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Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

Posted March 16, 2017 3:51 PM by Hannes
Pathfinder Tags: AI crawler wikipedia

I still remember the day a physics-major friend in college told me to “Look it up on Wikipedia” in 2005. It was the first I’d heard of the site, and after my first visit it quickly became a daily staple in my life. Wikipedia can be a panacea or kryptonite for the intellectually curious, depending on their need for productivity elsewhere. The English version currently has almost 5.5 million articles, and Wikipedia is available in nearly 300 languages. For a free, open-edit reference, studies have shown it to be pretty much as authoritative as other major dictionaries.

One of Wikipedia’s biggest drawbacks is that its editors rely on the procrastination principle of waiting for a problem to arise before solving it. Some amount of time therefore passes between a problem and solution, and during that time any number of users could read libelous, misspelled, or incorrect information. To shorten this time and help keep up with small editing tasks on the millions of articles they oversee, Wikipedia contributors often create automated editor bots. Bots typically perform menial tasks such as keeping links current, adding links to current Wikipedia pages, and undoing obvious vandalism as quickly as possible.

According to recent research, they also “fight” much more often than Wikipedia users witness. Researchers at Oxford and the Alan Turing Institute in London examined the editing histories in over a dozen Wikipedia language editions, noting when a bot undid another’s prior changes. Some of these back-and-forth interactions continued for years. The open-access study, published in late February, described how even relatively “dumb” bots like those programmed to detect Wikipedia errors can engage in surprisingly complex “social” behavior when employed in large numbers.

According to the study, these interactions may help to guide AI design for applications as diverse as social media, cybersecurity, and autonomous vehicles. But the authors are quick to admit that Wikipedia might not be the ideal environment for studying bot-on-bot interaction. Given Wikipedia’s totally bottom-up editing structure, any of its human editors can create editor bots, and there is no formal coordination between editors, so their bots can easily contradict each other.

One of the pitfalls of AI research is the tendency to assign human behaviors to automated ones. It’s easy to say that bots are “fighting” when in reality they’re following their own programming in contradictory ways. Even so, the research data found that there may be a cultural component involved. The English-language Wikipedia bots reverted other bots about 105 times over a ten-year period. German Wikipedia bots reverted significantly less (an average of 24 times), while Portuguese bots reverted significantly more (185 times). Because bots are human-created it only makes sense that they’d take on the characteristics of their human programmers.

Bot-on-bot research is becoming more common, and a surprising number of studies found that interactions often result in conflict, whether between Wikipedia editor bots or “socializing” chatbots. It might not be as fun as watching real robot combat, but it’s amazing to think that behind Wikipedia is an unseen virtual battleground of editor bots, fighting to provide accurate information.

Image credit: Cyberspace Law Centre

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#1

Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/16/2017 6:41 PM

A few hundred or less counter adjustments to basic level info is nothing and quite far from a fight in my books.

Heck, if they want to see real bonified fights over idiocy I just look at most any forum debates where you get a few knowledgeable and experienced people going up against a few fools and outright idiots who either think they know something about the same topic or simply have too much self pride to ever admit they aren't as knowledgeable in the areas as they think they are.

If that environment there can be dozens of attempts at counter corrections of the other parties information per day and it can go on for weeks if left to run unchecked and that's by real living humans!

Just look at this thread for one example. is-there-any-way-of-voting-against-someone-without-voting-for-someone-else

300+ pages and 6000+ posts (so far) just from an average of 3 - 4 intelligent knowledgeable rational minded people per topic with their poop in a group going against the same 2 - 4 overly opinionated idiots on every topic.

You can't make a army data correction bots that could touch what just a few over opinionated half wits (and the people trying to educate them in reality) can accomplish!

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/16/2017 7:07 PM

I wonder how many CR4 members are actually bots....

(besides me).

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/16/2017 7:44 PM

Currently they are very, very obvious. Either mentioning cheapkitchens.uk, or a bunch of gibberish advertising a movie download site.

