May 30, 2008

Pound, Chat, and Maps

by Nick Montfort · , 3:16 pm

At the ELO Visionary Landscapes conference, I just heard the ReVisioning Electronic Literature: Origins and Influences panel – featuring a dynamic trio straight out of Southern California.

Jessica Pressman presented her work on Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries’s Dakota as digital modernism. She showed us the beginning of Pound’s first canto alongside a transcription of the beginning of Dakota. She compares this text machine with Bob Brown’s proposed machine “The Readies” (1930) to speed up and automate reading, keeping up with the technology of “the talkie.” A 1931 collection (out of print) was assembled to be read on the Readies machine. Pressman showed a Flash presentation of William Carlos Williams’s poem from the collection, hypothesizing that it might have appeared like that when read with the machine.

Mark Marino spoke about the Turing Test and the history of chatbots. He instructed those of us with a copy of his dissertation to discard the first chapter and the title page. “Conversational Actor Network Theory” is his current way of thinking about chatbots. The Turing Test has been mentioned as forefather to Eliza, prompt for the Loebner prize. A new way of looking at the Turing Test: interrogator questions two people, one authentic, one an impostor. But, consider an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system, elaborated to the complexity of natural language. Marino went on to show some examples of discourse around IFF systems and explained how it represented people following and co-creating scripts.

Jeremy Douglass reflected on mental maps and interactive fiction. Interactors in IF form theories, building a model of the simulated world that they can test and refine; these are geographies and ideas of implied code. Hypertext fiction often provides map-like interfaces. In IF, people draw maps with boxes and lines to understand spaces. People name objects on maps, but not new verbs (such as “remember”) that they discover. The aesthetics of error messages are interesting – messages that are the same as “you can’t do that” but help you understand the role of your character and what you can do as a player. (Examples from Shade.) A “push” presentation of schema-building is quickly shown; a pause to mention false affordances. A stark example of a telling error message: “>TURN OFF THE LAMP. You do not want the dark.” Interfaces of Zork, Mindwheel (with “picture frame” in ASCII), Selma’s Will with automapping, Lock and Key, City of Secrets. A quick look at box art from IF, Infocom ads and their rhetoric.