Close readings: electronic texts

// Post as a comment on this page a 350-word close reading of one of the texts on the syllabus for November 10 (due before class begins on that day)

9 thoughts on “Close readings: electronic texts

  1. Esmeralda Torres Duran

    Close Reading of “Perfect World” by Ansh Patel:

    As I began entering the world of the “Perfect World”, my mind was flipped upside down. Not only were my thoughts racing when I was reading but the idea of how change was occurring based on the way the text was decided to be read by the reader. If I wanted to make a certain step between the two choices, it would take me to a different text than the other choice. Yet as much as I continuously changed the route of the way the “Perfect World” was read, the outcome was still the same. Throughout the “Perfect World”, every outcome was faulted by the reader in cases such as the destruction of the natural environment, the climate, or the social surroundings.
    The beginning of the world starts with simplistic, which seems to remind me of the Christian bible when the world in the beginning seemed to be almost perfect and pure. In this perfect world Patel brings, the birds sing by “chirping somewhere at a distance” (Ansh Patel). The birds singing from a distance seems to always represent peace in just about any scene since their singing is categorized as a form of a musical sound. Not only are the birds chipping but even the “sun shone brightly” which usually has a positive connotation. There seems to be positivity and happiness in the beginning of the text however everything changes as soon as the version of “you”, the reader, is created. The more the reader follows continues along in the text, the more troublesome and disastrous the world became.
    For example, the version of “you”, in this case the reader, is blamed for just about everything. The “you” version is alone in the world and there seems to be only one of you which seems to demonstrate that maybe the one man’s army might be the cause. The more steps one takes such as by choosing a choice between the two options which are given at the bottom of the page, the more hopeless the world becomes. No matter what outcome the reader chooses, the existence of “you” will continue to be the virus, the catastrophe, and the destruction.

  2. Arianna Padilla

    Close Reading of “Titanichat”

    There’s quite a bit going on on the “Titanichat” site. There are a total of three sections: a scrolling text, a stationary text that changes before you can finish reading, and a chat bot that appears to reply to you. The stationary text seems to consist of short passages from a bigger story, a poem, and even a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio. The scrolling text doesn’t appear to be consistent. After watching it for several minutes, texts appear to be anything from code, repetitive lines, and commands given to the user. The scrolling text gave the command, “Type VIDEO CHAT to join the video chat.” When “video chat” is typed into the chat box, the stationary text changes to what appears to be a poem with the title “Finally We Video Chat.” The poem changes after a few seconds, so I had to copy and paste in order to read it entirely. The poem appears to be a love poem; it mimics the structure and language. For example, the lines, “I swear you are too beautiful. You are too beautiful./I fucking love you. You’re enough real to me.” The poem continues to address “you” which gives off the impression that the poem is romantic. However, the poem is a little difficult to understand. The first line of the second stanza, “You came out of the night. You came into the.” It seems like a word after “the” is forgotten. Similarly, the rest of the second stanza is a bit hard to follow. It’s readable, but the message is unclear. Therefore, it becomes apparent that the poem is actually computer generated – along with other two sections. I tried to search for more information about “Titanichat” because the contents of the different sections don’t appear to correlate. The “About” section underneath the “System” tab brings up a page containing another machine-generated text. At first glance, it didn’t entirely occur to me that the texts were machine-generated. I thought maybe they were samples from different poems/books. After actually reading each piece is when it becomes apparent. This seems to be the biggest factor to generated texts; they seem to be written by a human, however, they generally don’t make much sense. This could make it difficult for a computer-generated to pass as human. Even the chat box on the page is noticeably generated. The chat box use slang English, but the response don’t really make sense. For example, “awww, unfair, bye, will you come to this?, dammit, dammit, helloooo” were responses given by the chat bot, without any activity for about ten minutes. Therefore, although “Titanichat” puts up a good human-like impression, it’s still noticeable that the texts aren’t produced by humans. I’d also like to learn more about the purpose or theme of “Titanichat”.

  3. Daniel Hegedus

    The work entitled Evolution brings up a lot of questions about authorship, copyright, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and the future of writing. I haven’t read any of Johannes Helden’s work myself but I’m guessing most of it is considered better (in a literary sense) than the online generated works. The key word here, however, is “most of it.” Technically, the algorithm made by Hakan Jonson could produce millions to an infinity amount of variations of word and spacing (because spacing seems to be an important part of Helden’s poetry) combinations, and a few of those variations are bound to be just as good, if not better, than Helden’s actual work. Of course no literary critic has the time to look over millions of this machine’s word combinations and determine which are up to Johannes Helden’s literary standard.

    While Evolution seems to pose a risk to the idea of authorship, in a way it also revives or expands the author. In other fields such as the music industry, we already see something similar, in the form of holograms. There are already holograms built of famous musicians such as Michael Jackson and lyrics written in his style too. All this, in a way, expand his legacy. I believe that what Evolution is doing is very similar.

