[NetBehaviour] Anti-social bot invades Second Lifers' personal space.

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Wed Nov 7 00:34:22 CET 2007

Anti-social bot invades Second Lifers' personal space.

A software bot that masquerades as an ill-mannered human user within the 
popular virtual world Second Life is being used by UK researchers to 
investigate the psychology of its inhabitants. The bot starts a 
conversation with human users and deliberately invades their personal 
space to see how they will react.

The software, dubbed "SL-bot", was created by Doron Friedman, Anthony 
Steed and Mel Slater at University College London, UK, who are 
interested in comparing the way people act inside a virtual world with 
real-life human behaviour.

But Second Life is not designed to accommodate non-human control of 
avatars and the world's scripting language can only be used to control 
objects. So, to get around this, the researchers added a script to a 
ring that their avatar wore on its finger.

The ring connects the avatar to software that not only controls its 
actions, but can record everything going on around it. This is an 
extreme example of the way objects can control characters in Second Life 
– more often they are used to give someone a new style of walking, or to 
make them dance.

The control software sends the avatar off in a random direction until it 
finds another avatar or object to watch or interact with. It can also 
perform any one of a range of animated actions to respond to stimuli, 
for if someone says a particular word, for example, or picking up an 
object it bumps into.

"When it walks around it looks a little spooky" says Friedman, currently 
working at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel. "It looks a 
bit drunk actually, but it is a great way to get data."

In one experiment, SL-bot was sent on a mission to find other avatars 
that were alone. As soon as it did, it greeted them by first name, 
waited two seconds then moved to the virtual equivalent of within 1.2 
metres away. It then recorded the other avatar's reaction for 10 seconds 
afterwards, and sent the data to the researchers.


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