Wednesday, April 01, 2009


In the Internet era, April 1 has a lot more cultural significance now that it has become associated with a set of rhetorical conventions involving pranks from large software corporations in which they tout parodic new products.

Introducing Opera Face Gestures is a comical look at a mixed reality browsing system driven by funny faces. If one attempts to download the software, one is told that the program is already installed and that one should hook up one's web camera and start making idiotic expressions as instructed in the step-by-step guide.

This joke might not be as funny to disabled people who are hopeful that such technologies could be improved to serve their needs.

At Google, Introducing CADIE takes the reader to a howlingly bad home page with dorky music, chaotic imagery, and cretinous animations. Much like the World's Worst Website that I write about in the Virtualpolitik book it serves as an inverse exemplar to demonstrate what not to do in web design. (The also have a similarly moronic CADIE YouTube channel.)

It's worth noting that the blog postings for CADIE on the page mention a Dr. Norvig, who is now director of Google research. Norvig achieved a certain amount of fame in digital rhetoric circles several years ago with his hilarious Gettysburg PowerPoint presentation. (Norvig allowed for an image from this imaginary slideware presentation by President Lincoln to be reproduced in the "Hacking Aristotle: What is Digital Rhetoric?" chapter of the Virtualpolitik book.)

The CADIE system itself is billed as a next-gen semantic web application that uses artificial intelligence technologies to emulate user-generated content

For several years now a small research group has been working on some challenging problems in the areas of neural networking, natural language and autonomous problem-solving. Last fall this group achieved a significant breakthrough: a powerful new technique for solving reinforcement learning problems, resulting in the first functional global-scale neuro-evolutionary learning cluster.

Since then progress has been rapid, and tonight we're pleased to announce that just moments ago, the world's first Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity (CADIE) was switched on and began performing some initial functions. It's an exciting moment that we're determined to build upon by coming to understand more fully what CADIE's emergence might mean, for Google and for our users. So although CADIE technology will be rolled out with the caution befitting any advance of this magnitude, in the months to come users can expect to notice her influence on various properties. Earlier today, for instance, CADIE deduced from a quick scan of the visual segment of the social web a set of online design principles from which she derived this intriguing homepage.

The gag continues on several other Google applications. There is a CADIE Google Maps page, for example with highlights from the Google geospatial universe emphasize. But the fake application that has been creating the most consternation is the Gmail Autopilot that supposedly analyzes the text of the user's e-mail and generates responses automatically to messages in one's inbox. Even a few somewhat gullible writing program administrators fell for it but later correctly identified it as an updated form of ars dictaminis for the digital era.

The more Gmail messages Autopilot can sample, the better. With fewer than 100 messages, there may not be enough data to calibrate Autopilot effectively. You can adjust tone, typo propensity, and preferred punctuation from the Autopilot tab under Settings.

Several humorous samples of how such a system would work (or not work) are also provided.

Google also promises to provide an ELIZA-style chatbot for live chat as well. Of course, pranksters had to take the idea to its farthest possible logical conclusion:

What happens if a sender and recipient both have Autopilot on?

Two Gmail accounts can happily converse with each other for up to three messages each. Beyond that, our experiments have shown a significant decline in the quality ranking of Autopilot's responses and further messages may commit you to dinner parties or baby namings in which you have no interest.

Google presents the reductio ad absurdum of Geert Lovink's Zero Comments in which web users not only stop reading but stop writing as well, as they hand over the Internet to their corporate caretakers.

Microsoft probably thinks the day is no laughing matter as they try to hunt down the creators of the Conficker Worm set to cause mayhem today.

Update: Ian Bogost points out that Microsoft did get into the April Fool's game with its supposed new Xbox game, Alpine Legend. And those on YouTube also got into the act.

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