How to Spot a Bot -- or Find Out If You Sound Like One.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Barack Obama could take some Twitter lessons from Shaq.

Researchers at Indiana University developed a tool called "Bot or Not" that uses an algorithm to determine the likelihood of whether a Twitter account is a human or a robot.

An analysis found the president's Twitter account was 70 percent bot-like, while Shaquille O'Neal registers as 38 percent bot.

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The tool works by asking users to enter a Twitter handle. The account's posts, friends, most common hashtags and mentions, along with a slew of other indicators, are then analyzed before the owner's likely human or bot status is revealed.

A bad social bot -- a Twitter account that mimics human behavior -- can be annoying. However, a skilled bot can pass itself off as human, spreading everything from rumors to malware.

"We believe there is a need for bots and humans to be able to recognize each other, to avoid bizarre, or even dangerous, situations based on false assumptions of human interlocutors," a research paper published last month by the Indiana University team said.

Alan Turing, a British mathematician, predicted the prevalence of bots and devised a test in 1950 that asks, "Can machines think?"

The test investigates whether people can detect if they are conversing with a human or a computer. In order to pass, a computer must be mistaken for a human by 30 percent of judges during a series of five-minute keyboard conversations.

In June, Eugene Goostman, an artificially intelligent "teenager," became the first computer to pass the famous 65-year-old test by successfully duping enough judges into believing they were conversing with a real human, according to the University of Reading, which organizes the annual event.

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