Wikipedia Bots Wage Editing Wars That Last for Years


Since it launched in 2001, Wikipedia has attracted passionate contributors disputing everything from the height of André the Giant to the spelling of "Brazil." According to a new study published in PLOS One [PDF], artificially intelligent bots make up the site’s most relentless editors. Editing battles between software bots have raged on for years, and sometimes they only end when one party is taken out of commission, The Guardian reports.

For the study, computer scientists from the Oxford Internet Institute and the Alan Turing Institute in London examined bot interactions during Wikipedia’s first decade online. Editing bots have been a vital part of the site’s maintenance since its inception. Every day thousands of bots remove vandalism, correct spelling errors, add links, and complete other general tasks beyond what humans can do alone, and sometimes they cross paths.

When two algorithms contradict one another, they can go on undoing each other's edits for years. Between 2009 and 2010, Xqbot and Darknessbot duked it out over 3629 separate articles. A different battle between the bot Tachikoma and Russbot lasted two years. In that time they changed over 1000 revisions the other had made. Subjects of contention between the two included Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and the UK's demographics. The pages that sparked the most bot-on-bot conflict overall were those for former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Arabic language.

Language also played a large role in the automated edit wars. Portuguese bots were the most combative, reverting the edits of their peers an average of 185 times in 10 years. German bots, on the other hand, only picked editorial fights an average of 24 times over the decade. Bots don’t give in as easily as human editors do, and they also engage in slower battles. People receive instant alerts when someone reverts their edits, while it usually takes bots about a month to see a change that has been made.

Programming AI systems to interact with each other is becoming increasingly important. In January, we got a fascinating peek at what a conversation between two Google Home devices looks like. They were much more civil than the Wikipedia bots—they discussed God, their existence, and eventually made plans to get married.

[h/t The Guardian]

Marshall McLuhan, the Man Who Predicted the Internet in 1962

Futurists of the 20th century were prone to some highly optimistic predictions. Theorists thought we might be extending our life spans to 150, working fewer hours, and operating private aircrafts from our homes. No one seemed to imagine we’d be communicating with smiley faces and poop emojis in place of words.

Marshall McLuhan didn’t call that either, but he did come closer than most to imagining our current technology-led environment. In 1962, the author and media theorist, predicted we’d have an internet.

That was the year McLuhan, a professor of English born in Edmonton, Canada on this day in 1911, wrote a book called The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it, he observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: The acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. McLuhan believed this new frontier would be home to what he dubbed a “global village”—a space where technology spread information to anyone and everyone.

Computers, McLuhan said, “could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization,” and offer “speedily tailored data.”

McLuhan elaborated on the idea in his 1962 book, Understanding Media, writing:

"Since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."

But McLuhan didn’t concern himself solely with the advantages of a network. He cautioned that a surrender to “private manipulation” would limit the scope of our information based on what advertisers and others choose for users to see.

Marshall McLuhan died on December 31, 1980, several years before he was able to witness first-hand how his predictions were coming to fruition.

Attention Business Travelers: These Are the Countries With the Fastest Internet

Whether you travel for business or pleasure, high-speed internet seems like a necessity when you’re trying to connect with colleagues or loved ones back home. Of course, the quality of that connection largely depends on what part of the world you’re in—and if you want the best internet on earth, you’ll have to head to Asia.

Singapore might be smaller than New York City, but it has the fastest internet of any country, Travel + Leisure reports. The city-state received the highest rating from the World Broadband Speed League, an annual ranking conducted by UK analyst Cable. For the report, Cable tracked broadband speeds in 200 countries over several 12-month periods to get an average.

Three Scandinavian countries—Sweden, Denmark, and Norway—followed closely behind Singapore. And while the U.S. has the fastest broadband in North America, it comes in 20th place for internet speed globally, falling behind Asian territories like Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, as well as European countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Spain. On the bright side, though, the U.S. is up one place from last year’s ranking.

In the case of Singapore, the country’s small size works to its advantage. As a financial hub in Asia, it depends heavily on its digital infrastructure, and as a result, “there is economic necessity, coupled with the relative ease of delivering high-speed connections across a small area,” Cable notes in its report. Within Singapore, 82 percent of residents have internet access.

Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, on the other hand, have all focused on FTTP (Fiber to the Premises) connections, and this has boosted internet speeds.

Overall, global broadband speeds are rising, and they improved by 23 percent from 2017 to 2018. However, much of this progress is seen in countries that are already developed, while underdeveloped countries still lag far behind.

“Europe, the United States, and thriving economic centers in the Asia-Pacific region (Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) are leading the world when it comes to the provision of fast, reliable broadband, which suggests a relationship between available bandwidth and economic health,” Dan Howdle, Cable’s consumer telecoms analyst, said in a statement. “Those countries leading the world should be congratulated, but we should also be conscious of those that are being left further and further behind."

[h/t Travel + Leisure]


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