No, robots themselves are not governing the world as some works of Science Fiction envisioned, but unscrupulous humans are using a variant called a bot to attempt just that. Here’s what they’ve got bots to do posing as humans.
* Buy up all of the tickets to popular entertainment events and resell for millions in profits.
* Create five star reviews for products to entice unsuspecting buyers. (A single vengeful robot master could also destroy a company or product with one star reviews.)
* Distort public opinion by flooding public comment sites of government agencies.
* Spread propaganda using social media. (Twitter admits to estimates of 27 million fake accounts. Facebook concedes it was essentially hacked during the 2016 elections. Junk news was shared as widely as professional news in Michigan according to an Oxford researcher1 , who also studied the Brexit vote and the French election.)
It is one thing to interfere with commerce, but democracy depends on voters having factual information. Otherwise we will be governed not by robots but by worse, the evil among us. Tim Wu, who authored the article for this blog, suggests we are not far from the following.
* Campaign limit spending by individuals thwarted by using bots to make contributions.
* Voting bots as the ultimate destruction of democracy.
So what’s being done or what should we do? The Captchas we have to fill out to prove we are not a robot are becoming more prevalent. Despite their annoyance— wish they were more legible—they or something similar needs to be more widely employed. Perhaps social media sites should be legally required to employ means to guarantee their members are human. It should also be illegal to use any program that hides its real identity.
If we don’t do something the disastrous results predicted by Science Fiction will get worse.
- Philip Howard, runs the Oxford Computational Propaganda Research Project
Post Publication: Hackers at a cybersecurity convention were able to break into every voting machine used in recent US elections and manipulate the software to register fake ballots and change vote tallies.See NYTimesArticle.