A Philosopher's Blog

The Trolling Test

Posted in Humor, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 23, 2014

Wtason TrollOne interesting philosophical problem is known as the problem of other minds. The basic idea is that although I know I have a mind (I think, therefore I think), the problem is that I need a method by which to know that other entities have (or are) minds. This problem can also be recast in less metaphysical terms by focusing on the problem of determining whether and entity thinks or not.

Descartes, in his discussion of whether or not animals have minds, argued that the definitive indicator of having a mind (thinking) is the ability to use true language.

Crudely put, the idea is that if something talks, then it is reasonable to regard it as a thinking being. Descartes was careful to distinguish between what would be mere automated responses and actual talking:

How many different automata or moving machines can be made by the industry of man […] For we can easily understand a machine’s being constituted so that it can utter words, and even emit some responses to action on it of a corporeal kind, which brings about a change in its organs; for instance, if touched in a particular part it may ask what we wish to say to it; if in another part it may exclaim that it is being hurt, and so on. But it never happens that it arranges its speech in various ways, in order to reply appropriately to everything that may be said in its presence, as even the lowest type of man can do.

This Cartesian approach was explicitly applied to machines by Alan Turing in his famous Turing test. The basic idea is that if a person cannot distinguish between a human and a computer by engaging in a natural language conversation via text, then the computer would have passed the Turing test.

Not surprisingly, technological advances have resulted in computers that can engage in behavior that appears to involve using language in ways that might pass the test. Perhaps the best known example is IBM’s Watson—the computer that won at Jeopardy. Watson recently upped his game by engaging in what seemed to be a rational debate regarding violence and video games.

In response to this, I jokingly suggested a new test to Patrick Lin: the trolling test. In this context, a troll is someone “who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

While trolls are apparently truly awful people (a hateful blend of Machiavellianism, narcissism, sadism and psychopathy) and trolling is certainly undesirable behavior, the trolling test does seem worth considering.

In the abstract, the test would work like the Turing test, but would involve a human troll and a computer attempting to troll. The challenge would be for the computer troll to successfully pass as human troll.

Obviously enough, a computer can easily be programmed to post random provocative comments from a database. However, the real meat (or silicon) of the challenge comes from the computer being able to engage in (ironically) relevant trolling. That is, the computer would need to engage the other commentators in true trolling.

As a controlled test, the trolling computer (“mechatroll”) would “read” and analyze a selected blog post. The post would then be commented on by human participants—some engaging in normal discussion and some engaging in trolling. The mechatroll would then endeavor to troll the human participants (and, for bonus points, to troll the trolls) by analyzing the comments and creating appropriately trollish comments.

Another option is to have an actual live field test. A specific blog site would be selected that is frequented by human trolls and non-trolls. The mechatroll would then endeavor to engage in trolling on that site by analyzing the posts and comments.

In either test scenario, if the mechatroll were able to troll in a way indistinguishable from the human trolls, then it would pass the trolling test.

While “stupid mechatrolling”, such as just posting random hateful and irrelevant comments, is easy, true mechatrolling would be rather difficult. After all, the mechatroll would need to be able to analyze the original posts and comments to determine the subjects and the direction of the discussion. The mechatroll would then need to make comments that would be trollishly relevant and this would require selecting those that would be indistinguishable from those generated by a narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic human.

While creating a mechatroll would be a technological challenge, it might be suspected that doing so would be undesirable. After all, there are far too many human trolls already and they serve no valuable purpose—so why create a computer addition? One reasonable answer is that modeling such behavior could provide useful insights into human trolls and the traits that make them trolls. As far as a practical application, such a system could be developed into a troll-filter to help control the troll population.

As a closing point, it might be a bad idea to create a system with such behavior—just imagine a Trollnet instead of Skynet—the trollinators would slowly troll people to death rather than just quickly shooting them.


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20 Responses

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  1. apollonian said, on May 23, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Robots (Or Drones) CANNOT Be “Trolls” Anymore Than They Can Be “Ethical”

    First problem is always w. definitions:

    “who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

    Assuming a “troll” and “trolling” is bad, hence irrational, hence counter-productive to purpose of any discussion, the only thing that makes objective sense fm above attempted definition would be deliberate “extraneous” and “off-topic.” “Inflammatory,” “normal,” and “emotional” are all subjective and may or may not apply.

    Note further, the “troll” meme assumes the purpose of any discussion is understood and the subversion is deliberate.

    Hence it’s impossible for any robot to be “troll,” as it assumes a WILL (question-begging fallacy)–which is impossible for a robot which could only possess a PROGRAM, hence following the will of the programmer.

    So I’m confident I’m not “trolling” here as I merely question the premises to the argument given, regarding “troll” and “trolling.” The subject of this blog is actually quite similar to preceding blog about “ethical robots (or drones).”

  2. WTP said, on May 23, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Beginning to wonder if Mike could pass a Turing test. There have been machine generated essays for quite some time now. It’s rather quite easy to spew without having to defend what you’ve written. Far less engaging than even your typical troll. I believe if Ambrose Bierce were alive today, his Devil’s Dictionary entry for “troll” would be “someone on the internet with whom I disagree” or something more biting.

