Artificial intelligence geeks always rant about whether it’s appropriate to ascribe “intent” to text randomized and repackaged by software. But no one else has time to address these psycholinguistic quandaries, until a Twitter bot threatens to kill someone and the police have to get involved.
When a bot owned by Amsterdam-based game developer Jeffry van der Goot appeared to make a death threat, the police paid him a visit at home.
I just got visited by the police because of a death threat my Twitter bot made.— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
The randomly-generated words made one. And so they come to me.— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
van der Goot then had to explain to the police that the Twitter account simply remixed phrases he’d tweeted previously.
@philosoraptress it takes all my tweets I’ve ever made, takes random chunks of it and tries to make new sentences that make sense— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
So I had to explain Twitter bots to the police. And I can't really blame them for having to take it seriously.— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
I'm going to delete my bot for now, because that's what they want.— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
But apparently *I'm* responsible for what the bot says, since it's under my name and based on my words.— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
Which I think is an interesting legal angle.— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
@philosoraptress I mean, I said the words the tweets was made out of, but not with meaning and in that order— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
That the bot had tweeted the “threat” in an @-reply to another bot confused matters even more.
To be clear people, the bot also mentioned an event. It was a REPLY to another bot, but it was not specifically directed AT that bot.— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
Also to be clear, all they wanted is an explanation and for me to delete the account.— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
Fearing legal repercussions, Van der Goot remained mum on most other details of the incident. But he speculated that living in Europe makes all the difference in how online threats of violence are handled by authorities.
Also y’all understand why I’m vague about specifics, right?— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
The bot’s French creator, a student who goes by Wxcafé, was equally alarmed.
@Wxcafe it was in Dutch. And yeah. It's weird.— jeff (@jvdgoot) February 11, 2015
If we’re dealing with terrorist bots now, it’s just a matter of time till we see bot hitmen, bot bank robbers, and the dreaded bot mafia. Expect to see a bot-themed reboot of The Sopranos come 2016.