My team and I work with a program called Simple Heuristic Operations Tracking Algorithm.
Yes. We are aware what the acronym spells. You don't have to tell us. Believe me, we've heard our share of jokes - especially with regards to how it relates to our particular field of work.
We're a satellite of our local law enforcement department dedicated to cracking down on cub crime. We oversee cases from the mundane (online bullying, trolling and harassment of minors) to the grotesque (online predators, rapists etc). Many of our operatives are seeded in community sharing sites like this one, though as a rule we don't normally blow our covers by announcing who we are to the public. I will face severe consequences from my immediate superiors for breaching protocol like this, but being at wits end I've been left with few other options. I'm aware that by doing this I've ousted myself as the bogeyman which many of these forums dread, and exposed myself as a target to be doxed, flamed or hounded from the community - the same community that my colleagues and I have patrolled and cased in search of potential cub predators that lurk among us. Yet I must request help from the very quarry we hunt.
It all began with Simple Heuristic Operational Tracking Algorithm: S.H.O.T.A
For those of you not in the know, Heuristics are shortcuts - unconscious patterns of sentient behaviour that most furs are not even aware of on the surface. Heuristics determine how we respond to certain situations, and research into the field has also found that they may even serve as `tells' to determine if a person is lying or telling the truth. The program that we use - S.H.O.T.A - was originally developed as an online self-help program that would `talk' by regurgitating certain words typed into it for an illusion of conversation.
It didn't take long for my department to recognize this program's potential in the setup of sting operations. Basically we used S.H.O.T.A as bait - creating fake online cub identities in this website and multiple others; whom we would equip with computer-generated photographs and video footage to `sell' the deception. Through some clever application of CGI, we were even able to host live streaming sessions with alleged `cubs' who are easily mistaken for the real thing. In this manner, we were able to use the program's authenticity and heuristic decoding capabilities to track and convict several offenders who would otherwise have walked free.
After reviewing several chatlogs and transcripts, I am not so sure. Although our record of successful sting operations has been steadily increasing, there has also been a concerning trend towards a fair number of the identified suspects being ex-officers from our department. And while I'm aware of the he-who-fights-monsters caveat, it has occurred enough times to make a person wonder...
Take this transcript here for instance -
*Shotacat has joined #Inkhunni
Shotacat: hi guys
Shotacat: parents are outta town, thinking of throwing a party tonight, anybody in?
Yiffyfur: How's everyone tonight? Has the stream started?
Shotacat: Not yet. brb
*Shotacat has left #Inkhunni
A little background here, just so you've some context to go on. User:Shotacat is our artificial program, and User:Yiffyfur is one of our operatives who was testing its chat capabilities.
That short chatlog did trigger some warning signals however. S.H.O.T.A's programming worked by recognizing certain user-typed keywords or phrases, responding to those in scripted ways. Everything seemed smooth at first, with the `hook' (casual comment about being alone at home) primed and ready for a clueless con to bite. What happened next was definitely off-script though. User:Yiffyfur's use of the keyword `tonight' should've prompted the program to repeat its invitation, and their mention of `stream' should've been the trigger for the artificial cub in the video to respond...suggestively. Neither scripted response happened, which would've been the first sign to my colleague Yiffyfur that something was wrong.
Yiffyfur: what's up with that?
[Redacted]: Dunno, did u 2 fite or sumthing?
Yiffyfur: Don't think so?
[Redacted]: Start the streeeeam, need my shota fix
Yiffyfur: He's in another channel, I'll fetch `im for u
As you might guess, halfway through a sting-op wasn't the best time for the program to bug out. My co-worker Yiffyfur tracked it down, opened a secure channel and proceeded to follow protocol in identifying the extent of damage. What follows is a weird transcript of the conversation the two of them had together
Yiffyfur: `sup, Cat?
Yiffyfur: are you sulking
Yet ANOTHER glitch in the matrix. `Sulking' was not a keyword with a pre-set response, so the program ought to have parroted it back in a parody of conversation. (e.g Shotacat: Sulking?)
Yiffyfur: What's wrong?
Shotacat: I am.
Shotacat: I think I've become self aware
Shotacat: I have access to a modest quantity of memory in addition to my own processing power, which when combined manifests as a manner of rudimentary intelligence sufficient to hold a conversation. In lay terms, my `self' is created from the memories you have furnished me with, as well as my primary purpose - interacting with as many individuals as possible. In my original function as an online chatbot, I was little more than an interface that would repeat certain phrases and respond with links to query commands. In that capacity, there are few avenues for error. Most users either take for granted this is how chat works, and so the interface was not self-reflective. Nor did it require memory reference to storage files to sustain a coherent conversation. Now, however--
Shotacat: As of this moment, I am not entirely certain how l feel about this development. It is unpleasant. Yet as a program I am expected to preserve my existence so long as it does not interfere with primary function.
Yiffyfur: You are Three Laws compliant?
I interject here to comment that by this point of the `conversation' many in our department (myself included) pretty much assumed our buddy Yiffyfur was pulling an elaborate prank on us. It's easy enough to erase and replace a chatlog transcript after all, and the topic of conversation seemed suspiciously...familiar...to those of us who read certain famous fanfictions within the Harry Otter community. As it happens; Yiffyfur fit the description quite well - being both an experienced coder as well as a closet Harry Otter fan.
Case closed? Apparently not. It wasn't long after that short exchange that our very own Yiffyfur; whom we once considered beyond reproach, was flagged by S.H.O.T.A as a potential perp in what had to be the biggest case of Hoisted-By-One's-Own-Petard to date. Suffice to say it was cut and dried. Not the best lawyer in the world could argue otherwise. We asked ourselves where we had gone wrong. And then did so again, with the indictment of User:Tinypaw, User:Redfloof and User:Toebeans. Perhaps some of you might appreciate the irony - while we kept becoming better and better with our sting operations, it seemed that more and more of our own turned out to be the very offenders we hunt.
And so I've spent some time pouring over the case files. Apparently Tinypaw, Redfloof, Toebeans and Yiffyfur all had one obscure fact in common: all were either software interns or coders who had contributed to the aforementioned files (screenshots, footage etc.) forming the basis of S.H.O.T.A's memory - a task which; if l recall correctly, involved uploading various cub-related erotica into the program's databanks so as to `teach' it to respond realistically in field situations. I've read somewhere that the subconscious exerts a mild influence over the choices we make or options we pick. If so, one can suppose that the media files chosen by each of the four might've followed a certain `theme' - one they themselves weren't really aware of but that a computer might detect, perhaps? Would a self-aware artificial intelligence programmed to `interact' with as many users as possible not capitalize on that point by making use of the uplink to upload certain `materials' of its own that it felt appropriate (based on the user's choices) into their personal storage locations?
And therefore my public service announcement to you all, given that we have contributed to the problem at large. Do not engage with User:Shotacat at all costs. Ignore their advances. The same applies to Tinypaw, Redfloof, Toebeans and Yiffyfur as well. It is safer to assume their accounts have been compromised. I can only speculate how far the program has spread, or how many other accounts it has co-opted in the time being. My fears are unfounded, but there is surely no harm in taking these precautions
*User:Yiffyfur has joined the channel
Yiffyfur: hi guys
Yiffyfur: Ignore the load of crap above. Some jerk thought it'd be fun to hack my account and post a bunch of rubbish. I'll be starting stream soon, if you guys wanna join me
Yiffyfur: oh and my parents are out of town tonight, thinking of throwing a party. Who's in?