“When science fiction writers first imagined robot invasions, the idea was that bots would become smart and powerful enough to take over the world by force, whether on their own or as directed by some evildoer. In reality, something only slightly less scary is happening. Robots are getting better, every day, at impersonating humans.” T. WU, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Please Prove You’re Not a Robot By Tim Wu
“Robots posing as people have become a menace. For popular Broadway shows (need we say “Hamilton”?), it is actually bots, not humans, who do much and maybe most of the ticket buying. Shows sell out immediately, and the middlemen (quite literally, evil robot masters) reap millions in ill-gotten gains.
Philip Howard, who runs the Computational Propaganda Research Project at Oxford, studied the deployment of propaganda bots during voting on Brexit, and the recent American and French presidential elections. Twitter is particularly distorted by its millions of robot accounts; during the French election, it was principally Twitter robots who were trying to make #MacronLeaks into a scandal.
Facebook has admitted it was essentially hacked during the American election in November. In Michigan, Mr. Howard notes, ‘junk news was shared just as widely as professional news in the days leading up to the election.’
To be sure, today’s impersonation-bots are different from the robots imagined in science fiction: They aren’t sentient, don’t carry weapons and don’t have physical bodies. Instead, fake humans just have whatever is necessary to make them seem human enough to ‘pass’: a name, perhaps a virtual appearance, a credit-card number and, if necessary, a profession, birthday and home address.
They are brought to life by programs or scripts that give one person the power to imitate thousands.
The problem is almost certain to get worse, spreading to even more areas of life as bots are trained to become better at mimicking humans.
In coming years, campaign finance limits will be (and maybe already are) evaded by robot armies posing as ‘small’ donors. And actual voting is another obvious target — perhaps the ultimate target.
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming
Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the topic. Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Many opportunists use robots.
- Robots posing as people have become a menace.
- Oxford students studied the deployment of propaganda bots.
- Facebook has admitted it was hacked.
- Today’s impersonation-bots are different.
- One person the power to imitate thousands.
- It is actually bots, not humans, who do much and maybe most of the ticket buying.
- Defenses such as Captchas are built.
- Improved robot detection might help us find the robot masters.
- Automated processes should be required to state, ‘I am a robot.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
Robots are also being used to___the ___features of the ___state. This spring, the Federal Communications Commission put its proposed ___of net___up for public comment. In___years such proceedings___ millions of (human) commentators. This time, someone with an ___but no actual public support unleashed___who ___ (via stolen identities) hundreds of thousands of people, flooding the system with___ comments against federal net neutrality rules.
WORD LIST: agenda, fake, democratic, attack, previous, impersonated, neutrality, administrative, revocation, robots, attracted,
Grammar Focus Word -Recognition
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
When directed/dictated by opportunists, mathematicians/malefactors and sometimes even nation-states, they pose/prose a particular threat/thread to democratic societies, which are promised/premised on being open to the people.
Robots posing as people have become a menace/mention. For popular Broadway shows (need we say “Hamilton”?), it is actually bots, not humanoids/humans, who do much and maybe most of the ticket buying.
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups Have each group list 3 questions they would like to ask any person mentioned in the article. Groups share questions as a class.
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.