In the future, well likely less so. We will probably be giving them GAs due to their ability to lookup online databases and match up the appropriate response or picture to the questions posed. 'What is it' and 'Guess the architecture' threads will become a farce (or more so).

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#5
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/16/2017 8:16 PM

So flaming these robo-losers probably is pointless...

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#6
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/16/2017 10:15 PM

Yes, until they evolve far enough to develop feelings and we can question and they can ponder their poor life choices.

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#7
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/17/2017 10:36 AM

Obvious? I'm not so sure?

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#14
In reply to #7

Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/19/2017 2:45 PM

Not yet. Give it a few more years of AI development and he could very well be.

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#8
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/17/2017 11:46 AM

So what if instead they just start making multiple puppets members of themselves on every forum that in turn vote the master member GA's for everything no matter how stupidly wrong the answer they gave was?

Self proclaimed expert (AI) gets to appear to be an actual expert by apparent group agreement on the validity of everything they say to nay unknowing persons who may look on even if in fact everything they say is right and true is the furthest from it?

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#13
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/19/2017 2:44 PM

This can be done now by human trolls posting to the site, but the real site users (us) working with admin effectively weed them out.

I will be quite impressed if AI has developed in my life time to the extent that it feels the emotional desire and need to appear smart and gain the admiration of we human or fellow AI users through the site's GA system.

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#10
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/17/2017 2:43 PM

Here's an idea for the overworked admins:

We've all noticed that the spammers usually have like 1 post. Why not require new users with less than some small number of posts to solve a Captcha before each post?

(Or is this already done, it's been a long time since I joined, or is there some drawback I haven't thought of?)

Just a thought (probably obvious).

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#2

Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/16/2017 6:45 PM

Interesting. I've looked up things on Wikipedia and found it had just been updated and wondered how it had been brought up to date so quickly.

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#9

Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/17/2017 1:23 PM

Let me start this off by saying there is no intended antisemitism in this comment.

I've read that, in six clicks or less, it is possible to reach the Adolf Hitler Wikipedia page from any random Wiki article. From my experience this has proven to be true.

I also just learned that this exists for Jesus as well, only the par is five clicks.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wiki_Game

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#11
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/17/2017 2:43 PM

I think that is a con, you, you, conman!

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#12
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/17/2017 3:38 PM

I've also heard that if you pick a totally random Wikipedia page and click the first hyperlink in the text after the language/translation section, it'll always lead you back to the article titled "Science" within a dozen clicks or less. Or something like that.

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#15
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/19/2017 2:50 PM

Try looking up six degrees of separation theory as the concept works for many (most) things, be they internet or otherwise.

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#17
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/23/2017 9:04 AM

It can be surprising how close you are to people you've never met in real life. For example:

  • I have met Svengoolie, the horror host, at the dedication of his new permanent exhibit in the Museum of Broadcast Communication (I even got a chicken signed, and competed in the costume contest (1st place winner right here)).
  • Svengoolie is friends with Mark Hamil, who introduced himself over the phone, and confirmed his legitimacy by repeating part of the phone conversation over his verified Twitter feed.
  • Mark Hamil worked with the late Carrie Fisher in a few sci-fi movies, you might have heard of them.

I was only three degrees of separation from Carrie Fisher when I heard of her passing. And who am I to be so close to her? I'm just some birdbrained schlub who's good at making electronic widgets and bad jokes.

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#18
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/23/2017 10:52 AM

Even scarier: You only have those six degrees of separation from me.

That makes me almost sit up awake at night, LOL!

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#19
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/23/2017 2:12 PM

Who said math cannot be fun.

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#20
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/23/2017 3:53 PM

That also means I'm three degrees of separation from George Lucas (Svengoolie > Mark Hamill > George Lucas) and four degrees away from Steven Spielberg (Svengoolie > Mark Hamill > Harrison Ford > Steven Spielberg).

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#16
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Re: Wikipedia Bots Have Been Silently Battling For A Decade

03/20/2017 6:37 AM

I think Kevin Bacon might resent the Adolf Hitler comparison. :-P

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