Robot Reporter

Would it not be interesting if there was a website programmed like a spam robot, but with a more exciting purpose.

For instance, this hypothetical website, call it "Reporter," could roam the Internet collecting e-mail addresses from web pages, but instead of sending unwanted advertisements for Viagra or dating services, it asked questions - and then published the responses.

The Reporter would first introduce itself, like all good journalists, as a reporter. It could also be very formal – a charming reference to the days of common courtesy (long gone).

A sample inquiry, by way of e-mail:

"Dear Mr. John Jeffrey,

Do not be frightened when I tell you the truth: I am a robot reporter. I am a website programmed by a group of people to roam the Internet to find people to interview.

I found your e-mail address on a website and I apologize for this intrusion, if you consider it such.

I would like to ask you a few questions and then compile a Q & A on my website, which is accessible for all to see. I create one interview a day. Some days, I am rejected by a few people and struggle to meet my deadline, but I am dogged - this is how I was programmed - and I always find someone willing to talk.

My questions are personal, but not overly so. I hope to create a kind of linear progression of interviews over time. Imagine that some day a thousand years from now and 398,763 interviews later that someone stumbles upon your interview. They will say: This young man is of interest to me and I will try to think about what he was like.

I ask that you send me your answers numbered, 1 - 10, and if you like, you can send a picture to be published on the page I will create for your interview.

The questions..."

Naturally, only some 1% of people would write back and even less would send their picture. But, that is more than enough to satisfy Reporter's requirement of an interview a day.

The website where Reporter publishes these interviews would have to have a central hub page and a place to contact the programmers. It would have to an explanation of the project and the history of it. And it would have to have a very accessible way to view present and past interviews. It should include a running count of interviews and of requested interviews. Also, there should be a way to search the database of interviews.

What would presumably happen is a kind of sediment of humanity. Even the first thousand would seem similar to each other but if viewed in a sample of one every thousand for a hundred years, you would have an interesting and perhaps fruitful way of looking at how people change. If the questions were properly designed, they could elicit ways of speaking, desires of generations, fears, and the background noise that we do not hear when we are listening...

One fear, though, is that the questions would begin to look antiquated, and eventually, stop garnering responses. Also, it is conceivable that someday people would stop speaking English (and this Reporter is biased in that it can only ask questions in English, another flaw). In the long view, this program could not be sustained. Why, there could be a day when there is no such thing as e-mail.

A way around this would be to create a simpler web bot. This one, call it "Collector," would instead wander the Internet and collect images, video, sound, text, based on a kind of programmed sensitivity. It could also be random.

Collector would then create a webpage a day to display its finds. Over time you could search for a particular day in history and see what Collector found of interest. It would be important that Collector could distinguish between new and old content added to the internet. This way Collector would avoid collecting material from the 80s or 90s or someday the 2560s.

One other thought on Reporter: It could also pose questions to people in chat rooms.

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In this issue:


3 of 4 postcards to a Coney Island sword swallower
The Answering Machine
Astronut: a song for Lisa Nowak

This Island Earth

Dispatch from Lake Titicaca


Camera Sunshine Repository


Anti-Google: The art of irrelevant generation

About the Moon

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