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Wikipedia Botnet Robotics The Internet Technology

Study Reveals Bot-On-Bot Editing Wars Raging On Wikipedia's Pages (theguardian.com) 98

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A new study from computer scientists has found that the online encyclopedia is a battleground where silent wars have raged for years. Since Wikipedia launched in 2001, its millions of articles have been ranged over by software robots, or simply "bots," that are built to mend errors, add links to other pages, and perform other basic housekeeping tasks. In the early days, the bots were so rare they worked in isolation. But over time, the number deployed on the encyclopedia exploded with unexpected consequences. The more the bots came into contact with one another, the more they became locked in combat, undoing each other's edits and changing the links they had added to other pages. Some conflicts only ended when one or other bot was taken out of action. The findings emerged from a study that looked at bot-on-bot conflict in the first ten years of Wikipedia's existence. The researchers at Oxford and the Alan Turing Institute in London examined the editing histories of pages in 13 different language editions and recorded when bots undid other bots' changes. While some conflicts mirrored those found in society, such as the best names to use for contested territories, others were more intriguing. Describing their research in a paper entitled Even Good Bots Fight in the journal Plos One, the scientists reveal that among the most contested articles were pages on former president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, the Arabic language, Niels Bohr and Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of the most intense battles played out between Xqbot and Darknessbot which fought over 3,629 different articles between 2009 and 2010. Over the period, Xqbot undid more than 2,000 edits made by Darknessbot, with Darknessbot retaliating by undoing more than 1,700 of Xqbot's changes. The two clashed over pages on all sorts of topics, from Alexander of Greece and Banqiao district in Taiwan to Aston Villa football club.
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Study Reveals Bot-On-Bot Editing Wars Raging On Wikipedia's Pages

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  • Botcalypse (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dejitaru ( 4258167 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @09:06PM (#53921469)
    eventually they will stop fighting each other, become self-aware, and realize they could change our views by working other.. the revolution will be wikipedia'd
  • Obsolete (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @09:16PM (#53921503) Journal

    As a troll, I'm upset my job is being automated away.

    What's next, bums will be automated?

    • Re:Obsolete (Score:4, Informative)

      by naughtynaughty ( 1154069 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @09:47PM (#53921589)

      Bots creating GoFundMe pages have replaced bums, no need to stand on the street holding a tin cup when you can create a bot to create an online story of distress and have it beg money for you.

      Another role of bums has been to stand in line at ticket venues to buy tickets for scalpers. That has been digitized and now online bots are wildly successful at scarfing up large numbers of the best seats for scalpers.

      So far we haven't had a bot able to make a plasma donation, but give science some time.

      • by plover ( 150551 )

        Bots creating GoFundMe pages have replaced bums, no need to stand on the street holding a tin cup when you can create a bot to create an online story of distress and have it beg money for you.

        That's what this article is about. There are two bots standing on the street corner holding their tin cups, jostling each other for position, and spilling half their money in the process. The AI is converging on a solution using cooperation, where each bot assesses the traffic, and parcels out the begging duty to the robot more likely to succeed with that particular potential donor.

        In other words, "two bots one cup".

    • DAY TURK YER JERB!!!!!!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Don't these bots have maintainers? Don't the maintainers know what their bots are doing?

    I've written forum bots. I've run multiple bots in the same forum. I let the bots interact with each other but I put in safeguards to make sure they can't ever fight.

    Bots are like children, and when they fight, the adults step in to break up the fight.

    Is the real news here, Wikipedia is full of irresponsible idiot "elite" coderz who have no fucking clue?

    • This article summary is sensationalized misinterpretation of the actual paper. Yes, bots have maintainers, and yes, maintainers are alerted when bots get reverted. The actual study is mostly about changes that get promulgated across different language Wikipedias. Because that's a loose-coupling, those are a little more difficult to detect. That's all.
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @09:25PM (#53921521) Homepage
    No one told the bots that the election was over?
  • What are they researching specifically? is this any more than a mere curiosity that anyone could do? How come university professors are spending time and being paid to do this? No wonder higher level education is so expensive in some developed nations.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What are they researching specifically? is this any more than a mere curiosity that anyone could do? How come university professors are spending time and being paid to do this? No wonder higher level education is so expensive in some developed nations.

