Once again, @AlfredIgnoble is telling @CKinniburgh off
A view from Sue Unerman

Once again, @AlfredIgnoble is telling @CKinniburgh off

Alfred is the Twitterbot created by Chris Kinniburgh, a law student in the US.

Kinniburgh has spent most of his life hooked up by telematics and Alfred responds to the information he gets about how much exercise Kinniburgh has managed daily, how many hours he has spent gaming or been outdoors, comments on the weather and generally and critically gives his creator a good nag.

John Shaw, the head of research and development and innovations at DLG, interviewed Kinniburgh about his creation as part of the briefing for a telematics hackathon session last month. Kinniburgh explained that the Twitterbot had his flaws at the moment and needed tweaking. For instance, Alfred will tell him off about late-night gaming sessions even at the weekend as the difference between school nights and leisure time is not taken into account and, yes, he feels Alfred is being unfair.

The relationship between the two is fascinating. Kinniburgh has created something to hound him into changing his behaviour. Telematics is obviously key to this.

In the past couple of weeks, I have personally noticed a big step change in the number of Pebbles and Jawbones decorating the arms of people I’m in meetings with. It feels like they have crossed the line from very early adopters to the ahead-of-the-crowd mainstream set.

Most of the people I’ve talked to about the products suggest there is a behaviour improvement once you start monitoring what you do. Whether that is due to the fact that you’re aiming for improvement anyway if you buy one or whether it indicates the probability of improvement for the mass market is currently unanswered, but nearly everyone I’ve questioned is pleased with their self-improvement.

Kinniburgh’s Twitterbot is a step further yet. Some would have imagined Alfred as a cheerleading coach type. Scan through his comments to Kinniburgh and it’s clear that a lesser man would have switched him off a long time ago. I think that there’s something in Alfred's haranguing tone of voice that may be helpful to Kinniburgh, though. Perhaps Kinniburgh is enjoying ignoring Alfred and getting one up on him by dismissing his advice.

We all have friends, associates and loved ones who wander through life from one dysfunctional relationship to another. Women who fall for emotionally unavailable men and constantly get their hearts broken. Men who partner with wives and girlfriends who nag them like a fishwife. People who spend years working for a boss who harangues them. Psychologists might quickly diagnose this as fulfilling a need to partner with someone who reminds them of their mothers or fathers (Freud would just blame the mother). It can be hard to break the pattern.

But what if you could design a Twitterbot to have the dysfunctional relationship with you? You could tell the Twitterbot what you really thought of them without fear of repercussison. Or, like Kinniburgh, you could just rise above the whole thing and maintain a lofty attitude to the criticisms. Then you might have the freedom to conduct a guilt-free, blame-free, carefree relationship with a real-life partner.

Imagine – Twitterbot could tell if you were out late at night and Tweet you: "What time do you call this, then?" As you were leaving the house, it could Tweet: "You’re not going out looking like that." On the eve of bin day, it might say: "You never put the bins out without me asking." And regularly accuses you of "never phoning, never texting, never coming over".

In the workplace, you could have a boss-from-hell bot who could Tweet you each morning: "You’re late again. Make me a coffee, fill in your timesheet."

Of course, you could reply with all the things you would like to say to them in real life – or you could stop yourself from doing so, fulfil any masochistic tendency safely and go on to have productive relationships instead.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom