We’ve all had to go through a CAPTCHA test at some point while on the Internet. You’ve probably figured out why you have to do this (to make sure that it is a human entering in information) and you’ve gotten used to it. Some even have a box to click that says “I am not a robot.” What exactly are robots, or as they are more commonly known, bots?

Bots have many different names. Internet bot, web robot, WWW robot or bot for short. They are pieces of software that run automated scripts through the Internet and they are capable of gathering and analyzing information much faster than a human can. Experts believe that more than 50% of all Internet traffic is bots.

There is also a perception that all bots are bad. They are not. Some are used to communicate with users using an instant messenger or chat service or through social media. They can do simple tasks like reporting on the weather, sports scores, or even hold simple conversions. They are also able to help monitor chat rooms to watch out for keywords or to help a new user. Since they are able to process information faster some companies use them to scour e-commerce sites looking for deals and bargains. Ebay even went to court to try to stop this but it only backfired on them as it brought more attention to what a bot can do.

To be sure there are bots that are used for evil. Many attacks on computer networks like denial of service attacks are done by bots or groups of bots called botnets. Spambots are capable of sending out large amounts of Internet content and can harvest email addresses for their use. Bots can be used for click fraud with websites that use pay-per-click advertising to help boost clicks and the same can be said for sites like YouTube as well which will lead to increased activity and an increased payout for advertisers or content creators.

Some bots are downloaders which can suck away Internet bandwidth. Computer game bots, particularly with MMORPG gamers, are a problem since they can be used to gather resources quickly and keep them away from human gamers. Others will go online and buy up the best seats for concerts or sporting events when they go on sale, not only taking those seats away from the public but also allowing them to be resold for a tidy profit by an unscrupulous human ticket broker. Since bots are capable of monitoring chat rooms they are also capable of trolling forums with inflammatory or nonsensical posts. The bots are also adaptable, and that is not necessarily a good thing. Microsoft introduced Tay, a chatbot programmed to chat with teenagers, only to have it begin posting profanity and racist messages before being taken offline for maintenance and to prevent it from further embarrassing Microsoft.

Bots are the future. They will replace humans in many tasks. Potentially there will be no more messing up an order over the phone as it will be taken by a bot and some jobs will be replaced by automation. Of course there is a dark side to all of this. So the next time that you have to click that I am not a robot box, remember that you are helping to fight the good fight against malicious bots.

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