chat logs will appear as though the users really were messaging each other directly.

Specifically, I’ve been hit by “Coho bots“, which are bots as described above¬†with names of the form “<adjective>Coho”.

I had ignored the messages in the past, but I finally decided to respond to one. Even though I was unfamiliar with IM bots, I naturally assumed that an IM user named “FidgetyCoho” was a bot. So I was taken aback by the very human responses I received in response to my response. After my unwitting (and unamused) conversational partner and I each established that the other was human, I did my research and learned the above about Coho bots.

Between this experience and my recent bout with a focused comment spammer, I must say I’m impressed and disturbed by the increasing level of sophistication of social media spamming. Absent a robust means of establishing identify and a cultural will to use it, I only see things getting worse.

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Daniel Lemire // Nov 22, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Interesting. You know, it may very well these spammers who make AI a reality. We are challenged to differentiate human beings from machines, and we realize we cannot.

    See my posts My Fight Againt Comment SPAM: Spambots pass the Turing test! and How artificial intelligences are already at war with us.

    BTW do you think I am real, or a computer fabrication? How do you know?

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Nov 22, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    That is an interesting take on the Turing Test–dare I call it a Turing Test 2.0? Of course, these bots are “cheating” in that they are for the most part co-opting real human beings, and the comment spammers I cited are also mostly human-powered. So I see this more as social engineering than AI.

    PS. If you are an AI, I think you’ve earned the right to live among us folk who are natural and aspiring towards intelligence. I’ll spare you from the Flesh Fairs.

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  • 4 Erica Naone // Nov 26, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Are these sorts of bots just pranks, or is there some commercial motivation on top of that? I thought spam comments were out to get clicks, but I can’t see the value (other than lulz) that someone might get from these IM bots.

  • 5 Daniel Tunkelang // Nov 26, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Erica, I think you’re right that there’s no value here other than entertainment to whomever gets to view the logs and sadistic pleasure for whomever sic these bots on unsuspecting victims. I supposed you could use this technique to develop language models for conversation, but there are surely more effective and efficient ways to accomplish that goal.

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  • 7 mark // May 14, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    all i say is l0l at these chatroom bots, they’re ridiculously stupid

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