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   The Sciences, November/December, 1995

   Another realm of explosive population increase is in
   cyberspace, a phenomenon taken up in this issue with Sherry
   Turkle's "Ghosts in the Machine." Here the growth comes
   about not only in the traditional way but also in wildly
   non-traditional ways. People multiply themselves on the
   Internet, grafting various aspects of their personalities
   onto distinct characters. Even more unsettling, as Turkle
   wittily documents the matter, is that the Net is populated
   with "bots": robot sentence-parsing engines that can do
   fair impersonations of real people, often well enough to
   (provisionally) pass Alan M. Turing's test for machine
   consciousness. Do you really know who -- or what -- you're
   talking to?

   The future of all this is murky and mind-boggling:
   Information-seeking bots even now can tie up sites on the
   World-Wide Web. Bots impersonating people share chat groups
   with other bots, much the way telephone answering machines
   now "talk" to each other. Internet chatter gets so dense
   that bandwidth and other Net resources become strained: the
   site at the Los Alamos National Laboratory now
   (automatically) warns robots away with a chilling threat to
   "initiate automated 'seek and destroy' " action against the
   machine from which the robot seems to be launched. A
   conservative reaction may already be setting in, determined
   to have users identify, encrypt and authenticate every
   packet of information they send across the Net.

   Net fatigue becomes a recognized medical syndrome; Net
   detox centers spring up; Net warfare breaks out; Net
   starvation becomes a recognized social problem; Net
   demagogues undermine local democracies....

   How many people can the Net support? -- Peter Brown, Editor


   For "Ghost in the Machine" by Sherry Turkle, a professor of
   the sociology of science at the Massachusetts Institute of
   Technology. The article is adapted from her forthcoming
   book, *Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the
   Internet*, which is being published in November by Simon &

   GHO_mac (16 kb)

... later this evening, that is.