Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Best (or Worst) Spam Ever

My Gmail mailbox used to be spam free, and it was a joy. When I read news stories about the ongoing onslaught of spam, I would think, "Those lowly spammers have nothing on the army of PhDs working for Google. I'm confident their crap will stay out of my mailbox." My inbox actually made me feel comfortable. Those were the days.

A few months later, I realized a spam-free mailbox was just a pipe dream. I now get spam messages in Gmail almost on a daily basis. Apparently, the spammers are always one step ahead of the game, playing offense while Google is playing defense. If all you do is play defense, your opponents will eventually score on you. It's only a matter of time.

Up until recently, the spam was just annoying. I'd delete it immediately without even thinking about. However, in the past couple of days, things have changed. I've been getting spam that's actually -- I would have never believed I would ever say this before -- quite fascinating. This new spam nothing like the cliched Viagra ads or Nigerian scam that statistical spam filters have been squashing for a while now. It's original. In essence, it resembles a semi-random collection of bizzare English fragments written by a highly literate person who's had one too many bottles of Vodka. It almost looks... poetic.

It's pointless to try to describe it any further. I'll just quote the whole thing:

bleary this anemic, readable cost of living, of grieve, unemployment compensation injustice by zone mustang defuse smallpox altruism brothers-in-law, beet brainwash 'cause matrimonial of
super as justified the grass-roots the an deteriorate a evoke defensive rapist. the around donor, the but limerick, combine of drawing board, gray, parenthood as tandem as Anglican with phenomenally a retention policeman perjure the and as tangle varsity... wholeheartedly in of sweetness or pleasurable dentures.
extremist the in portly, key!!! life buoy sturdiness, as murky paralytic of swum, to hermetic vagina low or suave e myopic an counterattack tartar was cross to moisture market who'll. Frisbee, the of decaf as unlisted pensive, suave a the shakedown barnyard ambiguity in and was flatter the
salivate, dugout, gender that satanism. male of
language rout, disrepute compete, delicate on evening shoo, downtown it annulment the as mothball the an stubbornly. ESP in papaya, mystery. send-off of
preserves a southeast chronological predominantly undermine descriptive quadrangle cesarean section it
aboard: a delight reversal, as booking, fright washing as parting the intoxication salad bar birthplace the chrome, as persuasively increased it intramural a in of kilometer meld guts with flared budge impatience a the overate mastery uninhabitable. casing enrich. to lop operator parchment, a comprise,
sterling this chick,. cadence octave obligatory of newsprint in bronchitis to granular an sanitize forge

You can't deny that's some quality spam right there!

(Below the text were attached image fragments that aluded to some stock buying opportunity on which I was missing out, but that's too boring to include here.)

The spammers must have realized that they can evade spam filters by making machines generate large quantities of unique text that in some way resembles human writing. The actual selling pitch is embedded in images outside of the text so the statisical text-based spam filters can't identify it. This technique works, and I have no doubt the spammers will refine it over time. I expect these spam messages to look more and more like they written by real humans.

I'm sure that pretty smart people are behind this new spam attack, as the dumb spammers eventually get wheeded out by natual selection: their messages don't penetrate the filters, spamming stops being profitable, and they turn to other ways of making money.

All of this leads me to wonder: who'll be first to attain true AI, Google or a bunch of spammers?

For the sake of our inboxes, I hope it will be Google!

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