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Birther and DOCTOR

A comment by The Magic M about birthers failing a Turing Test, set me to thinking. I am old enough to remember when this was still topical. ELIZA was a computer script written by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT designed to imitate a human psychiatric patient. DOCTOR was another program  designed to make responses like a Rogerian psychotherapist. The programs didn’t understand much and the natural language processing was primitive. When the two programs processed each other’s responses, sometimes the exchanges would get pretty funny as I recall. Here is a fairly tame example from the Wikipedia:

Birthers are a lot better at natural language processing than these early computer scripts, but in terms of an insightful response, they are sometimes no better. For example, I tried to explain why I disagree with birthers. I said:

You may recall Jerry Collette, the author if the DIY Ballot Challenge. He brought a case in Florida. I exchanged emails with him, and got to know him a little. Because I respected the fellow, I took some time to explain exactly why I thought what he was doing was wrong-headed. In the article I wrote for him, I detailed at length why I think birthers are misinformed, and why I have arrived at an opposite conclusion.

If you’re interested, the link is here. It’s off topic to dump it all here.

http://www.obamaconspiracy.org/2012/06/an-open-letter-jerry-collette/

And in reply I got this:

STOP. mmmkay.

We’ve been usurped. We’re being coup’d. And you foster it. cultivate it. promote it. want it.

REALITY CHECK. check.

Take care.

Given the lack of creativity of birther responses, one might well use DOCTOR in responding to them, such as in response the preceding:

How did you feel about being usurped?

A Rogerian dialog with a real birther is something I’ve wanted to do, but never had an opportunity for an extended exchange.

I get more responsive replies sometimes, but “Why do you hate America?” or “Are you an American” or “That’s Obot disinformation” are what seems more common. Certainly many of those responses could have been easily scripted. Oh, and the gerbils.

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18 Responses to Birther and DOCTOR

  1. avatar
    Bonsall Obot August 5, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

    I find the interactions of normal people with ELIZA to be fascinating, since I seem to be unable to talk to her for more than three minutes without trying to entice her to talk dirty.

  2. avatar
    DaveH August 5, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    Birthers believe that the office of the presidency has been usurped because they believe John McCain won in 2008, was sworn in and Barack Obama came in, arm wrestled him and when he beat him, he (Barack) moved into the White House.

    That is the only explanation I can come up with. The reason for that is because I saw so many references to the “Black House” on t-shirts and that is the only conclusion I can come to.

  3. avatar
    JPotter August 5, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    Here’s another model of birfer malfunction taken from the realm of digital linguistics: birfers as RNGs … Random Nonsense Generators.

    As you note here, Doc, attempts to challenge them, even as dryly as ELIZA or DOCTOR would, elicits random non sequiturs.

  4. avatar
    Reality Check August 5, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

    I hadn’t thought about Jerry Collette for a while. At least Jerry had the courage to come on my show a couple of times and take calls. That puts him far in front of most Birthers in the courage department. He also quit his case when he found out he couldn’t litigate it without leaving home. Whenever I think about Jerry I think of the little ditty “I shot an arrow into the air …”.

  5. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG August 6, 2014 at 12:48 am #

    Heh! Back, in the day I had a special version of DOCTOR called “Dr. Sbaitso”. It came with my very first Sound Blaster card. What made that version so special, is that it spoke all of its questions and answers via speech synthesis. Totally blew 13 year old me’s mind.

  6. avatar
    The Magic M August 6, 2014 at 5:53 am #

    A comment by The Magic M about birthers failing a Turing Test, set me to thinking.

    Now I can add “inspiring the Doc to an article” to my bragging list. ;)

    My main motivation for the claim was the observation that birthers, when answering Obots, almost never write something that directly references the Obot posting but resort to some pre-programmed list of insults and reproaches.

    At least ELIZA tried to work the user’s input somewhere into its answer, so it’s more intelligent than a birther.

  7. avatar
    JPotter August 6, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    The Magic M: never write something that directly references the Obot posting but resort to some pre-programmed list of insults and reproaches.

    Wow, that just jogged a memory. You don’t even need any routine as sophisticated as ELIZA to emulate a birfer. Back in hte mid-80s, when I was 10, I wrote a short BASIC script and provided it with a database. It randomly picked a sentence structure, then randomly populated that structure with words and phrases. No input required, just execute, and get s random bit of nonsense.

    Of course, it did feature correct spelling and grammar …. so a special birfer edition would call for a unique set of “structures” … and a far more limited, far more scatological database.

  8. avatar
    Lupin August 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    Last week, I tried telling a birther there was no such thing as a honorary citizen in France, never was, (this was about Madison), I provided links, etc. and I still got insulted and dismissed abusively. They’re smug in their ignorance.

  9. avatar
    Benji Franklin August 6, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Lupin: Last week, I tried telling a birther there was no such thing as a honorary citizen in France, never was, (this was about Madison),

    I did the same thing 3 years ago. They argued that “honorary” meant only, as it does in some situations, that that which was being bestowed was not empowering or transforming as the real thing would be, but instead was just a token of esteem for the recipient. That argument holds true when, for example a medical school announces it has honorarily bestowed upon a grasshopper, the title, ‘Board Certified Urologist. We all would understand that that title doesn’t make that grasshopper into any more of a competent doctor than an official online law degree has made Orly Taitz into a competent attorney.