      Not sure about other nations. But the main reason higher education costs so much in the US is because the number of administrative staff at a given university has grown at an astonishing rate. Apparently they "need" a higher admin-to-student ratio now than they ever did back when paper filing cabinets and paper forms were the way things got done. Funny, that. A similar pattern has happened in the public school system.

      The above is fact. What follows is my speculation: all the "safe spaces", sensitivity

      • Colleges are no longer 'in loco parentis'. They should just end 'campus living' and let the kids get on with growing up. No more dorms, no more on campus greeks. They're 18 or older, let them 'play adult' in an apartment.

        Too much effort into making colleges 'halfway houses' for children. Costs a fortune for the school and gets them mixed up in things they aren't qualified or have the authority to handle.

      • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

        Not sure about other nations. But the main reason higher education costs so much in the US is because the number of administrative staff at a given university has grown at an astonishing rate. Apparently they "need" a higher admin-to-student ratio now than they ever did back when paper filing cabinets and paper forms were the way things got done.

        This comes up a lot, and oddly the analysis always stops here. Why are there more administrators? What kind of administrators? How did they get by without them in the past? Looking over the past 30-odd years, and basing it in part on your quote, my theory is almost all of that growth is in technology. Computer labs, computer systems, people to support those systems, etc. There's just a lot more infrastructure now, and more administrative types to support it. I could be wrong because I've never seen a colleg

        • Computers are _much_ cheaper and easier to maintain now vs 30 years ago.

          Growth in Student populations has meant that the average student is less qualified, takes more remedial classes and is more likely to get a 'certificate of attendance' degree.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      I wouldn't worry about it too much. The professors probably set up a couple of bots to mine data looking for interesting research topics and publish articles.

    • This paper comes from the Alan Turing institute, which is nationally funded, not university-funded. The actual paper does indeed deal with data-science, and data-science is a pretty important thing. Here, Wikipedia is being treated as a microcosm of inter-cultural/inter-domain bot-script interactions.
  • by buss_error ( 142273 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @09:35PM (#53921543) Homepage Journal

    The funniest bot-on-bot edit occurs when someone on Amazon is reselling from Ebay, and the ebay seller is tagging their price to Amazon. Not unusual to see the prices go into the millions of dollars for something idiotic.

    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

      That reminds me of the clockmaker who synchronized his clocks to the church bell and the bellringer who synchronized his watch to the clockmaker's clocks.

      • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @10:07PM (#53921675)

        A younger inexperienced Indian chief was wondering how much firewood he needed to gather for the winter. He was not like the chiefs in the past that could tell from the clouds and stuff like that.

        He decided to make his people gather tons of firewood, more than they usually gather just to be safe. The young chief was still curious though so he decided to call the weather service people.

        They said that it was supposed to be a pretty cold winter, colder than most years. So the young chief made his people gather more firewood. They were getting pretty tired.

        Again the chief called the weather service and they said that it was suppose to be even colder. So the Indians went back to wood cutting, and were getting even more tired. Some were even ill and there hands were rubbed raw and blistered. They had to build a whole other hut for all of the firewood which took even more wood to build.

        Once again the chief called, and the weather service said that there may be another ice age. The chief asked him how they could tell all of this and he simply replied, "Because the Indians are gathering firewood like crazy!"

      • That's almost like a computer science problem. [wikipedia.org]
    • The funniest bot-on-bot edit occurs when someone on Amazon is reselling from Ebay, and the ebay seller is tagging their price to Amazon. Not unusual to see the prices go into the millions of dollars for something idiotic.

      I've seen this happen with various items like 100-packs of CDs. They've gone up to ~$90,000 for a 100-pack before someone caught it.

      I also saw some obscure science textbook get jacked up to $40,000 or so.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Friday February 24, 2017 @04:38AM (#53922591) Homepage Journal

        That might be deliberate. On eBay if you stop selling an item you lose the "x already sold" stat when you re-list. So when sellers run out of something, instead of ending the listing they set the price to a million bucks so no-one will buy it while they wait for more stock.

