Can You Tell When You’re Chatting with a Bot?

Von Mozilla | 19. Mai 2020 | Fellowships & Awards

Introducing Bot or Not. This blog is part of a series announcing projects funded by Mozilla Creative Media Awards


You never quite know who you’re chatting with online. And as AI grows more sophisticated, you never quite know what you’re chatting with, either.

Chatbots are now a staple of online life. They handle our customer service queries, help schedule our doctor appointments, and live inside popular apps like Facebook Messenger and Slack. In this new environment, are you confident you can tell a human from a bot?

This is the central idea behind Bot Or Not, an app exploring AI that mimics real humans. Play at https://www.botor.no/.

In Bot Or Not, users chat in real time with another player over a simple web interface. Over the course of three minutes, users must ask and answer questions from their partner, and also participate in an open chat. At the conclusion of the game, each player guesses if they were chatting with a fellow human or an AI.

Bot Or Not

In short, Bot Or Not is a Turing Test — a test devised by Alan Turing to determine if a machine can pass as a human. However, through a symmetrical relationship between the players, Bot Or Not updates the Turing Test with a contemporary concern: humans must also perform their human-ness in order to be trusted.

Bot Or Not also includes literature about the history of chatbots, their current uses and dangers, and how to spot and fool a chatbot. Read at https://about.botor.no/.

Bot or Not is created by Foreign Objects, a New York City-based design and research studio. Foreign Objects consists of Agnes Cameron, Sam Ghantous, Kalli Retzepi, and Gary Zhexi Zhang.

Says Agnes Cameron: “Chatbots were once a novelty, but have become incredibly prevalent and sophisticated. Soon, the internet may no longer be thought of primarily as a space built for people, but an ecosystem in which humans and non-humans interact in complex and often unpredictable ways.”

Cameron continues: “This isn’t always good news. As chatbots blend seamlessly into our daily interactions with technology and each other, we will normalise even more powerful forms of surveillance over our lives by big tech. The increasing presence of bots in both the domestic sphere and in the workplace presents a huge risk to privacy, so long as personal data remains the primary business model for most major tech platforms. In addition, the ease with which bots can be made and deployed presents the perfect opportunity to scammers, who use social media platforms as an easy context to exploit and manipulate.”

Says Kalli Retzepi: “Bots are most likely embedded in platforms that are built around some sort of ‘answer-seeking’ behavior from the user’s perspective. It might be that the user is looking to get a refund on a recent purchase, schedule an appointment, or inquire about a certain immigration process. Questions or needs for clarification that would have us instinctively pick up the phone and dial a customer service number, are now being replaced by automated processes.”

Says Gary Zhexi Zhang: “Bot Or Not seeks to give people a critical perspective over these non-human conversational agents, both in terms of how they work, and how the proliferation of increasingly advanced human-like bots are likely to complicate how we navigate our highly-mediated society. ”

Chatbots were once a novelty, but have become incredibly prevalent and sophisticated.

Agnes Cameron, Foreign Objects

Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards are part of our mission to realize more trustworthy AI in consumer technology. The awards fuel the people and projects on the front lines of the internet health movement — from creative technologists in Japan, to tech policy analysts in Uganda, to privacy activists in the U.S.

The latest cohort of Awardees uses art and advocacy to examine AI’s effect on media and truth. Misinformation is one of the biggest issues facing society today. And the AI powering the internet is complicit. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook recommend and amplify content that will keep us clicking, even if it’s radical or flat out wrong. Deepfakes have the potential to make fiction seem authentic. And AI-powered content moderation can stifle free expression.

Says J. Bob Alotta, Mozilla’s VP of Global Programs: “AI plays a central role in consumer technology today. It curates our news, it recommends who we date, and it targets us with ads. Such a powerful technology should be demonstrably worthy of trust, but often it is not. Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards draw attention to this, and also advocate for more privacy, transparency, and human well-being in AI.”

Learn more about upcoming Creative Media Award projects.