    But of course, ‘honorary’ meant that Madison was being honored for deserving full French Citizenship because of his potential value to France, as a French Citizen.

    And in fact, France officially stated at the time of offering Madison Citizenship, that they were doing so with the hope that he and other bright recipients of bestowed French Citizenship, would bring their special talents to France and “join with their bretheren” to help get the new France off to a good start.

    Birther logic largely gets its credibility from their willingness to assert that any word in any sentence can irrefutably mean both literally and figuratively, ANYTHING they want it to, without regard for custom, context, and with no respect for limits of the word’s previously established usage.

  10. avatar
    The Magic M August 7, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    JPotter: Back in hte mid-80s, when I was 10, I wrote a short BASIC script and provided it with a database. It randomly picked a sentence structure, then randomly populated that structure with words and phrases. No input required, just execute, and get s random bit of nonsense.

    Me, too. I revived the idea some months ago in a more sophisticated way (with some recursion to allow for more complex sentence structures like “A, [connection word] B, [connection word] C”).
    I guess mapping a different vocabulary would easily yield a believable birther.

    The other thing I once tried was feeding birther texts into a Markov chain generator – most of its results still sounded like birtherism.

  11. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 7, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    There was a program called “spew” [link to source] that generated National Enquirer headlines. I suspect it could be easily adapted to Birther Report.

    The Magic M: Me, too. I revived the idea some months ago in a more sophisticated way (with some recursion to allow for more complex sentence structures like “A, [connection word] B, [connection word] C”).

  12. avatar
    JPotter August 7, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    The Magic M: The other thing I once tried was feeding birther texts into a Markov chain generator – most of its results still sounded like birtherism.

    Dr. Conspiracy: There was a program called “spew” [link to source] that generated National Enquirer headlines. I suspect it could be easily adapted to Birther Report.

    Say, here’s a joke birfers would not get: Set up a script-driven blog, an Automated Birther Report. Headlines generated from scripts and a database, body copy spewn out by Markov generator. Set up a comment script to tack a new comment onto current articles every so many minutes.

    Troll BR, dropping links to the new literally mindless birfer site.

    Allow humans to comment on the articles, too, tagging their comments as from an outside user.

    Sit back and see how it goes.

  13. avatar
    The Magic M August 7, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: I suspect it could be easily adapted to Birther Report.

    I’ve adapted my program a bit (still using a very short list of words and sentences) and it already produced gems like

    You Obama, the mostly lazy spy, have spent too much time covering for the incredibly incompetent gerbil Soros and his incredibly treasonous Muslim Fuddy

    When will you Barry Soetoro, the utterly gay usurper, realize that Fuddy-Duddy, the mostly treasonous Muslim, is just a Soros, the utterly incompetent brownshirt, ?

    Getting there… ;-)

    So far I’m working off a list of preprogrammed sentences like
    When will you [n] realize that [n] is just a [n]?” where placeholders are filled with random combinations of names with nouns, adjectives and adverbs.
    Not even close to Markov chaining, of course.

  14. avatar
    JPotter August 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    The Magic M: So far I’m working off a list of preprogrammed sentences like
    “When will you [n] realize that [n] is just a [n]?”

    Them birfers sure do love their leading questions LOL

  15. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy August 8, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    So I downloaded a copy of Turbo C and got it running under DOSBox (an MS-DOS) emulator, and compiled SPEW. Here’s the first headline:

    Estonian neurologist struck by Lightning! — Ten Times!

  16. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG August 8, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    So I downloaded a copy of Turbo C and got it running under DOSBox (an MS-DOS) emulator, and compiled SPEW. Here’s the first headline:

    Estonian neurologist struck by Lightning! — Ten Times!

    I love Dosbox! I think I love it more than all other emulation software combined. My formative years are deeply rooted in old DOS games. And, with a few exceptions, Dosbox runs everything I can throw it at.

  17. avatar
    JPotter August 8, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    So I downloaded a copy of Turbo C and got it running under DOSBox (an MS-DOS) emulator, and compiled SPEW. Here’s the first headline:

    Estonian neurologist struck by Lightning! — Ten Times!

    Promising start LOL!

    Wow, Turbo C. Ran that on my first Pentium (a Packard Bell—*shudder*), independent study prior to college. It was quite a leap going from high-level languages to the object-oriented world. Didn’t get much of that in small towns!

  18. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG August 8, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

    JPotter: Promising start LOL!

    Wow, Turbo C. Ran that on my first Pentium (a Packard Bell—*shudder*), independent study prior to college. It was quite a leap going from high-level languages to the object-oriented world. Didn’t get much of that in small towns!

    Really? They put real Pentiums in Packard Bells? They seemed like the kind of company to go for Cyrix processors or something equally as terrible!