    You will note again how Mike talks about something, like what would define a troll, without actually following through and doing something like identifying the one (or two) he specifically has in mind. Come on Mike, give us some concrete examples of who on this blog you think is and is not a troll.

    • WTP said, on May 23, 2014 at 11:18 am

      I give as an example, this page which looks like any other postmodernist creation except this is machine generated. Just hit the reload button and you get a whole new set of academic spew. TJ, think we could put something like this together like Mike’s posts?


    • apollonian said, on May 23, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Does Mike Serve As His Own Troll?

      This is interesting challenge by our Hebraic colleague, WTP. For note Mike pretends to “philosophy” while insisting he should be funded by tax-payers for bamboozling the students on the theme of “ethics,” which Mike asserts and declares, with no foundation, is “end in itself.”

      What, after all, is a “philosopher”?–it ain’t Mike. For philosophy is a RATIONAL, hence ordered, grasp of whole of reality and knowledge. Mike is anti-rational and anti-philosophic, his entire purpose being pretension to (Platonic, Kantian) “good,” this necessary to ZOG dictatorship/empire as premise for OBEDIENCE and pretext then for drone-assassination, according to NDAA fascism now in practical effect.

      “Good,” hence MYSTICISM and subjectivism, is always the ultimate justification for fascism, “good” always worst enemy of TRUTH, as well as justice, reason, etc.

      Mike is actually, typical Platonist–hence MYSTIC, hence anti-philosopher, actually–who merely styles his mysticism, based upon non-existent “good,” in terminology and phraseology and name-dropping, in this case, Descartes and Turing.

      Take his very first sentence for this blog, “[o]ne interesting philosophical problem is known as the problem of other minds.” This is CLASSIC question-begging, for WHY is it “interesting,” and HOW is it actually any real kind of “problem”?–observe Mike, typically, doesn’t bother explaining any of this, merely presuming the truth of the proposition is apparent, then going on w. the rest of his expo.

      But Mike deserves some credit nonetheless as he confidently writes his essays challenging anyone to respond in some kind of dialectic.

      In a certain way, Mike is his own “troll,” as he poses these mystic-tinged essays of his–which can then be rejoined in so many ways, positively, in way of agreeing, and otherwise by way of criticism, as so often for my own Aristotelian-themed efforts.

      U gotta admit: Mike makes us think–that’s his one saving quality, regardless of anything else one might say.

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 23, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I’m of the opinion people who don’t use their real names online should not be allowed to post comments.

    • apollonian said, on May 23, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      Of course u are AJ, shill who pushes ZOG lies, like about Bost. Marathon bombing, false Christian–u want ZOG and agents to know who they should kill, and u want to make it easier for them. But never fear: NSA (and MOSSAD) already knows more about us than we do, ho hoo ho ho ho ho

    • WTP said, on May 23, 2014 at 12:36 pm

      Yeah, tell that to Thomas Paine amongst others, AJ. If that is indeed your real name.

  4. punterthoughts said, on May 24, 2014 at 4:17 am

    Not only humans have minds. When my dog is dreaming his tail will wag or he will growl which indicates that he is thinking (or experiencing in dream) something which pleases, angers or frightens him.
    As for a troll filter, internet filters can be rather hit and miss. The filters of the organisation for which I work blocked a leading national newspaper. The publication in question is, obviously not erotic, however it’s site does contain celebrity gossip and includes pictures, on occasions of women in skimpy outfits. The (perfectly legal) pictures may have caused the filter to block the site. The problem with a troll filter would be that it might well block comments erroneously categorising them as trolling. Machines are still incredibly stupid and I wouldn’t trust a troll filter! In the case of the newspaper, on the issue being brought to the attention of the organisation’s IT Department, the site was unblocked.

  5. T. J. Babson said, on May 24, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Patrick Lin’s homepage: http://cla.calpoly.edu/phil_palin.html

    Looks like he gets big $$ from the DoD.

  6. T. J. Babson said, on May 24, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Also on Patrick Lin’s website:

    Philosophy Pays

    Jokes about the uselessness of philosophy are easy—and ancient. But jokes are not facts. In reality philosophers do well even when they don’t go on to graduate or professional school. In 2008, people with nothing beyond a B.A. in philosophy were making more money in mid-career than people with bachelor’s degrees in any of the other humanities or social sciences or any of the following majors: chemistry, marketing, accounting, architecture, business management, agriculture, nursing, health care administration. By 2013 things had changed a little but still philosophers where just behind accountants and just ahead of people with advertising and marketing degrees.


    • WTP said, on May 24, 2014 at 11:39 am

      Of course those with BA’s and doing well are out there working in the real world. Philosophy is an important base for knowledge and understanding, if absorbed properly with the right amount of skepticism. But to be of value it must be applied and thus tested. Those with a non-dogmatic understanding of philosophy excel at software development, for example. It is nearly the perfect application for such a degree.

