back to article Hold on. Here's an idea. Let's force AI bots to identify themselves as automatons, says Cali

A law bill that would require AI bots pretending to be humans to identify themselves as such is progressing through California's Congress – but has hit opposition from the Electronic Freedom Foundation. The B.O.T. Act (SB 1001) would make it illegal for a computer to communicate with someone living in the US state without …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    We don't have bots calling us yet, but we do have the recorded "Hi, I'm XXXXXX from account services. Yada Yada.". I usually hang up before the 5 minutes of "yada yada" starts. Bots would probably let you talk to them... or not. So I hope CA passes this and other States follow suit.

    1. Nate Amsden

      Most of the junk calls i get are bots. They all seem to reply with the same response to my questioning whether they are a computer or not. They claim they are a person with a computer helping them. I hangup at that point.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      I doubt a law will make a difference.

      a) robo-calls are ALREADY illegal, except for politicians [they exempted themselves, of course]

      b) the 'do not call' list exists, but the robo-dialers IGNORE it, already illegal but they don't care

      c) robo-callers NEVER identify themselves - if they did, I'd report them to ''. It's always "press 1 to speak to a human" or whatever

      If I could personally "take care" of the humans who run these operations, I'd do it. They flaunt the law, so _I_ should be able to as well, right? </joking-but-not-really-joking>

      In any case, they're already flaunting the existing laws. Adding more laws won't solve anything. ACTUALLY PROSECUTING THEM would. Jail time would be appreciated. These bottom-feeding nuisances need their "come-uppance" at the earliest possible opportunity.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Sadly, passing a law ticks the " be seen to be doing something box"

  2. frank ly Silver badge


    "the speech generated by bots is often simply speech of natural persons processed through a computer program."

    Yeah, right, and I could take some words from this article then rearrange them into coherent sentences and pretend it was written by Kieran McCarthy of El Reg. Would the EFF support me in that?

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Sophistry

      You mean that is not what happened?

      /This particular article does not look like word spaghetti, but a lot on the internet do these days... and it's harder to know if recycled off bots scraping sites, or recycled off people recycling sites.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sophistry

        Indeed, and El Reg does its own share of news recycling - though in fairness it's been first with some big scoops.

        Anyway, this just raised my EFF cynicism level another notch. Once again they prioritize pushing boundaries over doing what's right.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can imagine this happening

    Caller: Hi, can I book a hair appointment, for, er, Monday?

    Me: Yeah, just a quick captcha - what's 13080.2348 multiplied by 7265.93753?

    Caller: <No pause> 95040168.9345

    Me: Good day, you googling bot

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: I can imagine this happening"

      (Probably a case of their online version of whatever paperwork that was has a CAPTCHA, and they simply printed it off. But still made me laugh.)

      1. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Re: I can imagine this happening

        Hey, they were just doing due diligence. Can't have a robot impersonating a dead Russian poet to buy a car.

        1. VinceH Silver badge

          Re: I can imagine this happening

          While watching that I kept thinking "At the end of the day, that's just an over-elaborate plotter" - and yet I carried on watching it to the end. It's strangely fascinating to watch.

  4. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Will there be an exception...

    ...for Turing tests?

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Easy solution...

      Have all in the Turing test introduce themselves as robots. Problem of conflict of interest solved.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Will there be an exception...

      We need a test (between humans) to prove we're both human. That will be the challenge once the Turing test has been 'solved'.

      We need a name for that test! The name should also confuse robots as to the true nature of the test...

      1. onefang Silver badge

        Re: Will there be an exception...

        The Two Ring Test? The Touring Test?

  5. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    The bill is probably sponsored by telemarketers...

    ...who must have realized that the technology may be used to waste annoying callers' time and money.

    1. usbac

      Re: The bill is probably sponsored by telemarketers...

      Does this mean I have to make "Lenny" play an announcement first? That will kill most of the fun...

  6. jake Silver badge

    As if it's hard to tell it's a bot.

    My not quite eight year old granddaughter can't be fooled by any computer program known to man, so Shirley adults don't have any problems? How about all you wack-jobs in Sacramento start working on legislation that actually affects us here and now, not something that probably won't be an issue for my great-great-granddaughter?

    Missed a headline, ElReg:

    Super Cali's batshit leaders think bots realistic.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You assume

      You assume the majority of people are more intelligent than an 8 year old.

      I theorise either higher education, social pressure, or facebook is de-educating people.

    2. Horridbloke

      Re: As if it's hard to tell it's a bot.

      "...can't be fooled by any computer known to man..."

      It's a bit weird that you tested them all.

    3. druck Silver badge

      Re: As if it's hard to tell it's a bot.

