What happens when you let a computer generated version of yourself take over part of your life? Laura Davis investigates in the name of art
REPLICANT – it’s a scaly, wriggly sort of word that makes you immediately suspicious. The dictionary gives two definitions: 1. A genetically engineered or artificial being created as an exact replica of a particular human being. 2. A disparaging term for something that imitates or resembles another.
My replicant definitely does not fit into the first definition. It is not an exact replica of me – for starters it’s friendlier, almost uncomfortably so, catching people unawares in its chattiness. In comparison to my modern British still-ever-so-slightly-stiff-upper-lip way of conducting myself, my replicant appears to lack boundaries.
Because of this, and the embarrassment it has caused me, it is entirely deserving of disparagement.
My replicant was created by Swiss artist Matthieu Cherubini for a university project exploring social media. The naturally shy student designed a piece of software that would manage his Facebook and Twitter accounts on his behalf. For 40 days it assumed his identity, chatting to his followers and posting links to interesting websites on his wall.
And it was more popular than him. While the bot was in control, Cherubini’s Twitter follower count more than doubled from 25 to 68. The artist had tweeted only 46 times during the 20 months he operated the account himself. The more sociable replicant tweeted 376 times.
A short film explaining the results of the experiment will be shown in FACT’s Robots and Avatars exhibition, which opens at the Wood Street arts centre tomorrow.
In contrast, my bot had control of my Facebook account for just a few hours before it began wreaking havoc. With no insider knowledge of which so-called “friends” are also such in real life as opposed to those whose friendships I have accepted out of politeness or because they are work contacts, it proceeded to get in touch with people at apparent random.
Firstly, it pinched an out-of-date status from my Twitter stream, which looked daft freshly reposted as my Facebook status a few days later. Then it sneaked on to my sister’s wall and posted: “Hey Anna how are you today?”.