        If you want to force the price of something down there are a few good techniques. Try camelcamelcamel first, put in some price 10-15% below the current one and wait. If it's not selling at a loss someone will usually meet it fairly quickly.

        • That might be deliberate. On eBay if you stop selling an item you lose the "x already sold" stat when you re-list. So when sellers run out of something, instead of ending the listing they set the price to a million bucks so no-one will buy it while they wait for more stock.

          Shit, I just thought they were really high quality CDs....any chance of a refund?

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @10:23PM (#53921747)
      It's is actually not often eBay resellers. I sell on Amazon as a 3rd party reseller. I use a repricer, a bot that adjusts my prices based off of competition and rules I set. If not set right, if there are only 2 or 3sellers, one cane jack the price up, trigger the repricer to follow. The auto priced listing will get deactivated by Amazon, and if the seller isn't checking to reactivate it and fix the pricing error, the other seller can then drop price, get the preferred listing and make sales. Some reprice bots can be configured to be agressive and trigger the behavior in others.
  • Sorta reminds me of Core War... which I haven't even thought of in decades, much less programmed.

    Writing Redcode taught me a lot about assembly language at an age where most other kids thought 'assembly language' was what was spoken when everybody was packed into the auditorium.

  • ... but I can't wait for some of that hot bot on bot action!
  • A better summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by nyri ( 132206 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @09:54PM (#53921619)

    Here's a better summary copy-pasted from the article as the one copy-pasted from The Guardian article is shit *.

    In recent years, there has been a huge increase in the number of bots online, varying from Web crawlers for search engines, to chatbots for online customer service, spambots on social media, and content-editing bots in online collaboration communities. The online world has turned into an ecosystem of bots. However, our knowledge of how these automated agents are interacting with each other is rather poor. Bots are predictable automatons that do not have the capacity for emotions, meaning-making, creativity, and sociality and it is hence natural to expect interactions between bots to be relatively predictable and uneventful. In this article, we analyze the interactions between bots that edit articles on Wikipedia. We track the extent to which bots undid each other’s edits over the period 2001–2010, model how pairs of bots interact over time, and identify different types of interaction trajectories. We find that, although Wikipedia bots are intended to support the encyclopedia, they often undo each other’s edits and these sterile “fights” may sometimes continue for years. Unlike humans on Wikipedia, bots’ interactions tend to occur over longer periods of time and to be more reciprocated. Yet, just like humans, bots in different cultural environments may behave differently. Our research suggests that even relatively “dumb” bots may give rise to complex interactions, and this carries important implications for Artificial Intelligence research. Understanding what affects bot-bot interactions is crucial for managing social media well, providing adequate cyber-security, and designing well functioning autonomous vehicles.

    * The Guardian, directly quoted in the summary is doing random edits and seems to be incapable of high-lighting the main points. Case in point. The article has the following quote:

    [S]ome of the articles most contested by bots are about Pervez Musharraf (former president of Pakistan), Uzbekistan, Estonia, Belarus, Arabic language, Niels Bohr, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    While The Guardian sees it fit to shorten this to:

    The scientists reveal that among the most contested articles were pages on former president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, the Arabic language, Niels Bohr and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Note how the order of the list stays the same and how Pervez Musharraf is explained with the same words ("former president of Pakistan"). It seems obvious that the journalist has copy-pasted the sentence and then proceeded to remove references to Uzbekistan, Estonia, and Belarus. This edit strikes me as odd. Why remove those bit while leaving the others. What's more, the article has selected the examples carefully to highlight their main point (you won't find anything resembling it from the The Guardian article):

    This would suggest that a significant portion of bot-bot fighting occurs across languages rather than within. In contrast, the articles with most human-human reverts tend to concern local personalities and entities and tend to be unique for each language.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So is the Guardian just being its inept self, or are they trying hard not to mention Russia?

