Computer Game Bot Turing Test

Carlos Bueno wrote:

Before I talk about my own troubles, let me tell you about another book, "Computer Game Bot Turing Test". It's one of over 100,000 "books" "written" by a Markov chain running over random Wikipedia articles, bundled up and sold online for a ridiculous price. The publisher, Betascript, is notorious for this kind of thing.

It gets better. There are whole species of other bots that infest the Amazon Marketplace, pretending to have used copies of books, fighting epic price wars no one ever sees. So with "Turing Test" we have a delightful futuristic absurdity: a computer program, pretending to be human, hawking a book about computers pretending to be human, while other computer programs pretend to have used copies of it. A book that was never actually written, much less printed and read.

The internet has everything.

Last year I published my children's book about computer science, Lauren Ipsum. I set a price of $14.95 for the paperback edition and sales have been pretty good. Then last week I noticed a marketplace bot offering to sell it for $55.63. "Silly bots", I thought to myself.

Then another piled on, and then an overseas dropshipper, and then another bot. Pretty soon they were offering my book below the retail price.

The punchline is that Amazon itself is a bot. Noticing all of this activity, it decided to put the book on sale! 28% off. I can't wait to find out what that does to my margin.

My reaction to this algorithmic whipsawing has settled down to a kind of helpless bemusement. The plot of my book is about how understanding computers is the first step to taking control of your life in the 21st century. Now I don't know what to believe.

It's possible that the optimal price of Lauren Ipsum is, in fact, ten dollars and seventy-six cents and I should just relax and trust the tattooed hipster who wrote Amazon's pricing algorithm. After all, I have no choice.

But I can't help but think about that old gambler's proverb: "If you can't spot the sucker, it's you."

Previously, previously, previously.

Tags: , , , ,

21 Responses:

  1. StuHacking says:

    Related: Jamie Zawinski (amazon)

    Anyone read it?

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, I noticed that a while back. I also spotted several multi-hundred page ebooks about xscreensaver, which you can almost understand -- each saver has its own man page, so just packing those up one per page will get you up to a couple hundred pages -- but the multi-hundred page ebook about dali clock was a little harder to understand. I sure wasn't about to buy it to find out!

  2. jwz says:

    If you can't spot the tortoise on it's back, baking in the hot sun -- it's you.

  3. Jered says:

    Another "previously" about bot pricing fails, which i think you may have mentioned: Amazon’s $23,698,655.93 book about flies.

    • I personally encountered a very similar thing with some electronic part, an analog accelerometer or something. The part should have been in the $5 ballpark and had botted its way up to about $2000 when I was shopping.

  4. Piku says:

    Heh I tried to read one of your 'previously' links but work's automated web filter has deemed part of your site banned for containing porn.

    So I cannot read a post about machine generated books because a machine generated list of banned words has decided the page is unsuitable. I guess this is what living in China is like.

  5. Nick Lamb says:

    In the fictional work A History of Bitic Literature for which Stanisław Lem provides an introduction in Imaginary Magnitude I seem to remember that the idea is machines began writing in much this sort of way, mangling human texts in more and gradually less explicable ways.

  6. Thomas Lord says:

    Eventually the Turing Test will be passed.

    This will be accomplished not by using computers to build super-smart Artificial Intelligence.

    Rather, it will be accomplished by using computers to make people stupider.

    • phuzz says:

      The Turing test will be passed by a spam bot, and arguably already has been.

      • TRUE!

        (And, in a prior job for an, ahem, "direct marketer", I might have inadvertently caused an instance of such a Turing-passing piece of software by asserting to the head dev that hired me to be his SA that I could always tell spam that made it past my SpamAssassin filters just based on the subject line. Which he proceeded to take as a challenge, and directed a couple of mail blasts, with content he generated algorithmically, against my home email address. He won that bet.)

    • Lloyd says:


      Eventually the Turing Test will be passed.

      ...by you?

  7. Ingmar says:

    I've been wondering about these "spam" search results at Amazon. Now this makes sense:

    The 2007-2012 Outlook for Non-Butterfat-Based Perishable Whipped Topping in Japan [Paperback] (£470.25)

    The author has just over 100'000 books listed. Oh look, and he's got a Wikipedia page. And "[..] plans to extend the programs to produce romance novels."

    • DFB says:

      I am very upset that he appears to be preying on people with obscure diseases by publishing ad-libs "books." His Faculty Dean and alumni should be notified of the ethics problems.

  8. Malachi says:

    Nicely done! everyone needs some real useful stuff like this! It inspires me a lot on my own site, and i need some tips like this. I will definitely come back very often. Thanks for sharing!

    • Piku says:

      I agree, I also think this is a very informative internet-website. I have added it to my bookmarks and will be sure to tell all my friends!

  9. dinatural says:

    Aren't those just ways to get more search results to the item/seller (credibility)?
    Are people really buying those? cause I guess there must be lots of reversed transactions...

  10. Louis says:

    Shortly after humanity's been erased but before the internet goes down, it will be Twitter Bots retweeting tweets made by other bots...

    SEO! Twitter-marketing! Make money from home!

    • You mean like how we're all consultants working for consulting firms that seek outside consultation?

      (For which observation I can't take personal credit. My buddy Hussain predicted it in... 1996 or so? And then, this year, I realized that I was That Guy.)