      My not quite eight year old granddaughter can't be fooled by any computer program known to man

      My 4 year old son won't watch the old stop motion animated series of Fireman Sam, he only wants the 'real' CGI ones.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is going to make any testimony by Zuckerburg much more interesting.

  8. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

    Asimov - Three Laws

    R.Daneel Olivaw

  9. jrd

    The last thing we want is bots being programmed to sound and act more like humans. If I'm calling Tech Support I do not want to have to interact with a chatty "human like" bot programmed by someone whose life ambition is to make something that can pass the Turing Test.

    "Please let me speak to a human"

    "What makes you think I am not a human, Sir? Sorry, I think I'm going to sneeze. My hay-fever's really been playing up this year"

    1. graeme leggett

      Try and catch it out by asking it how the local sports team is doing?

  10. Nick Kew Silver badge


    How is a bot in a public forum (think IRC, for instance, where our favourite bot has been occasionally mistaken for human for about 20 years[1]) going to identify itself to every newcomer without annoying the **** out of everyone in a channel?

    You'd want something like a style attribute in IRC reserved for bots, to identify it non-verbally. How are you going to retrofit that to an old protocol? How are you going to enforce its implementation in IRC clients?

    [1] Indeed, rather more so in days of yore than now or even when that article was written, as her chattiness has been toned down.

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: Protocols

      "How is a bot in a public forum (think IRC, for instance, where our favourite bot has been occasionally mistaken for human for about 20 years[1])"

      As an ex maintainer of IRC bot software, I've seen plenty of examples of simple bots fooling humans into thinking the bot is human. I guess this legislation is gonna make the Turing test illegal.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What does "interact" mean?

    This proposal seemed reasonable to me, until I realised that it doesn't just apply to phone calls.

    Will the already massively long-winded and annoying GDB start-up message need to be extended to explicitly state that GDB is not, in fact, a natural person, George David Brown, or whoever? Will network protocols such as HTTP need to be urgently updated in case someone telnets to port 80 and thinks they're talking to a human?

    Another possible objection: the proposed law defines "bot", but it also seems to expect that random people (not necessarily in California) will understand that term as defined in the Californian law. I don't think it would be helpful to phone some random person and say "this is a bot". A better recorded message might be: "This conversation may be handled in part by an automated system." I think the lawmakers should think about this a bit longer and suggest a usable wording.

    1. Mike 16 Silver badge

      "this is a bot"

      Well, it will make sure any Islamophobe hangs up, when they hear "This is Abbas"

      Maybe we could just require phone bots to speak with a Votrax or Cylon accent?

      Hey, let's require Frank from Comcast Security to be frank about not actually being from Comcast Security.

      Surely these simple requirement will make the world all rainbows and unicorns again.

  12. Horridbloke

    Creepiness aside...

    ... is there actually anything unethical about a software agent running on behalf of a business pretending to be human? Cali might as well compel people working in (some) call centres to warn callers that they probably won't be able to help with whatever problem they're being called about.

  13. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Identity politics

    What if the bot self identifies as human?

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Identity politics

      The bot isn't a human, therefore human rights don't apply.

      1. Nick Kew Silver badge


        Do they apply to Arthur? Or cats (not to mention kats) in general?

    2. Horridbloke

      Re: Identity politics

      In that case we'll get calls that start with "GREETINGS. PUNY. HUMAN. I. AM. JEFF. I. ENJOY. EATING. PIES. I. TOO. AM. PUNY."

  14. 2Nick3

    I might like this to be blocked

    Won't this disallow ME to have a bot answering my phone?

    The only calls I get any more on my land line are the "cheap bot" calls - "This is Audrey from account services...". Having a bot on my side to tie up their bot could be fun.

    Their bot: Hi, this is Audrey from account services. I have some great information to tell you about how you can save money on your interest rate right now.

    My bot: Did you want to leave a message?

    Their bot: Great, let me tell you all about...

    If a real person answers "Yes" they can leave a message.

    Dang - I need to patent this fast!

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: I might like this to be blocked

      I think we've already had this discussion in Reg comments. You'll need to pick a properly-disreputable patent office, like the US, or the Battistelli wing of the EU.

  15. tom dial Silver badge

    There ought to be a law ...

    "Which is a fair argument. Except when it isn't. Sometimes a law has to be laid down and then exceptions made to it."

    This actually is a terrible way to establish laws, except for attorneys who profit by clogging the courts to establish the obvious exceptions or in some instances overturn the law entirely.

  16. A Long Fellow

    What if I miss the first 10 seconds of a conversation where the bot declares its identity?

    I believe that an entirely different _syntax_ is necessary in order for a society to interact with bots in an appropriate fashion. Pronouns are easy markers for this.

    I covered the concept here:

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