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Celebrity bots are officially a “thing” now. In mid-October, Product Hunt introduced them to everyone in the Silicon Valley tech community who hadn’t yet heard about them. There’s now an Elon Musk Bot, a Gary Vee Bot, a Selena Gomez Bot and a Kevin Hart Bot. There’s even a site – ChatLike.me – that will turn you into a Twitter bot, if you so choose.
What makes a celebrity bot?
There are two main components to the traditional bot – the natural language processing function that is capable of recognizing what question you’re asking, and then the AI interface that enables the bot to respond in a way that makes as much sense as possible. By analyzing previous content posted on social media or elsewhere on the web, the bot can present answers as if they were coming directly from the celebrity.
For example, lets’ say you’re interested in going to Mars and want to chat up Elon Musk about his latest ideas for getting to the Red Planet. Well, you’d initiate the conversation with the Elon Musk Bot with a question. The bot would attempt to recognize your question and then dig through mountains of data about Elon Musk to come up with a suitable response. And so it goes, on and on, until you eventually tire of the whole thing and decide to focus on Earth instead of Mars.
You can think of this as a neat little 21st century parlor trick. Man asks bot question, bot responds, man thinks bot is real. Cool, eh?
New ways to interact with personas
But there’s more to it than just that. As Josh Bacanegra explained in a long Tumblr post about why he created the “Selena Bot,” he decided to do away with the hard part – the natural language processing part – and just focused on creating possible responses culled from lots and lots of Selena Gomez interviews. He created it for his eight-year-old daughter, so that she could chat with her favorite star – Selena. As part of the Selena bot experience, you simply click on a question that you’d like her to answer, and she’ll answer it for you.
What he discovered in the process was that these celebrity bots are a powerful way to learn about people and personas that we care about. Think about how we learned about celebrities in the pre-social media era – we’d read interviews in magazines and hang on every word they said during a TV show. Well, the celebrity bot essentially takes all that information and re-packages it in a way that you can experience person-to-person (or, rather, person-to-bot) online.
It’s almost a willful suspension of belief that we all practice when we interact with bots. Think about those cartoon characters in the center of New York City’s Times Square each day – every tourist knows that’s not really “Mickey Mouse” or “Superman” walking around at 2 in the afternoon – but there’s a willful suspension of belief that goes on as we pose with these characters as a way of making them real.
Imagining the future of celebrity bots
Just imagine all kinds of real-world ways these celebrity bots could be used. Imagine Hillary Clinton doing a little presidential debate prep by chatting with a Donald Trump bot for a few hours. Or imagine Barack Obama getting ready for a state visit abroad to Germany by chatting with the Angela Merkel bot.
The celebrity bot, then, is part of the future of social media. Bots are somehow social, even if they’re not real. All of your tweets form a linguistic basis for how you talk, and all of your status updates provide a rich history of how you might respond to specific questions. At some point in the future, we might not need to manage our own social networks — we’d just outsource that work to our personal bots. Let’s just hope they don’t say anything that we’ll regret later