      • punterthoughts said, on May 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

        How does the study of philosophy help people to excel in the field of software development? I am intrigued.

        • apollonian said, on May 24, 2014 at 1:13 pm

          Plato: Classic Fascist, Opposed To Christianity, Foundation Of Truth, Freedom

          Punter: philosophy is simply grasp of deepest-most underlying premises (for example, “metaphysics”), giving one broadest-possible over-view of all reality and knowledge–it’s necessary and useful for ANYTHING and everything, not just “soft-wear.”

          And naturally, if u want to establish a police-state and dictatorship, it (“philosophy”) is most useful to hi-jacking–as is happening now, as we see demonstrated by our dear Prof. Mike who teaches, not philosophy, properly understood, but actually just mysticism in guise of “philosophy,” styled w. terminology, etc., emphasizing non-existent “good,” hence OBEDIENCE of slaves to the state, intimidating folks, esp. the weaker-minds, by means of this phony “good.”

          Thus Mike begins w. pre-conceived “Good,” his end-all and be-all, and all the rest of his “philosophy” is patched & tacked-up around it to give it appearance of order and logic, etc.

          Judaism/Talmudism is yet another classic mysticism/subjectivism, designed for moralism/Pharisaism & dictatorship of Jews/Pharisees, naturally, and u’ll note the ancient Jew, Philo, was notorious adherent of Plato.

          And the best, classic, means for couching this mysticism-styled-as-“philosophy” is good old Platonism; a recent version of this same sort of mysticism is that of Immanuel Kant w. all his gross terminology and bombastic phraseology, Kant the modern-day Aristophanes, I always tell folks, ho ho ho ho. At least Plato tried to be honest and his expo was pretty clear, even lucid in places.

          Thus Plato was CLASSIC fascist (see his “Republic,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Republic_(Plato)), providing the DEFINITIVE justification/rationalization for fascism and dictatorship–“GOOD,” naturally, “good,” the greatest enemy of (Christian) TRUTH (see Gosp. JOHN 14:6), and all reason and justice.

          Note that soft-wear is necessarily a product of computer-science, hence science and logic, and to grasp these, u have the magnificent system of Aristotle who begins at the proper beginning (“metaphysics”), the necessary assumption of objectivity (which cannot be “proven,” remember), and fm which everything else follows naturally, simply, logically, and easily–and there is and could be no “good” (Pelagian heresy) either in philosophy or Christianity which Christianity (worship of TRUTH above all, hence objective reality given/”created” by God) is perfect reflection of dear Aristotle, which not so many really grasp or appreciate.

          • apollonian said, on May 24, 2014 at 1:24 pm

            Oh yes, I forgot to give the usual citation for definitive expo on Jew Talmud: RevisionistReview.blogspot.com and Come-and-hear.com, Talmud teaching WAR AGAINST GENTILES as commandment of God, above all/any other precepts, hence lying as propaganda–even to oneself and one’s own people as tool of this warfare against humanity, reason, logic, science, justice, truth, civilization, etc.–worship of satan, posing as God.

            People wonder how such psychopathic Judaism/Talmudism could possibly obtain, but one sees it comes into play when humans are successful, victorious, and “prosperous,” they thinking they’re “good,” thus the sin of HUBRIS. Judaism then is the Godly means by which all these corrupt humans are exterminated–to begin the CYCLE anew.

            • apollonian said, on May 24, 2014 at 1:46 pm

              I just happened to see quite interesting movie on this topic of HUBRIS of humanity, “Noah.” The gross hubris of humanity is quite well portrayed, actually, the “Noah” character, however, being hi-jacked fm the original story to being content w. the total extermination of humanity–rather reflecting the “green environmentalists” of present, led by such as Obongo and his crew of “leftists.” So evidently, the movie was made by the “rightist” neo-cons who push Israel-first, sending a msg to their fellow Jews of the “left.”

        • WTP said, on May 24, 2014 at 1:32 pm

          Much of software development is modeling what exists in the real world. Understanding where the line is between parts of things and other parts. How is a customer different from a person, what makes up a customer’s address. Some things seem obvious until you move them into another context and realize you’ve made assumptions you were totally unaware of. If you only understood such things up front you could be mech more efficient when meeting new changes and challenges.

          I never gave much thought to philosophy, though I was actually doing it all my life, until my first real coding job when we had a dozen people in a meeting arguing about what is a phone number.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 27, 2014 at 7:48 pm

          Oxford would be happy to have you sign up for an answer: http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/courses-listing/computer-science-and-philosophy

  7. apollonian said, on May 25, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Ho ho ho ho ho–want another example of the blogger trolling his own blog?–ck “magus’s” http://soldiercitizen.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/blogs-democracy-free-speech-and-the-joker/#comments, 4th comment down, Lou, May 18, 2014 at 3:37 am. Of course, I can’t absolutely prove it, but I’m pretty sure it’s “magus” writing in on the comments, pretending he’s someone else–again. I wonder how many of his blog’s comments are really just him writing to himself, ho ho ho ho ho ho o ho ho ho oho

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