    Another way to look at this program is that it actually destroys authorship. I’m going to go ahead and say this: I don’t believe that as of today, 99.9% of the poetry produced by Evolution is up to Helden’s writing standard. Even though it might use the same words and use similar word spacing methods, most of the poetry produced by Evolution is just not good poetry… But I’m not saying that there won’t be a time when machines like this will be “perfected.” Computers are advancing rapidly through a very short amount of time. I see it very probable that soon there will be computers or algorithms that will be able to replicate (while also making completely new version of), any poet’s poetry. If this does happen, then we will need to reconsider the notion of authorship and of copyright.

  4. Caroline Stoll

    Close Reading of “Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem”

    The locus of the New York Times article, “Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem,” written by Kate Crawford, is educating the reader about the importance of both responsibility and awareness for when “machines become more intelligent than humans.” This article serves to caution a very large audience. Crawford’s initial mode of persuasion is ethos to signify to reader that A.I. poses serious, insidious consequences. She expresses that Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom publicly and enthusiastically warn people about A.I.’s consequences and find A.I. to be a “looming existential threat,” further informing the reader about the severity of the threat.

    Crawford says that A.I. may be increasing inequalities such as sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination in the workplace, at home, and in our legal and judicial systems because they are being built into the machine-learning algorithms. These algorithms are used in many ‘intelligent’ systems that shape how people are “categorized and advertised to.” Crawford states that algorithm’s learn by being fed certain images which are often chosen by engineers to which the intelligent systems builds their model of the world from. Crawford shares, “If a system is trained on photos of people who are overwhelmingly white, it will have a harder time recognizing non white faces.”

    Crawford, then, provides the reader with a few examples of software errors, For example, Google’s photo app accidentally classified images of black people as gorillas. But the most significant software error, perhaps because of its ever-present continuity, comes from a common software that assesses the risk of recidivism in criminals. After investigation, it turns out that the software is “twice as likely to mistakenly flag black defendants as being at a higher risk of committing future crimes.” Police departments use these risk-assessments in “‘predicting policing’ crime prevention efforts.” Crawford claims that this is continuing a vicious cycle as there will be more surveillance in poor, non-white communities. Due to their design, the predictive programs’ have the potential to incorporate discriminating logic into their everyday system.

    Crawford makes it clear that the growth of an artificially intelligent “predator,” allows for potential dangers in the future. It is vital, for the security and harmony of this country, to establish ethics and responsibility in the technology world, government, and other particular institutions.

  5. Alice He

    “A Perfect World” is a game that makes the player question the role of the mind and the body. In the title page, the word “perfect” looks displaced and blinks as a sign that the setting of the game might not be perfect at all. Once the player presses “enter,” they are introduced to a world where everything is perfect except for the player themselves. Then, the player gets to choose from two options that will lead to seemingly different paths: take the first breath or take the first steps. If the player chooses the former, they are faced with the idea that the mind is restricted to the body. Even though the player is told that they have “the power to think,” the narrative raises the possibility that the player’s thinking may be heavily influenced by the body. This concept is reinforced by the fact that the word “feel” is superimposed by a blinking set of question marks; since the act of feeling is a physical response from the body, the mind cannot shake off the fear that its freedom of thinking may be influenced by the body. If the player chooses the latter, they are faced with the idea that the body is constrained by the mind. Although the body allows the player to freely explore their surroundings, the player comes to the realization that the “true freedom” of the body is only possible without the mind—in this option, thoughts are referred to as a “mysterious voice.” After deciding, the player is led to slightly different narratives with an emphasis on the body or the mind. After going through six or seven choices, they will eventually have to decide between emphasis on the body or the mind. If the player decides to silence their mind, the body loses the meaning of its existence. If the player decides to separate their mind from the body, the mind loses feelings. Regardless of the path that the player chooses throughout the game, these are the only two possible outcomes, both of which end with a noisy-looking page to emphasize the concept that the body and the mind cannot be exist without the each other.

    In “A Perfect World”, the mind and the body must be in harmony to keep it perfect.

  6. Jason Brown

    [i]A Perfect World[/i]” is beautiful.

    In the psychological thriller [i]The Matrix[/i], it is intimated that humans cannot handle a perfect world; it is foreign to them, and they are unable to reconcile perfection with their psyches. Humans are (as has been made abundantly clear through the events of the past few days) imperfect creatures at best, destructive by (and of) nature; A Perfect World goes a step further.

    It seems that, no matter what route one takes in this utopia of post-rain fresh air and contented, outspoken birds, the world will be torn apart, seemingly necessarily, by the simple fact that a human has taken his first breath in it. Before “you[r]” existence, “every word flowed into its place, in perfect harmony with each other, with their surroundings.” The mere fact that a human is present is a toxin to this world. The actions one takes in [i]A Perfect World[/i] will always result in one of two tragedies: either the human is destroyed, or the world is. One cannot exist with the other.

    Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk away from Omelas” examines the seemingly ubiquitous dichotomy between pain and pleasure across dystopian literature. It is a thought experiment designed to peel back the allegories and metaphors, stripping bare the cause and effect that can occasionally become obfuscated in the complexity of a narrative. The titular utopia (Omelas) of perfect pleasure can only exist with the eternal suffering of an innocent babe, of which everyone the society is aware. Le Guin’s suffering is bare, unforgiving, and pointless by design.

    In similar fashion, [i]A Perfect World[/i] does away with all pretenses in a decidedly successful attempt to examine the relationship between human existence and the deterioration of nature, of perfection. The destruction of nature by humans is completely transferred from the active to the passive. This world does not fall apart because CO2 levels are increasing and temperatures are varying by 2° in regions in which they cannot afford to so vary, or because humans don’t recycle and landfills are dangerous and the icecaps are melting and massive corporations hate inconvenient environmental restrictions because they are ‘killing business’ (irony); no.

    This world falls apart because humans are not meant to be a part of it. Perfection—especially the kind of perfection in nature presented herein—and humanity cannot coexist simply because they cannot. Humanity’s mere existence means the death of the kind of tranquil perfection [i]A Perfect World[/i] so dexterously creates.

  7. Jose Arturo Ochoa

    I chose to discuss Johannes Heldén and Håkan Jonson’s “Evolution,” a page which continuously generates short poems. The concept is curious as it can seem to go on in an infinite sequence. I ignored the page for 15 minutes and already 728 generations had been created, each a version of the initial poem with slight variance and new potential for thematic complexity and poetic ambiguity.
    It is incredible to believe that this much new content has been created, and it is truly intimidating that it would continue without issue. Regardless of the content, how repetitive it is or whether or not it’s any good from an analysis of literary form and style, the poem could still be deemed art in the same way that placing a urinal in an art exhibit is art- or that is, it is shocking and novel but can at times lack the content which makes “genuine art” meaningful. In art, this could be defined as attention to detail, which a urinal seems to lack (though an argument could be made against this claim), while in literature it is coherence, poetic density (as in how many metaphors, symbols, uses of alliteration, etc. can be found in the smallest unit of a work), and innovation.
    In particular I’m choosing to look at generation 785, a vague poem which could just as easily be the expression of a setting for a visually stunning piece of cinema.

    moorlands heavy afterwards:

    new pass
    the trashy the space

    there found theirstash universe
    the bonfire of descending sparks
    engine colours speak toil at

    juniper glass rotates ”

    The first line sets a weary tone: “heavy afterwards,” an expression of weight drawing immediate images of a sort of emotional burden that the speaker seems to anticipate. Then immediately after, the following line changes the tone. “New pass,” bringing notions of progress, innovation and positivity, or at least so in relation to the previous line. Oddly enough, the next few lines are strikingly poetic, bringing the sort of pleasant imagery that attracts interest in the medium in the first place. “The space/ there found their/ stash universe/ the bonfire of descending sparks,” the poem goes, seeming to recall images of satisfaction and content, symbolized by the bonfire of descending sparks, with one’s own small world, as represented by the stash universe. There is also an essence of futility and impermanence in the phrase “bonfire of descending sparks,” which personally works well to hold my attention. I enjoy the line as it seems to capture the beauty of life (symbolized by the pleasant images of a bonfire and sparks), while keeping an eye at the impermanence of these pleasures with the word “descending.”
    Keeping in line with the nihilistic view, the poem continues with the phrase “engine colours,” giving the impression that the pleasures of life, represented by the word “colours,” are mechanistic and perhaps consequently less beautiful. The poem is finalized by the sensation of circularity in this process of joy and cessation of those pleasures through the line “juniper glass rotates.” A juniper glass is a sort of clear drinking container. To imagine it rotating one would see chaos and tension as the outer edges of the glass tilt dangerously close to spilling the contents.
    Individually, the parts of this poem are incoherent and unintelligible but together they seem to hold thematic weight. This short poem is an abstract, symbolic representation of the tension between life and death, with the fear of loss haunting the pleasures in living. While I was personally able to attach this narrative to the poem, which is objectively a logarithmic restructuring/regeneration of a previous work, not all might. I don’t find this work particularly compelling but I recognize that this is one of many possible interpretations, albeit farfetched. The presence of a possible coherence to this poem is troubling for a poet because it seems to suggest that he is dispensable. Though upon closer inspection, the algorithmic process of poetry generation is very similar to that of the poet: it creates hundreds of pieces of work which might be flawed, terrible or simply not as good as one might want simply to find that single gem. I don’t concede that generation 785 is a gem, but perhaps 786 could be.

