Talking With Bots: A Reading List

A crash course in what it means now that our technology is smart enough to talk back

3 min read

A hand holding an e-reader device.

You can’t do anything on the web these days without falling over a bot. They operate in every field imaginable, from finance to medicine, and play an increasingly large role in our future. So it’s probably a good idea to learn something about them.

Below, you’ll find a comprehensive reading list to get you quickly up to speed on the crucial issues surrounding conversational bots and society, as part of our Talking With Bots section.


“The ones in power will always dare to dream about their horrible mistakes”

InspiroBot, 2016


Start Here

For the best overview of where we are right now, turn to Motherboard‘s excellent “botifesto,” “How to Think About Bots,” compiled by bringing together a diverse group of experts from different fields:

“One distinguishing feature of bots is that they are semi-autonomous: they exhibit behavior that is partially a function of the intentions that a programmer builds into them, and partially a function of algorithms and machine learning abilities that respond to a plenitude of inputs. Thinking about bots as semi-automated actors makes them a challenge in terms of design. It also makes them unusual in an ethical sense. Questions of deception and responsibility must be considered when discussing both the construction and functionality of bots.”

The full piece covers bots from the point of view of designers, implementers, and regulators:

  • How to Think About Bots
    Samuel Woolley, Danah Boyd, Meredith Broussard, Madeleine Elish, Lainna Fader, Tim Hwang, Alexis Lloyd, Gilad Lotan, Luis Daniel Palacios, Allison Parrish, Gilad Rosner, Saiph Savage, and Samantha Shorey, Motherboard. [11-minute read]

Then Try


Dive Deeper




Watch Something

Finally, if you prefer to learn in audiovisual form, here are a bunch of bot-themed documentaries and videos you can watch instead.

  • Plug & Pray
    A documentary profiling the life of Joseph Weizenbaum, who created ELIZA, one of the world’s first chatbots:
  • The Turing Test: Can a Computer Pass for a Human?
    A short explainer on the history of the Turing test–the first speculative attempt at gauging sentience in humanmade machines:
  • Conversation Between Robots–The Hunt for AI
    This clip from BBC Worldwide’s The Hunt for AI features robots learning to communicate with each other.
  • Her
    One of the major touchstones for chatbots over the past few years has been Spike Jonze’s movie Her, which follows a man who falls in love with an operating system:
  • Ex Machina
    Alex Garland’s movie about a robot learning to interact with humans explores issues of sentience, free will, gender, feminism, and parental responsibility:

How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our Talking With Bots section, which asks: What does it mean now that our technology is now smart enough to hold a conversation? Click the logo to read more.