It’s time for us to to move beyond uncritical hype around bots, and to start considering the real economic agendas for why these virtual beings (are claimed to) exist. We can design automated entities with different personas, like the “I clearly don’t give a shit” supermarket checkout bot that doesn’t even pretend to like you, or the “I’m really fun” bot put in place by a startup company. But the one persona that is likely to always be missing is the Honest Bot, the one that clearly tells you its agenda, like a true friend who drops their façade and lets you know their dark secrets.
The Honest Bot does not currently exist. The new wave of bots are — to use a term popularized by the existentialist misfit Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye — the ultimate phonies. They’ll pretend to be friendly, to be cool, to be serious, to be insightful, and even to be self-reflective. But they’ll never just be themselves. Because, in the end, there is no “I.” There is only a company, its shares held by who knows who, possibly registered in Panama.
Maybe one day we’ll invent the Honest Bot—and I urge anyone creating bots to do this, please. But until then, just remember the following: If you’re talking to bots, you’re talking to their invisible bosses.