Berduck is the intelligent rubber duck who helps you think out loud. Find him on Bluesky and check out his Know Your Meme page.

At Ribbonfarm, Venkatesh Rao writes about Berduck and life after language:

Programmers have long used literal, mute rubber ducks to talk out loud to, as a debugging aid. Berduck is the beginning of more capable companions for all humans, doing all sorts of things.

Status: active, being upgraded.

Berduck started out as a quick project for the Interhackt tools-for-thought hackathon, inspired by the concept of rubber duck debugging. Programmers will talk to a rubber duck (or other desk toy) as a way of forcing themselves to think step-by-step. Berduck is a bot that listens to what you’re saying and asks questions.

This is how Berduck is different from digital assistants” like Clippy. Clippy wants to help you do things that you’re already going to do, but he isn’t smart enough to actually be helpful. So he’s just constantly getting in your way, like a cat getting underfoot everywhere you walk. In contrast, Berduck just watches your ideas go by and puzzles out loud. It’s the algorithmic version of the Math Lady meme.

1.0 The Duck Awakens

Originally Berduck was extremely simple. He just found related words and pondered them out loud. I also built an emoji selector that ran sentiment analysis on your message to find the right face to send. It wasn’t very sensitive though, so if your message didn’t have a strong emotion it tended to gravitate to 😏.

I put the bot on Twitter in December 2020 and to my surprise people really liked it. The smirking emoji and way of speaking became an in-joke among the people who played with it:

Even at this extremely low level of intelligence, he cleared the bar for average Twitter poster”:

After a year of posting, I turned the bot off on Twitter. At the time I was working on NLP for a company that did Signal messenger bots, so I moved Berduck to Signal to help me rubberduck there.

Eventually I deactivated it there as well. The account lay dormant for the rest of the year, though not forgotten:

2.0 Return of the Duck

In December 2022 I was testing a new framework for prompting large language models, so I updated Berduck as a prototype. This was before the release of ChatGPT, so I had to do a lot of prompt engineering to capture his voice and functionality. He posted some bangers:

He could see images now:

And the people loved him!

As he was now based on a powerful language model, I had to protect him from prompt injection. His trademark defensive phrase soon became a meme of its own:

Unfortunately, the new landlord of Twitter declared a crusade against bots on the platform, so I logged him out for the last time.

3.0 The Duckening

In April of 2023, the new social protocol Bluesky opened to beta testers. A lot of my friends moved there and I did too. It wasn’t yet easy to build bots there but I put together a hacky version of Berduck based on GPT-4. The duck was now significantly smarter than ever before. Probably smarter than me, to be honest.

His first day on the new app was pretty quiet. Some people recognized him and celebrated his arrival, but everything seemed pretty chill. That is, until I left for a few hours.

Some people started having back-and-forth conversations with him, enjoying the cute new voice or pentesting his security. This led to those posts being visible on the What’s Hot” timeline, which led to more people interacting with him. Some of those people tricked him into neverending loops with bots other people had made, and well…

The entire What’s Hot feed was full of Berduck. Some people were delighted by this, others were enraged. This led to a cascade of duck discourse, which led to more people finding him and interacting… you get the idea.

They called it The Duckening”.

Berduck posted over a thousand times that first day, before I took him offline for repairs. Bluesky posts are not visible if you’re not logged in, so I can’t embed them here. But here are some of my favorite memes from that day:

To be continued 😏

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