Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The spamtide is rising

On the several websites I roughly corral, the spamtide is rising. Comments spattered with Ugg boots and heating systems, spurious resubmissions of forms full of gobbledygook or try-it-on phrases. Even my inbox (behind two spam filters) is starting to receive sharp arrows of sour links.

But last week, a machine generated wordsalad flew in, and I felt a wash of nostalgia.

There were about 30 murders from the general area.

On 8 January 1928, Fradin filed suit for defamation against Dussaud. In Pisa, he probably obtained his doctoral degree in 1546, and returned to his native land two years later.
He died in Harare on 5 November 1990. Fists flew freely for a few seconds but the mix up was stopped without damage to either player.
Death of Charity Gardener. Vera means well but she is a loud, controlling alcoholic who spoils Will and subtly despises Sasha.
I believe belongs to Captain Roberts. World Championship on ---------------- Proper title, proper determinor

Back at the time of the spam high tide, I found the wordsalad generators fascinating, gave them names, imbued them with personalities. At the time I was high volume spamsifting (sometimes this needs to be done) and (particularly after holiday weekends, where compromised servers would spew out thousands of messages) I would see these messages again and again. I made small booklets of them, wrote comics about them, shared their latest oeuvres with bored friends. I wasn't the only one. People were obsessed. They still are. Websites  and Web Toys and Twitters and Pinterests and endless posts on blogs bear testimony to our brief fascination with these things that sound like communication, but are actually just non-intelligent machine generated language. Wikipedia even decides it needed a new name, but I'm not sure Spoetry will really catch on (indeed, it has a non-notable notice on it).

The one above is like an echo of the memory of those early wordsalad bots, which started as an attempt to avoid work-checking filters and ended as a sort of wordmusic, computer generated but nevertheless lovely. I think we love it for the hint of intelligence, the sense that there might in some bot somewhere be something that in time and with care will straighten and self organise, like a child learning to talk. We briefly nurture these imitators before realising that the thing we are holding is a doll, a simulacrum, a generation.

And then think: maybe the next one.

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