My latest for Wired:
One of the funniest people on Twitter isn’t a person at all. It’s a bot called @Horse_ebooks.
It was originally built as a promotional vehicle for a series of digital books, but in the years since it has developed a life of its own — not to mention a sizable cult following. Its tweets range from the cryptic (“I Will Make Certain You Never Buy Knives Again”) to the bizarre (“No flow of bile to speak of. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later. later.”).
OK, it’s no George Carlin, but it’s funnier than most of the Twitter one-liners from your friends and family — and it’s not even trying. It’s randomly grabbing text from e-books and websites.
Hackers Darius Kazemi and Joel McCoy believe there’s a larger point to be made here. For years, people have worked to build machines with a sense of humor — researchers at the University of Edinburgh recently created a program that can actually learn from its past jokes — but Kazemi and McCoy believe these academics are working too hard. Since most people aren’t that funny, the two hackers say, why not replace everyday humor with remarkably simple bots that spew boilerplate phrases over Twitter?
Photo by Lindsay Eyink