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What I Learned from Talking to a Robot Version of Myself on Twitter

Basically, I am obsessed with Lou Bega and death. But in a way, aren't we all?

by Joel Golby
Feb 27 2015, 3:30pm

Illustration by Dan Evans.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Listen, it's no big deal or anything (it is; it is a very enormous deal), but I got a verified blue tick on Twitter last week. A lot of people—my girlfriend, especially—have told me that I do not deserve this accolade and the various perks that come with it: the special Uber car that has a blue tick vinyled on its side and is a Mercedes and is also free, Biz Stone calling you up and telling you how great you are, a special button that sends a trained marksman to go and assault anyone who disagrees with you online, all the blowjobs.

But I argue that, actually, I very much do deserve it. And people—again, my girlfriend being among the most vocal of these—say: "No, you are nobody. You are a turd person. I don't even know who you are, and I live with you. Who are you? Who are you?"

All in all it's been a humbling experience.

Historically, the blue tick was something that demarcates an actual celebrity from one of their parody accounts: the difference between @CarltonCole1 and @_CarltonCole9, for instance, or the difference between Nicki Minaj and one of those @da_real_nicki accounts that just posts motivational posters and cloyingly encouraging Tumblr quotes. It is a badge that says, "I am the plain-named X Factor contestant everyone is talking about, not all the other ones." It is a tick that says, "I am going to send you a lot of links to iTunes."

Now that Twitter has realized it needs to have a semi-symbiotic relationship with the large media companies that use its service to distribute their blazing hot content, you have it so nobody journalists who mainly write about shitting in swimming pools are on the same blue tick pantheon as, say, Justin Bieber. (For what it's worth, only two things that have changed since I've had a blue tick: There's an extra button on my app so I can filter out replies scum like you who don't have blue ticks, and a load of amateur rappers whose bios all say "#Musician and #Entrepreneur! Trying to get @verified!" now follow me on Twitter. That's it. Those are the only two changes. (I cannot help you, rappers. Please leave me alone.)

The point is, in order to truly feel like I had earned my blue tick, I needed a Twitter account to pretend to be me so that my many tens of fans would know that the Joel Golby with the blue tick is the real Joel Golby (me), while the imposter Joel Golby was just some joke account. Sadly, no human alive wants to waste even one second of their short and finite life pretending to be me, even as a joke, so I got my friend Felix to make a robot version instead.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a bot sending another bot a voucher code for a children's clothing store in Dumfries—forever. Thankfully, we can bring that nightmarish vision of our near future forward with surprising ease, because turning your every random thought into a monstrous doppelganger-esque robot is a piece of piss. Here's what you do:

You ask Felix to make you a bot, he does some stuff with Ruby (whatever that is) and then you download your Twitter archive and send it to him and then he does the rest. If you're that way inclined (i.e. you know what PERL is and you have a Google Alert set up for "it is now legal to marry a computer") there are fuller instructions here.

Anyway, and lo, like Aphrodite springing from the foam that formed in the sea around her father's severed genitals, a robot version of me was born. Basically: It scrapes my old tweets and conjoins two ends of them together—like how an alternate timeline Harry Redknapp might sell you a used car—to try and make sentences that make sense. It then tweets either once an hour or whenever someone replies to it, and the results alternate between the nonsensical and the Dalai Lama-esque.

Like, look: the beautiful:

And the profane:

There's a danger to this, though, as the Dutch owner of an _ebooks Twitter bot found out last week. From cobbling together Jeffry van der Goot's tweets, a robot version of him managed to say, "I seriously want to kill people," which led to the police turning up at Jeffry 1.0's door and suggesting that maybe he delete the murder robot. To that end, the programming community promotes a vague nu-Asimov's Law etiquette for bots that, though it doesn't stop them from becoming Skynet-style self-aware and firing rockets at them, at least stops them being less annoying to people as they try to go about their daily social media lives.

Anyway, while a robot was issuing vague death threats to the Dutch, an alternate version of me was trying to intimate that I have a medically shrunken penis:

I suppose it's all to do with the original content. Seeing as it just regurgitates words I frequently use or entire turns of phrase (apparently I tweet about my penis shrinking down to a thimble on the regular) my bot tweets, undeniably, in my "voice," which can actually be a bit disconcerting. It reminds me uncomfortably of something I might shout in a fever dream: words I say, in the way I say them, but fired through a prism that completely removes context. I guess this is the kind of thing I would say if I lost my mind and started shitting myself into adult-sized Pampers in some sort of futuro nursing home, squawking about Mario Gotze's pubes and complex carbohydrates while a doctor slowly injects me with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. This is the way my life ends: not with a bang, but with me whispering, "I HAD TO SEE A CROTCH HOLE!"

Sometimes, annoyingly, it's just straight-up funnier than I am:

But mainly, it shares the same themes. Two of the main things I am obsessed with—Lou Bega and my non-existent legacy following my inevitably early death—are both summed up in this tweet:

People who work in creative agencies and Javier Mascherano's tattered asshole are also firmly in "my wheelhouse":

Shitting myself? Doing the splits? Something like that? Either way, I probably ruin three pairs of jeans a year just by falling over really solidly onto my knees on the pavement, so this is pretty accurate.

Then there's this: my own self-worth scraped thin and exposed for the world to see; the true essence of my identity, knocked around the Twitter echo chamber like a squash ball.

It's strange to know that your life is divided into themes—death, carbs, humiliation, Lou Bega. Also strange to see long-dead and mostly useless thought trains dredged up anew. For instance, here's that time I got really mad because a Kickstarter I'd only backed to be polite had been resolutely not completed by the dicklord who undertook it; here's that afternoon I got really sad about scratching my Ray-Bans; here's that time I watched that Isabella Rossellini duck fuckin' video about six times in a row.

In a way, you could argue, Robogolby is a study in intertextuality: that everything that will be said has already been said; all we are doing with our mouths and our fingers is rehashing and amalgamating old thoughts into something vaguely new; that nobody has had an original idea in their head for over a thousand years. On the other hand, Golb-bot has dredged up a lot of strange, fragmented memories about Isabella Rossellini wriggling into a gigantic concentric duck vagina, reminding me: Man, you think about some trash.

With your Facebook feed now essentially just screenshots of other people's Timehop pages ("Relive my mundane memories," you are saying every time you post from Timehop. "Relive that time I went to Brighton and it was quite gray, but not gray enough to not go in the sea"), we're coming to the point where the internet is feasibly old enough to get misty-eyed and nostalgic about. And, as a generation, we're narcissistic enough to heave great importance on the swathing, zig-zagging path we make across the web. In a way, it's a shared nostalgia—"Heh, remember this thing I did? You saw me do it the first time and here is me doing it again"—that could hint to the way we share memories in years to come.

Is this how our lives will be marked out? Instead of photo albums, will we print and mount all the Twitter arguments we ever had with the Waitrose corporate account? When we try to relate to our teenage children in some vague and distant future, will we bequeath them a bound archive of our completed Buzzfeed quizzes and a load of Instagram photos of us wearing leather jackets ("Mommy used to be cool, look!"), which they won't even read because they will have invented new and unique ways to take heroin by then? Are the best days of our youth completely over, and is the only thing left to do look back?

I would say: yes. My bot would say: "there's no need for a thing."

Follow Joel, RoboJoel, and Dan on Twitter.