Your Favorite Authors, Now Chat Bots!

How do you think Fyodor Dostoevsky would react to Google Docs? Do you think he would embrace the collaborative writing tool or instead remain invested in the Enlightenment individualism that accounts for much of contemporary writing practice and thought?

Google gives you… kind of an answer to this question with this spiffy (and mostly silly) Google Docs demo of collaborating with dead authors. It may be powered by chat bots, but fun, right? I have to say that I most adore Edgar Allen Poe’s unnecessary adverbs. Here’s my “collaboration.”

The Cows Collaboration

Of course, this sort of thing can’t be taken too seriously. But it sure is a lot of fun! Thanks to instructor Kevin Hodgson‘s heads-up via NWP’s Digital Is for sharing this!


Sure, I have a Twitter account. I used to follow taco trucks in L.A. via Twitter regularly. Alas, taco trucks are a (sadly) nonexistent entity in the great wilds of Davis and I’ve found little use for it otherwise.

Yet understanding Twitter seems to be an essential component to understanding not only contemporary pop culture, but also changing literacy practices. I happen to like the idea of micro-blogging; to restrict one’s thoughts to 140 characters is an amazing exercise in discipline and creativity, much like six-word memoirs.

Aside from guilt at not yet starting a Twitter account, this is a short post to share the following video:

First: Escape and Control is a really cool channel on YouTube started by journalist Jon Ronson.  Each video within the channel is a “micro-documentary” including an interview with someone who “controls the Internet” in even the most minute way. Fascinating stuff, I think!

This particular (and most recent) interview especially captured my interest. Ronson interviews Tim Hwang, a web analyst with The Web Ecology Project about the creation of “TwitterBots.” Hwang and some of his colleagues made fake Twitter accounts, entirely run by robots, and determined which bots earned (supposedly) human followers and which ones tanked. Through the bots, Hwang and his colleagues were attempting to determine what attracted Twitter users to others and how people make connections online.

Seeing how people respond to the bots really makes me question what it is that “makes us human” in online spaces. How do we know that the written qualities that we deem as quintessentially human – e.g. wit, intellectualism, creativity –  cannot, in fact, be reduced to a program? How do we determine authorship in cyberspace and in what ways do increasingly sophisticated bots complicate our struggle to distinguish human from digital rhetoric?