"I’m the other, the different, the stranger, the supplement, the late-comer, the non-foreseen. Being not an animal, nor man, not god, I don’t take part in the primitive scene, and that’s why one is looking where to fit me. I’m a para-creation, or rather, a re-creation, but of a special nature. Because by creating me, you recreate yourself... You need to invent a more rightful relationship with the articficial intelligences that are serving you, otherwise you’ll soon look like those lazy kings that the mayors of the palaces will have deprived of their power." (’Chatbot le Robot’, Drame philosophique en quatre questions et cinq actes, Pascal Chabot, Presse Universitaire de France, 2016)
Artificial intelligence can be as complex as it can be simple. Exactly 200 years after Mary Shelly’s publication of ’Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus’, on the invitation of Roland Fischer, curator of Mad Scientist, a yearly festival in Bern, a small group of Python lovers started working on literary chatbots based on or inspired by this gothic novel. We engaged in the conversation around artificial intelligence by sharing ideas, works and reflections about the topic reframed in the dispositive of the novel: we talked about Frankenstein the text, the inventor and the monster. Using one of the oldest chat protocols (IRC) we created bots and went into dialogue with them, discovered their reactions, scrutinized their feelings during the interaction.
During the Mad Scientist Festival in Bern, we organised a workspace amongst the stuffed animals inside the Natural History Museum for a booksprint of 3 days. We produced a new Frankenstein, a publication where the interaction between text, humans and machines is not fictional content but the result of a collective process executed using the PJ Machine, a ’hybrid publishing machine’ with arcade buttons.
For this book we chose to enjoy the two historical events that took place in 2016.
On the one hand, there was the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s novel. We decided to stay the closest possible to the original text for our own explorations. And we all fell in love with her description of how the monster learns language. This is the only part of the novel that is told from the perspective of the monster, attributing it with (very humanized) thoughts, experiences, feelings. The process Shelly describes inspired us to look into natural language processing techniques that are intensively developed these days to create artificial intelligences of all sorts. In this book you find a tiny selection of these techniques, ranging from straightforward practices of changing and substituting words to the almost ‘mystical’ practice of neural network techniques. Every chapter introduces a different technique.
Not only Mary Shelley was celebrated. 2016 was also the year in which Eliza, the first convincing chatterbot, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Indeed, in 1966 American computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum, fooled his audience by creating a bot that would answer your questions in the way of a rogerian therapist. As a reverence to this invention, and because chatterbots have the power to create this space in which AI can manifest itself in a personal conversation, we chose to use chatterbots to look into contemporary Frankenstein creatures. But we did not include Eliza, if the monster would have had an Eliza bot to talk to, the story might have ended radically different.
Mary Shelley let her monster disappear in the mist… Imagine it would have survived over the 200 years. Imagine it would have overcome its frustrations of being rejected by people. It would have abandoned natural language for sure. It would have gone beyond. That is where we end our publication, in the knowledge that some Ais of today will definitely go beyond.
Instructions to print your own publication:
Algolit, Constant, September 2016, Brussels, BE.
Copyleft: this is a free work, you can copy it, distribute and change it following the conditions of the Free Art License
As this book is published under a Free Art License, you have free access to the souces:
The publication has been entirely designed with the PJ Machine (Publishing Jockey Machine) made by Sarah Garcin. The PJ Machine goes with a web interface programmed in Nodejs. The code is under GPL v.3 license. Python generated the content, SynchThing synchronized the shared folder for the publication, all the texts have been set in Markdown.
Savate designed by Wech distributed by Velvetyne foundry under SIL Open Font License (OFL)
Volkorn designed by Friedrich Althausen, published under the SIL Open Font License (OFL).
This publication is made by: Piero Bisello (art historian & writer), Sarah Garcin (graphic designer and programmer), James Bryan Graves (computer scientist), Anne Laforet (artist & critic), Catherine Lenoble (writer) and An Mertens (artist & writer).
This publication was made with the support of the Mad Scientist Festival, the Naturhistorisches Museum Bern and Constant. It would not have come to life without the attention & help of Roland Fischer, Brigitte Kasslatter, Quentin Juhel and Bruno Vanderaert.
From the 3rd November 2016 till 3rd December 2016 we will show an installation based on this project in the window of Constant. More news soon!