Last week in TheNew York Times, Shelley Podolny considered the growing amount of computer-generated text that appears online. With the dystopian title "If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know?" Podolny describes a study by media scholar Christer Clerwell that suggests readers may not be able to distinguish between computer- or human-generated text. Such a phenomenon speaks to growing sophistication of natural language processing software and finely-tuned algorithms that can produce humanoid content.
Back in February, when I started this column, I wanted to interview Fernando Diaz about his sound art projects and also — because he's a computer scientist — about algorithms in poetry. The word "algorithm" appears often in critical analyses of conceptual writing, so I had been wondering what, if anything, conceptual writing and algorithms had to do with each other. I wanted to believe, but Fernando was skeptical about this metaphor. After 2.5 months of meeting, discussing, questioning, and haggling, we have only just begun to work through the chasm between our fields, our different values, histories, vocabularies, etc. Latour would be proud. It's been challenging and fun. And I'm grateful for Fernando's patience, generosity, and humor in working with me towards this provisional document.
Alejandro Crawford practices poetry at one of its most experimental edges, where it crosses with and benefits from the special capacities of computing. Crawford has done impressive work already in both fields; in 2007 he won a Fulbright and moved to Lisbon, Portugal where he had been commissioned to perform his operation “transmutilation” working, in part, with Orpheu, the magazine published by Fernando Pessoa and friends. Crawford’s radically recut remix based in part on poems from Orpheu is titled Morpheu (BlazeVox 2010). In 2009 Crawford moved to NYC to study in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU Tisch. His ongoing work with electronic communications media has expanded his arsenal of poetic technique to include things like video and sound-mixing and the reappropriation of video game hardware to run text-manipulating algorithms. But what he does is not only technically cutting edge, it's weird and funny and fun.
Poetry for robots
Poetry for Robots, a newly released site from Neologic Labs, Webvisions, and the Arizona State University Center for Science and the Imagination, asks “What if we used poetry and metaphor as metadata? Would a search for ‘eyes’ return images of stars?”