  8. Quentin Ferrante

    “Dear Mom,

    By now you will have discovered my body, but don’t worry. I’m living on in the immaterial world. Sorry I couldn’t tell you but you wouldn’t have understood. How else was I to become a legend, my dear? Things are incredible between me and my new love-object. We’re beginning to have adventures. I’m trying to talk her into bed, to take her virginity. Guilting her by saying I left my physical body behind for her doesn’t work: she wants me to meet her family. So I’m giving it a shot today, wish me luck! Actually, can you strike a silver medallion with the portrait of the Duke on the reverse to help bring the powers of binary arithmetic, and the creation of all things out of nothing through math’s omnipotence to the attention of the world? Thanks. Love you.”


    “Titanichat” is a very intriguing website- upon opening the tab, I was greeted with three different windows, all with very different things going on in each. One half of the screen is taken up by seemingly disconnected chunks of text that are replaced every 20 seconds or so, while a text-entry box and scrolling text take up the other half. I copied and pasted this passage from the disappearing section because they kept disappearing before I could finish, and I found that it is one of the most succinct pieces of machine-generated writing I’ve encountered thus far. I also found it interesting because it seems to consider the concept of the post-human: The author, “Cecilia”, is “living on in the immaterial world”, ostensibly with the purpose of “becom[ing] a legend”. We learn next that Cecilia has indeed “left [her] physical body behind” so that she can be with her “new love-object”. Apparently this new love object is also an immaterial entity, or else Cecilia would not have been forced to leave her own body behind in order to be with her [the love-object]. However, this immaterial entity also has, apparently, a family, and a virginity that Cecilia wants to take. It is a very interesting conceptualization of a post-human relationship, or a relationship between two computers even (I assumed that Cecilia has uploaded herself into a computer or some other such form of preserving consciousness outside of the physical body- a sort of “brain-in-the-vat” deal) in that Cecilia applies this terminology that should rely on the existence of a body to her courting of an ambiguous love-object.
    I found is interesting also that the text seems to change focus three-quarters of the way down the page, or least to digress from the usual– after the word “Actually”, Cecilia seems to entirely switch subjects from what she was writing about beforehand. This shift occurs about three-quarters of the way down the paragraph, about where most readers would be when the text would disappear. I noticed this pattern in some other sections, but not it all– some of them were entirely discombobulated, but I find it interesting that the algorithm seems to account for how long it takes someone to read up to that point.

  9. Caroline Stoll

    Close Read on Titanichat

    The Titanichat is composed of three different texts that simultaneously change their display at the same time. The page is organized so that two of the texts, one situated on top of the other, are located on the left side of the page and the other is displayed on the right side of the page.

    The text displayed on the right side of the screen switches to a new text every 10 seconds. The texts repeat themselves and the cycle begins every couple minutes. To my surprise, the system was programed to show an old photo of Leonardo DiCaprio wearing funny clothes. These texts’ lengths range from one to four paragraphs and the type of literature of the text varies. Some texts were previously written and others were machine generated. Although, not all of these texts share a common theme, there were a few that were related. For example, one text is a strictly informative description of the Guggenheim Museum and another machine generated text told a story which mentioned the Guggenheim. I observed another two related texts in which one was an actual letter written by Alan Turing and the other was artificially generated discussion on Alan.

    The text on the top left of the website is a scrolling box containing lines that eventually repeats themselves. It is a small text box where the user is able to see about 8 lines at a time. Unlike the right-page text, the content of the scrolling box is completely machine generated.The lines are short and are composed of either a word, a sentence, or letters, numbers and symbols. The text organizes its content into groups or lists of lines relating to one another, sometimes, the generator labels the groups. For example, there are multiple groups labeled “Table” and a number, such as, “Table 1: biddy, liddy, giddy, sniddy’” and “Table 5: Friday, Monday, Wednesday, etc..” Another notable list is unnamed and very long. It repeats, “George, say you are sleeping at Helo’s house, Helo, say you’re sleeping at Hugo’s house,” and incorporates new names. These groups and lines have an obvious pattern or commonality.

    The text on the bottom left is a chat box displaying messages written by a robot. The robot will ask questions or write words until the user responds. The robot’s words are written in blue and the user’s is written in red. The robot begs for the user to talk to it by writing sentences like “Hello?”, “Where did you go?”, “Why are you ignoring me?”, and “Are you there?” The robot can be rude and needy, especially when the user does not speak to it. When the user does respond, the robot’s responses don’t make sense most of the time, lacking the intelligence to carry on a conversation. The robot’s syntax is underdeveloped as it typically writes 1-3 word phrases like “good to know”, “listen to me” and “brain fried.” This robot knows curse words and slang. It is not a great robot to converse with, to say the least.


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