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Attack of the robots in social media


My career as a Graphic Designer evolved with the use of computers. I found a computer to be a wonderful compliment to me, as it loved to do all kinds of dull and repetitious tasks, and freed me up to be more creative, and do stuff like drawing cartoons. And one of the things I learned about early on I called "macros".

The software programs that I used the most were QuarkXPress and Adobe Photoshop. My specialty was design for print, which meant that I dealt with words and pictures. I didn't write the words, or take the pictures, my job was just to place them on pages, which is just called Page Layout. Of course, the words would sometimes need to be changed, as did the photos, and that became part of my job, too. I wasn't a writer, or a photographer, but I was often asked to make small corrections, such as changing the name of something in a document. An example might be changing a word or phrase that repeated many times in a document, such as changing "trolley" to "street car".

Most Graphic Designers would spend hours going through a document, selecting the word or phrase, and replacing it. I figured out very early on that this was something that humans were terrible at, and hated to do, and computers loved it. So I discovered how to write a simple macro that would make the change. I loved tapping a key and seeing a few seconds later that there had been 1,457 changes. In Photoshop, it's called "Actions" and it's the same principle - you write a set of instructions and each time you want to use it, you just click a button. Much of my success in my career was because of my understanding of that relationship between computers and humans. I hit deadlines, and I got to go home at the end of the day. I was paid for results, not how long it took me to do something. And that's the good side of macros.

The bad side of macros, of course, is that instructions can be written and then unleashed with the power of a computer, often for very bad things, like viruses. Or for very annoying things, like robot comments on social media. And if you're seeing a lot more of that stuff on places like Instagram, you're seeing the attack of the robots, or more precisely, macros.

It's an arms race, as one side writes macros that fight the other side. The good news is that computers have a lot of difficulty presenting themselves as human. Computers can say, "Great post!" every time they see a photo of a dachshund on Instagram, but they can't really do much more. If you're seeing short comments like that on your blog, or any social media, which don't seem to say anything specific about what you're writing, chances are you're seeing a robot. Robots have taken over emoticons, too, putting in rows of "thumbs up", that sort of thing.

No, I don't write macros, and I never really got very good at the limited stuff that I did with them as a Graphic Designer. But I learned enough to know their power. So if you write a comment on this blog, just write it the way that a human being would. Robots are powerful, but they still can't do that.