The old saw that “on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” has mutated into something much weirder: Thanks to social networks, everyone knows you’re a dog. But a bot? That’s harder to tell. Or at least it might be, if a web service called Rep.licants.org catches on. The site, created by Matthieu Cherubini, installs a bot to be “you” on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. After all, in this day and age maintaining an ideal social-media persona is hard work. So why not have a replicant do it?
It’s hard not to see Rep.licants.org as at least semi-satirical — the deadpan voiceover in the demo video reminded me of GLaDOS, the quirkily evil AI from the video game Portal. If you’re too much of a self-conscious loser to be authentically “you” even in the consequence-free digital shadowlands of social media, the video seems to be saying, then an algorithm should have no trouble impersonating you — or even being a better “you” than you ever could. And any fan of Blade Runner — the movie from which Rep.licants.org takes its name — will smirk at the notion of installing a digital replicant to impersonate you on Twitter and Facebook, because in the movie, replicants were emotionally immature, delusional, and destined to self-destruct. Isn’t that basically how most people are on social networks already?
On the other hand, Rep.licants.org does illuminate a not-so-silly reality of life on social networks: Feeding the beast with status updates, pictures, and other “you”ness can become a full-time job if you’re not careful. People have become conditioned to expect a steady stream of content, and it’s already becoming a very real social expectation that looks “bad” if you don’t meet it. If Rep.licants.org were more like butler service than impersonation — providing a socially acceptable, yet automated level of “care and feeding” to your online profile so you don’t have to — that could be very appealing. Because let’s face it, the last thing we all need is more inauthenticity on Twitter and Facebook. If anyone you “friend” or “follow” could be a replicant, let’s hope someone codes up a digital equivalent of Rick Deckard to go around “retiring” them with extreme prejudice.