Critical Bots and Hopeful Monsters

Posted November 11th, 2014 at 12:15 pm.

Professor Mark Sample explaining some of his code.Last month, we had the opportunity to bring Professor Mark Sample to Swarthmore College for a workshop on Twitterbots. Professor Sample’s oeuvre of bots demonstrates that a Twitterbot can be funny, can be poetic, can take a stand. Anyone who follows @SaveHumanities or @MobyDickatSea knows that some bots are worth making for their own sake, but Professor Sample encouraged us to think critically about why we make them. What is the value, as he put it, of making weird things on the internet?

Tri-Co students hard at work with Professor Sample's practice code.

Tri-Co students hard at work with Professor Sample’s practice code.

Offering the lens of Kari Kraus’ Hopeful Monsters, he suggested that making Twitterbots is a kind of exploratory programming: a way to see what you can make (and break) with code, and code itself as a way to explore problems. Coding Twitterbots provides a way, through making, coding, and tinkering, of exploring what could be (but isn’t) and what shouldn’t be (but is).

By showing us the pieces that come together to make a Twitterbot, Professor Sample also demonstrated how a bot can take Big Data and make it small – tiny, even – by remixing the data with a maker’s touch. As Kari Kraus says of Hopeful Monsters, it is “about the strange loops and hybrid products of what-if thinking in the service of art, design, preservation, and communication.”


Miss the Workshop but interested in trying your hand at bot making? Professor Sample ended the afternoon by referring us to Darius Kazemi, internet artist and bot maker, who keeps his code and basic bot-making tutorials freely accessible on GitHub. Give it a try!


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