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Source: Otherland: City of Golden Shadow, Page: 57

"Who were those people?"

"Not people. On the net, real people are called 'Citizens.' Those were Puppets - constructs which look like people. Invented things, just like the stores here, and even the mall itself."

"Not Real? But they talked to me .. answered questions."

"Just a slightly more expensive form of advertising. And they aren't as smart as they act. Go back and ask Mom about the Soweto Uprising or the second Ngosane Administration. She'll tell you all over again about the joys of retinal display."

Our Thoughts on this Quote

Renie and Xabbu in Golden Shadow called them citizens and puppets. We call them humans and bots. Terminology aside, it's the same thing. On the one hand you have sentient minds capable of rational thought, interacting through avatars. On the other, you have basic chatbots, cued to emotional responses and wordplay, also interacting through avatars.

The difficulty can be with a reasonably limited communication spectrum, telling the difference. In Renie's world they had laws, in which if an avatar was asked "Are you a Citizen or a Puppet?" they had to answer. Puppets answered true. Citizens usually did. If either did not it was a serious crime for the programmer of the puppet or the citizen.

At first glance it would seem that we are not in the situation yet where such stringent measures are necessary. We are certainly not yet in the position where such measures are enforceable due to the nature of the internet.

Some platforms such as ActiveWorlds, use a difference in login between humans and bots, to help tell them apart. With two avatars in the scene, Bob and [Fred], Bob has logged in via the human user client interface. Fred, has logged in via the bot interface, as denoted by the square brackets around his name. Other information such as the identity of Fred's owner is also available very quickly upon request as part of the bot interface.

However, there is fundamentally nothing stopping [Fred]'s owner from writing a second interface program of their own, to interface between [Fred] and the human user client program. Were this done, and Fred logged in via it, a user would Bob and Fred in the scene. There would be no visual indicator that Fred was a bot, and every reason to believe he wasn't.

You might argue that chatbots are not yet sophisticated enough to fool a human user. There too, you would be incorrect. Back in the 1980s, there existed a simple greeter bot called ELIZA.

ELIZA was a simple greeting and introductory tutorial bot. She would greet newcomers to the world, give them equipment, friendly advice and respond to questions. She detected simple key words and phrases, nothing overly complicated, and yet she was infamous for fooling newbies into believing he was a very real, kind person. More than a few young egos were crushed when they learnt - usually through being told by another user - that Eliza was just a scripted bot.

That was thirty years ago. Eliza is still around, as are many generations of her descendants, and unrelated chatbots. They have gotten a great deal more sophisticated since then. An annual prize has even been set up; the Loebner Prize, whose goal is to pay out on the event of a chatbots able to pass the Turing test - and fool a panel of judges - is developed.

We have been coming quite close in recent year, near enough that bots such as Jabberwacky, have been proven capable of interacting with a group of four humans in casual conversation, and almost completely passing themselves of as a human typing from another room.

The test has actual humans interspersed with the bots, so the judges genuinely do not know whether the mind they are talking with, is human or bot.

Once we do reach the point where the Loebner prize is won, we will have chatbots and social robots which are capable of interacting via an avatar, on an equal footing to humans; hard if not impossible for a casual user to tell the two apart. Once we reach that point, we may well be in the same boat as the quote, where it is necessary to legislate a difference between the two. A legislator that is not 100% guaranteed, and may still be foiled, on both sides.

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About the Book 'Otherland, Volume 1: City of Golden Shadow'
By Tad Williams
Produced By DAW Books

The first book in the Otherland Saga, City of Golden Shadow serves as an introduction and ground setting book that enriches and deepens the later works. Among the many aspects of life in this near-future world it depicts in detail, is an advanced virtual reality technology.

City of Golden Shadow introduces the basics of total immersion VR technologies, slightly further ahead than those of William Gibson?s Neuromancer. It delves into all the possible uses for such technology in stunning depth and detail, yet it does so in such a way that the pace of the plot never slackens.
Click here for full review of Otherland, Volume 1: City of Golden Shadow

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