5. The Importance of LOL

This is my thesis: People go to cyberspace to get entertained. Either somebody provides them entertainment or they entertain themselves.

Imagine that you arrive in a virtual room with a handful of people in it. Most of them are picking on one member of the group, calling him names, asking rude questions from him and laughing at him. And the poor fellow takes it all and laughs with them. His face has this stupid grin on all the time. And he just laughs with the ones that laugh at him. There is something weird in a social dynamics and certainly something weird with the one that is getting all the insults. You probably think that you would start defending the victim or attack the bullies or perhaps you would try take the topic of discussion elsewhere. Still, in a virtual world you would eventually start laughing at/with him too. Even without knowing that others are picking on a bot.Often the bot becomes a shared toy for a group to play with. They try to reveal it's weaknesses, comment its behavior or alleged personality much more graphic and defamatory way than they would treat any human in virtual reality. In his famous experiment in the 1960's Stanley Milgram tested the subject's moral standards against demands of authority. Test persons thought that the aim of the experiment was to study the role of punishment in learning and were asked to give electric shocks to person for each wrong answer. And under the pressure of authority they did, even though the voltages kept going up. The finding of this study was that it seems we all have the ability to do quite appalling things when right authority tells us what to do. Another study by Solom Asche demonstrated that people could easily be made to follow others despite of overwhelming evidence that what they were doing or saying were wrong. In his experiment the subject asked to give correct answer to a simple question usually chose to pick up clearly wrong choice after significant amount of the group had taken it before him. (Baxter) These two studies demonstrate the power of group influence and authority. In the example I gave above, locating in avatar world, a group can take the position of the authority. In Milgram's and Aschey's tests people found some way to rationalize their behavior to themselves. The same thing happens in chat rooms. Because of the "low resolution" of information one can explain the character of abused member in a way that justifies the laughing at him. People "go with the flow" as much in virtual reality as they do in the real life, maybe even more.Many of the Palace communities organize all sorts of events and games to attract users. There are special events for holidays like Christmas, valentine's day and St. Patrick's day. Some Palaces organize events like avatar contests, word association games, quiz shows and costume parties etc. However, funniest games happen spontaneously: out of some minor joke or event people get carried away and start to fool about and play, creating games drama and entertainment for themselves. Laban and MegBot who both are residents of MyCorner have been targeted with numerous jokes and fictive narratives. For example, regulars in MyCorner got an idea that Laban must be MegBot's boyfriend and I went along with it. I added few triggers and responses referring to MegBot and Laban's relationship with her, supporting the characteristics of both bots. Laban likes wanton strumpets and Meg is one. Laban's "say" trigger I mentioned in chapter 2.2 has gotten him into trouble many times when he and Meg are in a same room. Meg has god's powers, so she can pin [15.] users that curse or call her names. At some point it seemed to be a hobby of few trying make Laban say things that would make Meg to pin Laban in the corner of the room.

Picture 14. Cupid gets cloned

Somehow the juveniles of Palace in Wonderland managed to clone cupid's avatar (picture 14.). Few of the users wore it and changed their names to "cupid." and "Cupids LiL Helper". They adopted his character as well by copying his dialogue and making modifications based on it. Some were impersonating cupid and/or chatterbots and others played along even more than with the real cupidbot.

Picture 15. Staring Contest
One night I found myself having an intensive staring contest with Amarisse. Others were cheering when we created dramatic battle of wills with dialogue and increasing amount of red veins in the eyeball I animated at the same time. I lost when my eye exploded and turned totally red. After all, she did not blink at once, how can you compete against that kind of stare?

Picture 16. Anagram game

Once in Xena: Warrior Palace everybody started to make anagrams from themselves. By getting rid of the avatar and using just one letter as a name, people moved around and tried to create words from themselves. In the end nobody knew who was who. Which caused another game, trying to recognize each other. Finally we put our names back but I put my friend's name and she used mine. Even though I knew manneristics of her speech it was extremely difficult to be her, the other.

I allege that in multi-user chatting situations a bot would get passed as a human for a long time even if he were programmed only with one keyword. That word would be LOL (Laugh Out Loud) and the bot would respond by laughing too. One effect of a bot with simple reaction to keywords is that if there is five persons in a room and they all laugh at the same time, the bot laughs five times. That makes him a pretty cheerful chap. If chatterbot laughs with others it generates the impression of one actively following the discussion and sharing the space. It is enough to create the illusion of presence because LOL and its variations are horribly over-used. Everybody laugh a lot in avatar worlds. At least the avatars do. Whether the one behind the computer actually laughs out loud or not seems irrelevant to me. The point is that virtual community shares something and expresses it by laughing. In cyberspace it is a very important element of communication. It is a reaction that in a lack of bodytalk communicates not only just laughter but also a much larger scale of positive emotions. Laughter is also an indicator of presence. I would even claim that it is a desperate attempt to bring the body into the cyberspace.

A perfectly good manual for making bots was made more than 100 years ago. Henri Bergson's classic research about the meaning of comedy, written in 1889, is fascinating reading when his theories are compared with chatterbots (as I have presented them in this paper). One of his notions is that humans, when they are seen as automatic and inflexible, make us laugh. We laugh when life makes us appear as mechanical. We laugh at jack-in-the-box that keeps bouncing off from his box when we press him down and let go. Comic dialogue is sometimes similar: character keeps repeating compulsively same lines, no matter what happens. That too makes us laugh. Like do the marionette-like characters that have an illusion of freedom even though somebody else keeps pulling the strings. Comic art is a game that imitates life. (Bergson 2000)

I do welcome all kinds of chatterbots but it seems that the technology at the moment supports comic bots. A tragic character would easily turn into tragicomic in cyberspace. The interface enforces caricatures with some obvious elements of personality (and socio-cultural clichés) rather than complex characters with numerous nuances in its expressive repertoire. Bots are puppets with strings, and they keep bouncing as we command them. And they get us to do and say things that we would not otherwise do in cyberspace. While chatterbots still lack a lot of the conversational skill humans have, the interface balances the scale a little bit. As long as humans in cyberspace keep misinterpreting and misunderstanding each other more than in meatspace, the grand misinterprets - chatterbots, won't have too big difficulties to be a part of virtual communities.

Would the auditors of Turing test call you a person or a bot?

chapter 4. <---> bibliography