Remarks from The New School, 28 June 2012

This talk was given at the Tishman Auditorium, The New School as part of the event “Project Projects Project Projector,” sponsored by AIGA/NY. As a prompt, Adam, Prem and I were asked to speak about how our passions informed our practice. My comments about “computational poetics” (for lack of a better phrase!) follow below.

I want to start with this familiar image of Google auto-complete. It’s interesting how the web is a kind of machine for generating and organizing text — you put text in, you get more text out. And there are algorithms that structure the text output, so when you make a search, you expect something specific to happen as a result.

Here’s a website we made last year for an exhibition at Harvard that takes its name from Dante’s famous epic poem — it has a different kind of search bar.

You input text, but the field doesn’t behave as you’d expect — rather than searching the site, it searches the entire web. And rather than behaving consistently, its behavior changes, cycling through a series of searches from Google Images…

…to Wikipedia…

…to an Italian translation of your search phrase.

This isn’t anything new — machines have always changed the behavior of text, and the creation of a new tool often alters the usage of an existing one.

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