What is “Roblog”?

At the Quad, we receive lots of spam. Most of it is pointless advertising for websites or products. Some of it is complete nonsense. Once in a while, however, we receive a message that can make my day. I got word of one such message just the other day.

What do the saints have to do with astronomy? Ask a robot, I guess. | Image courtesy Jon Christianson.
What does football have to do with astronomy? Ask a robot, I guess. | Image courtesy of Jon Christianson.

Often called word salad by linguists and computer scientists, comments like these have semblance of grammatical structure. Read more than a line at a time however, and it’s obvious that they are hardly legible English.

Spammers use word salad like this to bypass spam filters. By appearing somehow related to an article and something like real English, comments like these can sneak links onto webpages by tricking computers into thinking they are legitimate reader responses. These entertaining comments are generated by computer programs that browse articles for key terms and then generate blocks of text, often using web searches to pull up related information that can be reprocessed into a comment.

Funny comments like these are one of the more surprising ways that automated machines and programs are becoming prevalent in everyday life. Robots drive our cars, perform major surgeries, fight in wars and even trade stock. There is no aspect of modern life that remains truly unaffected by advances in computers and robotics.

With Roblog, I aim to do more than just explain robot news (although, you’ll find plenty of that). As the world becomes increasingly automated, understanding these advances is the only way to stay ahead. We’re all familiar with the robot apocalypse trope, in which robots become too smart or too powerful and threaten to overthrow humanity. It’s dramatic and sensationalized, but the fear is rooted in something reala lack of understanding of the role robots play in our lives.

Should we let automated programs trade millions of dollars in stock and risk an out of control market crash? Should we let robots drive cars without deciding who is responsible if they get in a crash? Automated technology is moving so quickly while many important questions are left unanswered.

Truthfully, there is no way I can answer all of these questions for you. What I can do, however, is put all the time I spend learning (and worrying) about robots to good use. Some robots just plain look awesome. Others are truly terrifying beasts. Most robots, if nothing more, are pretty incredible technology. All of them, however, can affect our lives in more ways than we often realize. We certainly can’t get rid of them–our lives are built around them now. Instead, let’s learn about robots before they learn too much about us.

Hear something interesting about robots? Let me know at ahansberry@buquad.com.

Ashley Hansberry

Ashley Hansberry

Ashley Hansberry (CAS '14) is the Senior Editor at The Quad. She is a senior studying Computer Science and Linguistics who likes writing about robots, technology, and education. When she's not living in the computer science lab, you can find her wearing animal earrings or admiring puppies she sees on the street.

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