Category Archives: Spam

Prove You’re Not a Robot!

I comment on a number of blogs and news websites, and often, I run into a gadget that asks me to prove that I’m not a robot. I’m not sure what to make of this.

Comments generated by robots are usually easy to spot. They bear little relation to the article, or they’re written in tortured prose. The latter, of course, fails to distinguish them from some human commentators, but I can tell the difference in most cases. It’s something like a plagiarised essay–there’s a tone to the writing that just doesn’t feel right.

But what does it matter? WordPress has a spam filter that catches these things and holds them for review by the author of the blog. I’ve discussed comment moderation before (You’re Comments Are Welcome), and I understand that other bloggers don’t want the free-for-all that I allow, but I don’t see the problem that robots are believed to pose.

Yes, they generally are trying to sell things, things that are often not relevant to the topic of the blog. Those are easily deleted. WordPress even offers a preview of the link in those comments, reducing the risk of malware (including cookies) getting on our computers.

What bothers me is that the robot filters are often difficult to read. The day will come when a machine can read them better than I can. A fuzzy number and a string of letters gives me eye strain. The better filter asks a question: What is the chemical formula for hydrogen hydroxide? What is the square root of 2,734? But even there, the escalating war between filters and robots will swing in favor of the robots. What will happen, for example, when something like IBM’s Watson gets hooked up to a spam generator?

More than that, what happens when the robots start making intelligent and relevant comments? That day may come. When it does, we’ll be faced with a fact about logic that we often try to forget: The ideas presented in an argument are what matter, not the person making the argument. Robots that have a point are welcome to comment here. So are celebrities. So are people about whom I have objections. The spam filter works for now, and I can handle the debate.