tumblr_inline_o8kg6f0jTQ1qaa948_1280bot: anthropomorphized algorithm with a UI

drone: Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)

bots and drones are two ways technology is making itself apparent to people, and they’re apparent to us in very different ways. i’m going to be discussing our experiences of both: compare, contrast, then try to conceive of something that’s neither (or both). bots are interactive, playful devices in our lives. a chatbot, a photo bot, a game bot, an art bot. the list goes on, but the emphasis is on small size and exploration. drones are devices that are remote and automated. a surveillance drone, a racing drone, a military drone. they’re extensions of power and sight. bot has a cute, positive valence, while drone has a menacing, negative one.

first off, i want to admit: i like bots.

i’ve been tinkering ever since i was a little girl. tiny gewgaws from clothespins and rubber bands. monsters from discarded rubberbands and paperclips. even though these are static objects, i’d like to think of them as proto bots. for little me, a ‘‘bot’’ didn’t have to accomplish a task. i made proto-bots to entertain myself. they might flip something across the room, but that was secondary.

these things were formed from limited materials and a child’s mind.

here’s a recreation of one of my proto-bots:


i made this proto-bot in a coffee shop with items i had in my purse. mint tin, chapstick, sticker, hair ties, markers, memory card case, advil.

it doesn’t do anything except make me happy.

its name is Toothsome.

today i make bots mostly on Twitter out of Python or Ruby scraps that i copied shamelessly. there’s a certain level of frivolity behind most of my bots, which makes them unique, fun, possibly precious:

they allow me to play online even when i’m asleep or working (ex. @thextheyandthez, a tribute to The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly)

tumblr_inline_o8kgc7ucq71qaa948_1280they uncover the distant, strange boundaries of an idea (ex. @lichmaze, a fake game concept)

tumblr_inline_o8kggx6j3T1qaa948_1280they reflect my own words back to me like an oracle (ex. @teenlich, which is made from my old livejournal)

tumblr_inline_o8kgh78N021qaa948_1280bots are a form of introspection for me. they help me answer personal questions.

how can i better understand my teenage self?

why do labyrinths fascinate me?

to what extent can i take this ridiculous joke?

what is gender, anyway?

i keep making bots because i keep having questions and experiences that are hard for me to comprehend. a bot expands a concept in serial, revealing unanticipated combinations in the process. sometimes it’s an uncanny turn of phrase. other times it’s a recontextualized memory or utterance.

drones are another kind of automated creature that people make. the thought of a drone conjures up the humming of a mindless bee army. drones are used to expand the presence of a person or government. drones kill. drones deliver. drones surveil. governments, in particular the US Government, use drones to do great harm abroad. today UASes are a big arm of the military science industrial complex, and they’re only making more.

on the other hand, as a culture, we have anthropomorphized bots into cute little artificially (un)intelligent homunculi. our hopes of making real AI give bots a certain cuteness and relatability that drones certainly don’t have, but all that spontaneity and humanity comes from the bot creator and their acceptance of error.

joke bots & murder drones

tumblr_inline_o8kgnghQn21qaa948_1280(image source)

this place we’ve gotten ourselves into reminds me of the movie TOYS (1992). cute heir to toy empire (Robin Williams) fights against general who wants to militarize playthings. 

even though the plot of TOYS is attractive today, the dichotomy between good friendly bots/evil servant drones isn’t useful. bots aren’t that smart and drones aren’t that mindless. both are cultural constructs around how we automate processes. i’m not going to try and make drones cute. i have a nightmare that people start naming drones things like “@tiny_destroyer.” cute-fying or gamifying violence/control will likely become a trend as drones and the children of drones come to the fore.

bots aren’t all good, either (ex. @_grammar_ and @RedScareBot), and their association with cuteness and play can obfuscate when bots are doing something terrible (take for example, what happened with Microsoft’s @Tayandyou http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/24/11297050/tay-microsoft-chatbot-racist.)


when we create things, we are always solving a problem. we create drones to do things we’d rather not, to try and erase responsibility. we created bots to keep ourselves company online. the effects that both have make our intentions clear.


today, drones put our own inhumanity on display. it’s disheartening and worrisome. silly little bots help somewhat: they make me feel more hopeful about technology.

i hope that one day we learn how to code empathy like we’ve learned to code cruelty.

or maybe it will be the other way around: our tiny bots teach us empathy.

thanks for reading!