Social networking occasionally reminds one of a certain popular Dublin stout: a product they nailed a long time ago, but seem committed to continuously altering so that their employees can look busy.
The popularity of such innovations can vary but, while it doesn’t bother us that PR men spend their days at whiteboards adding numbers to random Irish words in the hopes of contriving a saleable coddle-flavoured rum, the tinkerings of Twitter and Facebook have begun to leave people decidedly less happy.
In the wake of polarised discussion, abusive trolls, fake news and the tiny, potentially world-ending digits of America’s commander-in-chief, some might wish for a retreat to a simpler form of online communication.
Luckily, there exists a social-media client that promises you will never have to speak to another living person ever again. A little like Domnhall Gleeson's turn as an AI husband in the Black Mirror episode Be Right Back, Replika.ai is a hyper-sensitive chatbot that aims to synthesise the kind of easy, involved conversation that leaves your dad's favourite Ukrainian porn-bots very much in the ha'penny place.
Replika doesn’t publish your messages or share them with others, but claims it uses them to mould a perfectly unique “digital footprint of your personality”. In the process, its system tracks your vocabulary, tone and behavioural tics, and adopts them in the hopes of eventually mimicking its user. In short, the bot doesn’t just talk to you, it becomes you.
Accessible only by request, replika.ai may be the most shameless exercise in online navel-gazing yet created but, since it has little-to-no functionality for starting the third World War, it may seem an increasingly benign option for those in search of their next digital echo-chamber.
Elsewhere, if you happened to be mesmerised by Blade Runner 2049's dramatically scored cityscapes, now might be a good time to discover YouAreListening.To, a site that takes police radio from a given city (New York, LA, and dozens of others) and combines it with a random selection of ambient music from SoundCloud. The resulting melange of moody tones and oddly soothing radio chatter gives you the sense of a city that's at once eerily artificial and very much alive.
Lies of the robots
Live was not the operative word in the Giant Robot Duel that proved one of the most shareable internet phenomena of the past week. Purporting to be a sincere battle for supremacy between the best large, vaguely anthropomorphic machines of Japan and the US, the MegaBots showdown got more than 20,000 live viewers on Twitch, and more than three million views on YouTube. Sadly, Motherboard has since uncovered that the entire thing wasn’t live and was in fact “filmed over a number of days” with substantial editing to make it seem as exciting as possible. This is proof once again that truth really is the first casualty of robot war.