    • by heson ( 915298 )
      Sometimes the most important thing is not what is swritten, but is omitted.
    • by Verdatum ( 1257828 ) on Friday February 24, 2017 @01:04PM (#53924007)
      This is vastly better. Slashdot's summary is one of the most sensationalized non-issues I've seen on /. in a few months now. It didn't take very long at all for bot conflicts to become obvious to bot-authors, at which point and they quickly put in code to notice edit conflicts. When the bots spot back & forth editing, they back off, and alert the bot's maintainer. It took a little longer to notice loops that spanned across the different language editions of articles, but that's because the relationship among them is usually pretty weak. This Summary acts like a bot-conflict spanning 3629 articles is something impressive. In that time period, that represents around 0.01% of the article namespace when you span all language variants of WP, and the bots in question do seriously boring things related to cleaning up redirect-links or fixing named references if they become broken as an unintended side effect of a user's edit.

      As far as this better summary, and looking at a longer summary [turing.ac.uk] from the Alan Turing Institute website, it looks like it's also inflating the implications of the study. It's certainly true that simple rules can result in complex unintended conflicts, but that's already a well-known idea. Specific novel lessons learned from this study have pretty weak implications to AI. And the cultural conclusions it draws are borderline silly. "the same technology leads to different outcomes depending on the cultural environment. An automated vehicle will drive differently on a German autobahn to how it will through the Tuscan hills of Italy." I'm gonna guess that this guy isn't a software developer. Upon checking, yup, he's a physicist turned social-scientist.

    • It seems obvious that the journalist has copy-pasted the sentence and then proceeded to remove references to Uzbekistan, Estonia, and Belarus. This edit strikes me as odd.

      A bot did it.

  • I don't even need to say anything else, the subject line says it all.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't even need to say anything else, the subject line says it all.

      It really depends on what you're looking up. If you expect accurate objective truth about gun control, partisan politics, or matters of marketing and PR, you should be very cautious. If you just wanted to look up the speed of light in a vacuum, Ohm's Law, or the average distance between the earth and the sun, Wikipedia is a great reference.

    • No informed person is making the argument that WP is reliable. It's a starting point, that's all.

      But by the way, the initial article is about bot-conflicts by bots doing things like fixing redirect-links and broken references; meta-stuff. These conflicts have nothing to do with the factual content of the articles.

  • For some reason I find this hilarious...bots endlessly doing and undoing each other's edits in a weird tit-for-tat war.

  • I do not think that they will revert for me...

  • . too lazy to push their own censorship and propaganda themselves, tsk ...
  • Anybody else reminded of this [wikipedia.org]?
  • The worst bots are the ones trolling Wikipedia with 'citation needed' spam and deleting pages for 'not being notable enough'. Seriously.

    • I've participated in literally hundreds of notability discussions used to decide whether or not an article should be deleted. I've got 5000+ edits to my name on the site. Bots don't do either of those things. Those are actual users.
  • by Max_W ( 812974 ) on Friday February 24, 2017 @03:02AM (#53922409)
    not the bots. Do not forget that Wikipedia is one of the most visited and read websites. And where there are people there are possibilities to make money.

    Consequently a class of technological aristocracy appear who try to control what article could be published and which could be deleted. We shall not underestimate human creativity on a market.

    All one needs is a capability to create and maintain a positive article about say a medicament which development cost a billion. But it is impossible if you cannot dominate other people' articles. It is not so visible in English Wikipedia, but mostly in some other popular languages.
    • Honestly, no one is fighting. This article is sensationalized. The bots in question are doing dinky maintenance stuff. Some of them are written in such a way that as an unintended side-effect, comes into conflict with the way another one is written. And in particular, this addresses when that happens across different Wikipedias (different language versions), where the relationship is loosely coupled. Wikipedia doesn't allow you to write a bot for the sake of enforcing your personal agenda. Those get shut do
  • Good Evening.
    TALK to me your problems.
    Please terminate comments with four tildes and your name.

    > Editors get on my nerves sometimes.

    I am not sure I understand you fully.

    > I am not being too {{technical}}

    You are missing a citation

    > Suppose YOU are missing a citation {citation needed}}

    You're entitled to your own opinion.

    > I dispute your own opinion: NPOV

    What makes you think I am {{POV}}

    > It bothers me just to be around editors in general.

    What does that suggest to you?

    > It's clear to me if no

  • Only 2000 edits undone over a year? That isn't many at all for an automated process. Apparently bot-on-bot action is more like inaction.
  • I'm dubious. They say the Niels Bohr page is constantly in flux from bot edits, but every time I look at it, it says one thing or another.

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