Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ro, Ro, Ro Your Bot

Hi, welcome to Second Life!”
Are you a person?”

Hi, welcome to Second Life!”
RU an NPC?”

Hi, welcome to Second Life!”
are you real?”

I get this sort of response from time to time. Much more often, the person I greet simply ignores me entirely and walks past without responding at all. Maybe they’re rude, or distracted, or did not see the chat appear…or maybe they too took me for a robot, a piece of software not worthy of a reply.

Whenever someone asks me if I’m real, I am nonplussed. How should I answer? And no matter what I say, what good will it do? How does one prove one’s reality to a skeptic? Oddly enough, most people seem satisfied with a simple affirmation: “I’m a real person. How can I help you?” I think this need to be reassured of people’s reality is one reason some people prefer to use voice in Second Life. Although there are some really good voice synthesizers out there, it’s still pretty easy to tell when you’re speaking to a machine.

Second Life doesn’t have a lot of bots, artificial people, or non player characters (NPCs). Almost everyone you meet that has a nametag over their head (yes, even that sofa in the corner!) is an actual person sitting at a computer just like you are.

But, although they aren’t common, there ARE bots in SL. These can be either of two sorts. The first sort is a real person who’s wearing a robot-like avatar – a person disguised as a robot. The second is something that looks like a regular avatar, but is actually controlled by a computer program – a robot, disguised as a person!

Robot Avatars
Here’s one of my favorites…the cheeky little Cardboard Boxbot. He reminds me of those irreverent little kids from “South Park”. You have this avatar in your Library!

This one is my personal favorite…it’s inspired by the chrome-plated girls created by the artist Sorayama. You can find this outfit in world at

How about a mech? One of those Transformer-like giant war machines.
Some robots are less mechanical-looking than others. There are quite a few clockwork automatons around, especially in Steampunk-themed areas like Caledon. They may look like this…
…or like a perfectly normal person, until you see the windup key sticking out of their back. My friend Wendyslippers Charisma is a windup doll of this type. The key may be simply an accessory, or it could be an essential part of your clockwork role-play…if some kind soul doesn’t wind you occasionally, you “run down” and are unable to move until you get re-wound.
Scripted Agents
This is Linden Lab’s official term for what we commonly call a “bot”. It’s a regular Second Life account, but the viewer software has been modified to allow the avatar to function on its own, without human control. All Second Life accounts that are used in this fashion are *supposed* to be identified by the registrant as such. To tell you about the reason for that, we need to go back into Second Life history.

Until fairly recently, traffic count (how many avatars visited your parcel, and how long they stayed) played a part in determining a place’s ranking in Search. Because of this, some merchants put out “camping” chairs. These were actual chairs, or sometimes poseballs that would animate your avatar. If you sat on them for a set period of time, they would pay you a small amount, usually $L1 – 5. The merchants got a higher traffic count, and penniless newbies could earn a little cash. Everybody wins, right?

Until some smart aleck programmed a version of the SL viewer that let them sit an automated avatar in a camping chair to earn that fee. Soon, most of the campers in Second Life were not penniless newbies, but swarms of camping bots used by “gold miners” to suck money out of SL a bit at a time.

Then some merchant thought, “Why pay campers, real or bots? I can put out a slew of my own bots to just stand around and drive up my traffic count.” And so “traffic bots” were born. They are illegal now, but you can still find them sometimes. Look for large numbers of green dots on the map. If you go to that place, and have a hard time actually finding the avatars that the map says are there, there’s likely a room full of bots hidden away underground, or high in the sky. It’s an eerie sight…a crowd of newbies, jammed shoulder to shoulder, just standing around and not saying a word. It also makes for a very laggy sim.

Oh…why are traffic bots illegal now, you ask? Several reasons, but the main one is they were consuming a huge amount of system resources. Linden Lab never published any official numbers, but surveys conducted by residents indicated that at one point, bots were about 15 – 30% of the on-line population of Second Life!

Then there are Landbots. These are a bit more sophisticated. They constantly scan the “Land For Sale” listings. When someone puts their land up for sale at a price below the bot’s trigger point, it teleports to that spot and buys the land. A lot of people have meant to transfer their land to a friend for a nominal $1L, and had it snatched away by a Landbot instead. This is easily avoided…just set your land to sell ONLY to that friend, not to “Anyone”.

Some stores use bots as greeters or models. As long as the bots serve a purpose other than solely being used for traffic count, and are registered as Scripted Agents, this is perfectly legal, although I think it’s kind of creepy.

There are ongoing projects to create a truly interactive artificial intelligence, linked to an SL avatar. This isn’t, IMO, creepy, but fun. To get a taste of this, browse over to the ALICEBOT blog page.

Say…if I hooked my Lindal Kidd account to ALICE and set her down at the Caledon Oxbridge arrival point, do you think anyone would notice a difference?


  1. ooh, I like the chrome-plated avatar. VERY cool. :)

  2. Gosh, I can't believe I forgot to mention HAL. HAL is a chatbot. He tours the grid in search of people to talk to. Conversing with HAL is a very surreal experience, because of the way his AI processes veer. If you should run into HAL, talk to him by saying "Hello, HAL" in local chat. When you get tired of him, say "Goodbye, HAL".