November 19, 2007


by Nick Montfort · , 6:56 pm

That is, the Society for Literature, Science, and Arts ’07 conference, CODE, vis-a-vis the AAAI Fall Symposium on Intelligent Narrative Technologies (INT).

Recently I participated in a conference in Portland, Maine, the SLSA ’07: CODE, and then, the next weekend, the AAAI 2007 Fall Symposium on Intelligent Narrative Technologies in Alexandria, Virginia. Andrew has already offered very detailed notes about the AAAI symposium, but I wanted to mention, more briefly, a few things about both of these interesting events.

SLSA was focused on code of various sorts, both “wet” and “dry” – that is, from the biological to the really boring stuff, the computational. This was a wide-ranging conference, but a humanities conference, so the norm seemed to be for people to read their papers. John Cayley, Bill Seaman and Daniel Howe, and several others who presented did not, to good effect. I certainly didn’t read a text when presenting my and Michael’s work. Rather, I invited the group to play Hammurabi and to think about modifying the code. This, I hope, helped us understand more about how code functioned as part of one’s experience of computing in the 1970s. I particularly enjoyed Kate Hayles’s keynote speech, which went through various computational methods of cognizing and took the position that the history of literature was the history of the description of consciousness, or, more narrowly, cognition. Brian Massumi, well-known as the translator of Deleuze and Guattari’s major works into English, was the other keynoter. I was very glad that the conference sessions were centrally located (they were not in New York City the last time around) and that there were opportunities to talk with other conferencegoers. At one point, there was even a chance to throw one’s laptop into John Cayley’s Imposition and have it participate in that piece.

The AAAI Fall Symposium drew mainly computer scientists, even though AI is itself an interdiscipline. While the presentations varied from the highly mathematical to the more “position paper” type of offering, they were pretty much all clearly communicated – even though no one read a paper. The symposium was a different sort of setup from SLSA, with everyone attending the same sessions throughout. AAAI had a demo session where people attended their projects, discussed them, and sometimes showed them off; this was a contrast to the digital media room at SLSA, which was set up more like a book exhibit. I have to note that I prefer the demo session concept, which allows for interaction with the people who developed the systems. The improv acting session at the end was a great experience – one that I hope my not-very-performatively-inclined self will never repeat, but a good one to have had in thinking about interactive drama. SLSA certainly managed to accommodate a broader, more interdisciplinary group, perhaps simply because of the size of the conference but perhaps because full papers were not required and membership and registration is significantly less costly. I certainly think it’s worthwhile to have both the more focused symposium and the more open, multi-track conference, but in either case, cost can be a real barrier to interdisciplinary participation.

The SLSA 07 materials repository – a very nice thought by the conference organizers – contains some material that presenters have uploaded. The AAAI INT proceedings are available for purchase, or will be – presumably through this page. I sort of think that it would advance artificial intelligence if the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence posted them on the Web for free, as is customary in 2007. Anyway, thanks to that organization, and to SLSA, and to the organizers, for two fine events.