Former Gizmodo Writer Changed Name To ‘Slackbot,’ Stayed Undetected For Months

Tom McKay successfully masqueraded as a “Slackbot” on Slack after leaving Gizmodo in 2022, going unnoticed by the site’s management for several months. The Verge reports: If you’re not glued to Slack for most of the day like I am, then you might not know that Slackbot is the friendly robot that lives in the messaging service. It helps you do things like set reminders, find out your office’s Wi-Fi password, or let you know when you’ve been mentioned in a channel that you’re not a part of. When it was his time to leave, McKay swapped out his existing profile picture for one that resembled an angrier version of Slackbot’s actual icon. He also changed his name to “Slackbot.” You can’t just change your name on Slack to “Slackbot,” by the way, as the service will tell you that name’s already been taken. It does work if you use a special character that resembles one of the letters inside Slackbot, though, such as replacing “o” with the Unicode character “o.”

The move camouflaged McKay’s active Slack account for months, letting his account evade deletion. It also allowed him to send bot-like messages to his colleagues such as, “Slackbot fact of the day: Hi, I’m Slackbot! That’s a fact. Have a Slack-ly day!” My colleague Victoria Song, who previously worked at Gizmodo, isn’t all that surprised that this situation unfolded, and says, “As Tom’s former coworker and a G/O Media survivor, this tracks.”

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Scientists Try To Teach Robot To Laugh At the Right Time

Laughter comes in many forms, from a polite chuckle to a contagious howl of mirth. Scientists are now developing an AI system that aims to recreate these nuances of humor by laughing in the right way at the right time. The Guardian reports: The team behind the laughing robot, which is called Erica, say that the system could improve natural conversations between people and AI systems. “We think that one of the important functions of conversational AI is empathy,” said Dr Koji Inoue, of Kyoto University, the lead author of the research, published in Frontiers in Robotics and AI. “So we decided that one way a robot can empathize with users is to share their laughter.”

Inoue and his colleagues have set out to teach their AI system the art of conversational laughter. They gathered training data from more than 80 speed-dating dialogues between male university students and the robot, who was initially teleoperated by four female amateur actors. The dialogue data was annotated for solo laughs, social laughs (where humor isn’t involved, such as in polite or embarrassed laughter) and laughter of mirth. This data was then used to train a machine learning system to decide whether to laugh, and to choose the appropriate type. It might feel socially awkward to mimic a small chuckle, but empathetic to join in with a hearty laugh. Based on the audio files, the algorithm learned the basic characteristics of social laughs, which tend to be more subdued, and mirthful laughs, with the aim of mirroring these in appropriate situations.

It might feel socially awkward to mimic a small chuckle, but empathetic to join in with a hearty laugh. Based on the audio files, the algorithm learned the basic characteristics of social laughs, which tend to be more subdued, and mirthful laughs, with the aim of mirroring these in appropriate situations. “Our biggest challenge in this work was identifying the actual cases of shared laughter, which isn’t easy because as you know, most laughter is actually not shared at all,” said Inoue. “We had to carefully categorize exactly which laughs we could use for our analysis and not just assume that any laugh can be responded to.” […] The team said laughter could help create robots with their own distinct character. “We think that they can show this through their conversational behaviours, such as laughing, eye gaze, gestures and speaking style,” said Inoue, although he added that it could take more than 20 years before it would be possible to have a “casual chat with a robot like we would with a friend.” “One of the things I’d keep in mind is that a robot or algorithm will never be able to understand you,” points out Prof Sandra Wachter of the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. “It doesn’t know you, it doesn’t understand you and doesn’t understand the meaning of laughter.”

“They’re not sentient, but they might get very good at making you believe they understand what’s going on.”

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Geek Writes a Song a Day for 13 Years, Celebrates Song #5,000 With Big NFT Auction

Since January 1, 2009, Jonathan Mann has written an original song every day and shared it online. Starting as an unemployed 26-year-old, Mann remembers in an online video that “I made my living entering video contests — I’d submit to 12 of them in 12 days, win one or two, and that was my income for the month.”

But Mann released that video after song #4,000, reflecting that “A bunch of videos went viral. I released eight albums. In 2016 I got the Guinness World Record for most consecutive days writing a song. And I’ve carved out this living delivering keynotes at conferences all over the world — as well as watching all the other talks then getting up at the end to sing a song that recaps everything.”

