I think I have solved the mystery of ‘actus’, one of the most insufferable trolls infesting the lush meadows of Protein Wisdom. The clue was at the end of this comment, where ‘actus’ writes: “in your grad school days you may have run across some non-gendered pronouns”. Of course, some of us learned about ‘it’ in junior high, if not before. But the resolute refusal to be pinned down as a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ suggests that ‘actus’, despite the masculine Latin name, is in fact neither. No, I do not mean that ‘actus’ is intersexed, rather that ‘actus’ is a pseudonym of Eliza 2.0.
Who — or rather what — is Eliza? To quote Wikipedia, “Eliza is a famous 1966 computer program by Joseph Weizenbaum, which parodied a Rogerian therapist, largely by rephrasing many of the patient’s statements as questions and posing them to the patient. Thus, for example, the response to ‘My head hurts’ might be ‘Why do you say your head hurts?’ The response to ‘My mother hates me’ might be ‘Who else in your family hates you?’”
It appears that forty years of progress in computer technology and linguistic analysis have now brought us Eliza 2.0, aka ‘actus’. Where Eliza 1.0 was necessarily non-directional, given the limitations of 1960s computers, Eliza 2.0 is semi-directional, giving a very good approximation of a human being who suffers from ADD or OCD and mild mental retardation. The mysterious creators of Eliza 2.0 have succeeded in building a convincing parody of a common troll,
who which replies to arguments with a random assortment of inane counter-arguments, misdirected snark, and trivial diversions, and is never at a loss for a come-back. To the unwary observer, it appears almost human, with an IQ in the low 80s. I anticipate further advances in the next decade leading to a robot troll of apparent normal or even above-average intelligence, though with argumentative coherence and basic social skills still well below the human average.