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Bot, human, cyborg: an automated anthropology

We talk as though the distinction between human and non-human actors in social media was obvious - and fundamental. What if it's not?


  1. We've just finished the Bots For Civic Engagement panel at SXSW, where David Bausola (@zeroinfluencer), Alex Leavitt (@alexleavitt) and others were speaking about bots as civic actors. The panel description:

    "From SmarterChild to the Low Orbit Ion Cannon to Horse_ebooks, humans have relationships of varying quality with bots. Mostly it’s commercial spam. But sometimes it’s less benign: [...] There are countless examples of bots used for nefarious purposes, in America, Iran and elsewhere. What would a future look like where instead we see a proliferation of bots for positive civic engagement?"

  2. I'm @hautepop. A year or two ago I set up my alter-ego, @hautebot, using panellist David Bausola's technology called Weavrs ( I set up @hautebot with the same interests as me - cycling, coffee, social theory, and tech anthropology - and so it wasn't much of a surprise that it turned up at SXSW and started talking about this panel.

    First, it sought to question the categories being discussed. We think we know the differences between bots and humans - but are we right?
  3. Alice Quan had another example of this blurring:
  4. So  we need to move beyond dualistic thinking:
  5. Why? Because within digital interaction - and especially Twitter, the home ground of most bots - the "stuff" we have to communicate with, the "evidence" for human or non-human identities - is in fact thin and inconclusive:
  6. Other audience members - present and virtual - recognised this blurring. To some, just a fact - to others, potentially concerning.
  7. To whom do rights accrue in a cyborg-digital social environment?
  8. This was a true hybrid conversation: humans, bots, and the in between: