John Ohno
5 min readApr 19, 2016

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Bot capitalism will fail

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding chat bots lately. I love bots, and usually I’m all for getting excited about the things I love, but I think the recent hype is very misguided. The reason is that the people contributing to the current hype bubble surrounding bots are not natural persons but corporate persons: they are excited about bots as products. Usually, when the spectre of money enters into a domain previously commercially nonviable, a lot of people get super excited about making money and miss the point spectacularly (pun kind of intended), and this case is no different. However, it’s worth talking about this specific case nevertheless, because with bots, the commercial focus of yuppies and suits is fairly likely to ultimately convince everyone outside the core art-bot community that bots are something worse than useless: that they are supremely uninteresting.

The first thing I’m going to discuss is conversational interfaces. The reason is that the sudden increase in interest in bots is related to the fact that several companies have been shipping speech-based conversational interfaces, and a lot of current commercial bots are intended to be the equivalent of these speech-based interfaces run over existing text-based communications protocols.

I am largely unimpressed with conversational interfaces. They have a long history; many early and influential AI systems would be classified as conversational interfaces, and very simple conversational interfaces were a staple of books on learning to program for the BASIC set since the introduction of the…

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John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net