If you try to buy items with limited stock online, you might find it impossible. That’s because automated programmes or ‘web robots’ — known simply as ‘bots’ — will checkout before you can even put something in your shopping basket. People who use bots might then sell their ill-gotten gains at vastly-inflated prices.
Bots have been around for years. They’re most famously associated with limited-edition sneakers (trainers) but their use has spread to other highly sought-after items, most recently computer graphics cards. Businesses usually try to block bots because it stops human customers buying their products, but it’s been notoriously difficult to accomplish. Why is it so hard to beat the bots?
The battle between bots and businesses can be explained using a central concept in biology: the Red Queen hypothesis. The idea can describe