Computer Spirits…

I doubt there are many readers of this blog who aren’t familiar with science fiction guru Arthur C. Clarke’s adage that “[a]ny sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. And there may even be a playful few who invoke Rowlingesque spells on the commandline using Harry Potter bash aliases. So I was wondering again today about what other magical or folkloric ideas could be used to help engage folk’s curiosity in how the world of tech works, and maybe teach computing related ideas through stories.

For example, last week I noticed that a reasonable number of links on Wikipedia point to the Internet Archive.

I also picked from a recent Recode/Decode podcast interview between the person you may know as the awesomest tech interviewer ever, Kara Swisher, and Internet Archive champion, Brewster Kahle, that bots do the repair work. So things like the User:InternetArchiveBot and/or CyberBot II maybe? Broken links are identified, and link references updated to point to archival copies. (For more info, see: More than 1 million formerly broken links in English Wikipedia updated to archived versions from the Wayback Machine and Fixing broken links in Wikipedia (especially the comments).)

Hmm… helpful bots.. like helpful spirits, or Brownies in a folkloric sense. Things that come out at night and help invisibly around the home…

And if there are helpful spirits, there are probably malicious ones too. The code equivalent of boggarts and bogles that cause mischief or mayhem – robot phone callers, or scripts that raise pop-ups when you’re trying to read a post online, for example? Maybe we if we start to rethink of online tech inconveniences as malevolent spirits we’ll find better ways to ignore or dispel them?! Or at least find a way to engage people into thinking about them, and from that working out how best to get rid of them or banish them from our lives?

PS the problem of Link Rot is an issue for maintaining OU course materials too. As materials are presented year on year, link targets move away and/or die. Sometimes the materials are patched with a corrected link to wherever the resource moved to, other times we refresh materials and find a new resource to link to. But generally, I wonder, why don’t we make like Wikipedia and get a Brownie to help? Are there Moodle bots to do helpful work like this around the VLE?


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