Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Smarter spam

It continues to get even subtler. Salon has a scary piece on the proliferation of smarter spambots, and Netcraft says that wikis are the next frontier for spammers.

Though Salon has this great claim. Porn sites are big users of spambots, including lead-generation programs:

Unleashed on X- and R-rated chat-room logs, they run through transcripts, seeking out the names and addresses of the most active participants. Once acquired, these contacts become fodder for third-party vendors eager to advertise webcams, escort services and other variations on the adult-entertainment theme.

Aside from the obvious legal issues, such programs face a growing hurdle: Many of the most active participants in public chat-rooms nowadays are other bots masquerading as human users, often for commercial purposes.

This is a hilarious unintended example of Brian Arthur’s claim that in the future more of commerce will consist of machines talking to machines. Does machines accidentally trying to market to other machines also count? Must fax the Santa Fe Institute.

Is it reasonable, I wonder, to think of spam as a form of life, whose genetic code is modified not through random mutation, but by humans tinkering with its code? The application of evolutionary theory to the history of technology is one fraught with difficulties, but cases like this suggest to me that it’s worth thinking about.

[To the tune of The Rolling Stones, “Sway,” from the album Sticky Fingers.]

1 Comment

  1. I’ve often thought of money as a living system, too. (The movie _Pi_ plays with this idea.) It has many of the defining chracteristics of life — chiefly that it grows and is, in a sense, self-organizing, creating the insitutions it needs to continue to grow. This reifies currency in some ways, and hides the human hand, but not necesarilly wrongly: viruses can only multiply by hijacking the ceullular machinery of higher organisms. Or: money is like Dawkins’ selfish genes, creating the conditions to perpetuate its own existence. I’m just not sure where this thought leads.

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