[ISEA2010] Paper: Finn Brunton – An Infinite Continuum of Spewage: Bayesian Filtering and the Reinvention of Spam


// … it is unreasonable to
// assume that any finite number of samples can appropriately
// represent an infinite continuum of spewage, so we can bound
// the certainty of any meausre [sic] to be in the range:
// limit: [ 1/featurecount+2 , 1 – 1/featurecount+2].
— crm_markovian.c, crm114-20070810-BlameTheSegfault.src

Norbert Wiener said if you compete with slaves you become a slave, and there is something similarly degrading about competing with spammers.” The writer is Paul Graham, the prominent Lisp programmer; the quote is from his 2002 essay, “A Plan for Spam”, one of the most influential documents in the the anti-spam movement. (Graham 2002) Influential for three reasons: first, because it suggested a way to get to grips with spam, to turn it into an object; second, because it won, effectively destroying spam as it then existed, sidestepping its social complexities to attack it on a precise technical point; and finally, because it lost, the pure and elegant technical attack being based on a new set of design values and social assumptions, interstices into which spam moved, transforming itself in the process, and accidentally producing a literary experiment on the grandest scale in human history.

  • Finn Brunton (US) is currently a post doctoral researcher at NYU, where he works on digital technology: history, privacy, anonymity, modification and misuse. He is writing a book about spam, and working on a novel. finnb.net

Full text (PDF) p. 369-371