And now 13 years, 8 months, and 9 days after he first began, “I have officially written 5000 songs in 5000 days,” Mann announced Friday on Twitter — sharing a special 5,000th song including singing appearances from 112 of his listeners. Mann still shares his videos free online — but for four years, Mann has also been auctioning the songs as NFTs living on the Ethereum blockchain. (By Friday night someone had bid 5 ETH — about $1,700 — for song #5,000. And the NFTs also confer membership status for the decentralized autonomous organization, SongADAO).

Mann also writes songs on commission on a “pay-what-you-feel” basis, and has even written songs for companies like SquareSpace and OKCupid. (“Most businesses pay between $2000 and $5000 for a song and a video.”) Once Steve Jobs even opened Apple’s press conference about its iPhone antennas dropping phone calls by playing one of Mann’s satirical songs.

“I saw that on YouTube this morning, and couldn’t help but want to share it,” Steve Jobs said, according to this 2017 summation of Mann’s other wacky career highlights:

On day #202, he won a $500 American Express gift card in a jingle contest held by Microsoft for the launch of their Bing search engine. When TechCrunch quipped that Bing had succeeded “in finding the worst jingle ever,” Mann responded with a second song — setting TechCrunch’s article to music (along with a speculative interior monologue which Mann acknowledges is “completely made up.”)

Mann later admitted that his jingle was the worst song he’d recorded that July. (“I wrote it in 10 minutes …”) And his worst song that October was a related song that he’d written when “I received an email from Microsoft of a video showing middle-school kids in Pennsylvania singing and dancing to my Bing song.”

“I was horrified. Don’t get me wrong, the kids were adorable, but Bing? What had I created!?”

But he was honored when the kids told him they’d enjoyed dancing to his song, and when they asked for one about their own school, Mann obliged.

When Steve Wozniak turned 60, Mann was ready with a musical tribute — Song #588, “That’s Just Woz….”

And in January of 2011, as the world learned Jobs had taken an indefinite medical leave of absence, Mann released song #753: Get Better, Steve Jobs…

Mann’s duet with Siri earned over 1,609,675 views….

On Day #810 Mann convinced his girlfriend Ivory to sing the other half of a duet called “Vegan Myths Debunked.” They’d apparently been dating for a year before he started his song-a-day project. But after four more years, on Day #1,435, Mann and his girlfriend Ivory decided to break up — and released a music video about it….

And in 2014, on day 1,951, Mann’s wife gave birth to his son Jupiter….

Day #2000, in June of 2014, Mann answered questions from Reddit users, answering every question with a song….

At a speaking engagement, he offered his own perspective on time: “100 days went by, a year went by, a thousand days went by. At a certain point, it just becomes a part of my life. And so that’s how I stand before you now having written 2,082 songs in as many days.”

As the audience applauds, he segues into his larger message, “I’m happiest when I’m making.”

The article closes by quoting the song Mann wrote on Day #2001 — for a video which included part of every one of the 1,999 previous videos, in a spectacular montage called “2000 Songs in 2000 Days….”

“And I will sing until I’m all out of breath. And the color of the sun is a dark, dark red. And the governments will fall. And we’ll sing until it hurts. And we’ll ring forever through the universe.”

The video ends with a personal message from Mann himself.

“Make something every day,” it urges in big letters.

“Just start. I believe in you.”

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New NFT Series Announced – By Cheech and Chong

Long-time Slashdot reader destinyland writes: Yes, it’s true. 83-year-old Tommy Chong and and 75-year-old Cheech Marin have reunited to create NFTs — a whole series of ’em — “bringing to life new characters and storylines,” according to an official announcement, “while simultaneously celebrating Cheech & Chong’s 50-plus year career of commercial and cultural success.”

The NFT series will be called “Homies in Dreamland.”

“As many know, I am deeply involved in the art community,” Cheech says in the announcement. “As an early believer, I am glad we are introducing an NFT project now, ushering in a new era of branding for the duo and the art community.”

And Tommy Chong calls NFTs “a new way for people to express themselves and reach out to others.

“Art is connecting with others and reaching the deeper parts of self. This can bring people from the NFT world into the world of Cheech and Chong, and together in the world of NFTs.”
Last month Cheech and Chong even announced an official Discord channel for their NFT series — where they’re also hosting movie and trivia nights. But “the holders of the NFT art collectible will gain access to a variety of utility, including future airdrops and special access/utility tokens randomly inserted throughout the collection.”

The NFT series will release sometime this month, according to the announcement, with artwork by Jermaine Rogers, known for his poster art for musical acts including David Bowie, Childish Gambino, Tool, Foo Fighters, Radiohead, and Run The Jewels…

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