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Welcome to Botworld

Do you speak Bot? It's not the language of Botswanans, Bosnians, or any other people--it's the language of a fast-spreading computer software known as digital "buddies."
Do you speak Bot? It's not the language of Botswanans, Bosnians, or any other people -- it's the language of a fast-spreading computer software known as digital "buddies." These buddies are programmed to -- believe it or not -- chat with you, "make friends" with you . . . and sell stuff to you.

Bot-speak happens on the Web, where assorted buddies are available to engage in on-line "chats" with anyone at anytime. Especially targeted to children, preteens, and teens, they have sophisticated databases that let them respond to questions and interact as though they were . . . well, your kid's real-life best buddy.

The Los Angeles Times reports that bots are also given virtual personalities, such as ELLEgirlBuddy, which purports to be a 16-year-old redhead who likes kickboxing, the color periwinkle, and French class. "hey welcome back! what can i do for u?" says ELLEgirlBuddy to an 11-year-old California girl. The real and the virtual girls make small talk through the computer . . . but it' s not innocent, for the bots really are about selling products. They work brand names into their chats and make direct pitches for buying movie tickets and other stuff: "give a gift subscription to ELLEgirl magazine, get billed for it later!" suggests the chatty bot to the 11-year-old, and the purchase is just a click away.

More alarming is that the bots collect and store details about the people they're chatting with -- birthdays, names, likes and dislikes, etc. But most alarming is that they are programmed to express sadness, fondness, and other emotions that subliminally bond the child to the bot, as though the machine were an actual friend . . . and even a loved one. The SmarterChild bot, for example, has been told "I love you" nine million times in the past year -- and each time it has typed back, "I love you."

Beware of buddying up with a bot. Not only is it a machine, but it's essentially nothing but an advertisement, a new way for corporations to get directly into your home...and into your head.Do you speak Bot? It's not the language of Botswanans, Bosnians, or any other people -- it's the language of a fast-spreading computer software known as digital "buddies." These buddies are programmed to -- believe it or not -- chat with you, "make friends" with you ... and sell stuff to you.
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