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The accidental dystopias of the @TwoHeadlines Twitter bot

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twtr nyse twitter stock
twtr nyse twitter stock

The quickest way to be clever on Twitter is to pull a couple of stories from the feed you're reading anyways, mash them together, and tweet the resulting non-sequitur. It's such a rote formula that a machine can do it — and, in fact, does it better than most humans. The @TwoHeadlines generator has a simple job: it looks at Google News and picks a trending term like "Rob Ford" or "Xbox One." It then culls a top headline based on the keyword and substitutes one of the other trending terms: joke made. Sometimes that means you'll get a mashup of unavoidable popular touchstones.

Sometimes it means that the business of business bleeds into the business of culture.

Sometimes everything just becomes very, very weird.

Darius Kazemi, the bot's creator, was initially trying to automate the kinds of jokes people make when, say, Ben Affleck is picked as Batman the day before Steve Ballmer announces his retirement from Microsoft. Besides Two Headlines, he's created generators for terrible topical puns, dangerously pointless startups, and he's currently running a version of National Novel Writing Month for computer-generated prose. In building Two Headlines, though, he's also accidentally created a cyberpunk story generator.

"What is near-future late-capitalist dystopian fiction but a world where there is no discernible difference between corporations, nations, sports teams, brands, and celebrities?" he writes in an excellent explanation of the account, referencing a tweet by a fan. "@TwoHeadlines is not generating jokes about current events. It is generating jokes about the future: a very specific future dictated by what a Google algorithm believes is important about humans and our affairs."