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When we talk to each other over instant messenger software, we aren't really talking to each other as we would on the telephone. We're actually doing something far more abstract. We are talking to a computer program that we have decided, through its qualities, represents another person. Despite the fact that programs are fed information by the other, this doesn't mean that they are the other.

Self-Portrait Bot is a historical self-portrait chat-robot that takes the standard method of talking over instant messaging and makes it asynchronous. When you talk to Self-Portrait Bot, you are talking to my chat history.

Unlike most chat-bots that try to follow what users say, while being grammatically accurate, Self-Portrait Bot makes no effort to do either of these things. Instead it relies on private information to give the impression of humanity. It works by accessing a mySQL database containing the last 6 years of my AOL IM chat logs. When a user talks to it, it matches the user's statement to the most similar text that has been sent to me in the past, and spits out the response I gave.

Some responses are funny, others are revealing, and many are confusing and out of context.

Self-Portrait Bot is an analytic portrait. Although it isn't always accurate, it does have significant bits and pieces of me in it, and when used objectively, could give users the impression that they know me. This is similar to the way that data-collection companies like Google or AOL see us.

Through the aggregate of data, our characteristics come through, but not our values.

Chat with Self-Portrait bot on AIM at SelfPortraitBot
or on g-chat at