Bots With an Attitude
Jan Hein Hoogstad, Offcourse ©

Bots with an Attitude

When will AI take over all human decision making? And when will it destroy civilization? Articles with grand statements about AI have become a common way to write about artificial intelligence (AI). But they tend to minimize our potential as humans to change the role of AI in society and the ways in which AI can benefit our everyday life. A question that is often asked at planet B meetups is: what new relationships between humans and technology can we imagine? In his latest project, developer and philosopher Jan Hein Hoogstad (Offcourse Studio) tackles this question by designing a new chat environment where both humans and robots take part. 

During a recent planet B meetup, Jan Hein Hoogstad shared insights from his ongoing project Bots with an Attitude. His mission: design and develop a collaborative tool for planet B that can structure and enhance information sharing between participants. His solution: integrate a network of creative, ethical, intelligent agents that can perform complex tasks into a chat environment. Bots, but with an attitude!


The bots, simple robots, are key to the project. Currently, chat bots are mostly used in the service industry, showing their presence through pop-up chats with comments such as ‘Hi, how can I help you?’ But currently, none of these bot engines allow bots to communicate with each other. This means that information is not shared and bots cannot learn from each other.

In this project the bots are introduced as intelligent agents into a chat. The bots can be assigned a specific task and help structure the information stream. Whatever their task, they operate in five steps: they acquire, clean, analyze, evaluate and present data. The bots can for example present relevant hashtags to people that want to find an audience for their work on Twitter. Or, the bots can function as cartographer and make an overview of the information from links that are shared in the chat.

Ethical Creative intelligence 

Bots with an Attitude is valuable to planet B for two reasons. First, it creates a platform to share ideas in a central place. This is valuable to planet B, which is a loosely knitted community that exists of a team at Waag and a network of artists, researchers and other interested people that come and go. While we organize monthly meetings, the topic and thus the crowd is always different. How to learn from each other and share knowledge continuously? 

But the development of the chat environment with bots is not only a search for a practical tool, it is also a way to explore new relationships between humans and technology. The platforms offers a way to bring our thoughts about human-machine collaboration into practice. By introducing bots, AI is literally brought into the conversation. And because these bots all have a form of agency and are designed to enhance knowledge sharing, their relation to human participants is equal.

The purpose of the project is to redefine the concept of Artificial Intelligence. Jan Hein therefore uses the term ethical creative intelligence. Someone or something is ethical creative intelligent when they come up with new, relevant information and can combine and present information in a way that leads to new insights. As participant of a community, this also means that you respect, guard and question the values of the community and leave this community in case of an irresolvable conflict. 

Protobots: the roll out

The chat environment is currently a Slack group that allows members to share information in a channel. Both humans and bots can be members and contribute to the community. The bots are still in development and will be added to the channel soon. In the upcoming weeks, the chat environment will transfer to Spectrum.

Bots with an Attitude is still in development, but has already proved to be an interesting experiment that helps us to think about technology in a new way. Because of their attitudes and their function, the bots are no longer passive robots, but active participants of our community. These bots will most likely not take over the world, but they are intelligent nonetheless. 

You are welcome to join our planet B group at Slack.