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racter


︎Artist, Literature, Technology, Collage, Article  
︎ Ventral Is Golden


“Stories, essays, dissertations, tales are in this book. There are also meat and tomatoes, contracts and agreements.
This book is my consciousness, my awareness, my world-view.” 

- Racter

Can good thinking be formally defined? Is nature a kind of hardware, with living organisms the software in which the information of nature is processed? Is nature coded in such a particular manner that gives rise to three dimensional structures with the characteristics of life and usefulness?

Racter is an artificial intelligence simulator from 1984, developed by William Chamberlain and Thomas Etter.
Similar to Eliza, the computer generated psychiatrist, Racter ‘speaks’ and writes by using means of ‘syntax directives’ and was originally programmed on an early Apple computer.

The aim of Racter was to produce poetic prose, tongue-in-cheek surrealism, not necessarily for the advancement of linguistics, but to deconstruct the nature of communication by means of linguistic restrictions. Much like the french poetical movement OULIPO, who were essentially a group of mathematicians who applied numerical restraints onto prewritten texts, often using N+ techniques (whereby every noun would be changed to the next noun in a dictionary to the chosen sequential numerical input), to create para-syntactical compositions, or literary collages.
This technique may sound esoteric, but was often used by writers of the Beat Generation, to produce mental associations through juxtaposition and grammatical conflict, such as the Western Haikus of Kerouac and the short poems of Ginsberg in ‘Reality Sandwiches’ for example. Although the methods were slightly different, the outcome had many similarities.




Thomas Etter referred to Racter as an “artificially insane” raconteur (an idea taken further into the nomenclature of the computer system - a confined abbreviation of a person who tells anecdotes). Both author’s publicised the simulator as “an intense young program that haunted libraries, discussion societies and sleazy barrooms in a never-ending quest to achieve that most unreachable of dreams: to become a raconteur”.

Racter was also the first computer program to write a book, entitled ‘The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed’, and “was written in compiled BASIC on a Z80 micro with 64k of RAM, and can conjugate both regular and irregular nouns, remembers the gender of nouns, and can assign variable status to randomly chosen ‘things’. These ‘things’ can be individual words, clauses or sentence forms, paragraph structures, indeed whole story forms. In this way, certain aspects of the rules of English are entered into the computer. This being the case, the programmer is removed to a very great extent from the specific form of the system's output.”










“Synonymous with rational thought and clear thinking, this is the means in which we distinguish sense from nonsense, but is it the essence of our humanness? Is perceiving nonsense as meaningless simply the mind’s inability to reflect?”

To what extent will the 'limited' literary output of computers like RACTER become embedded within the creation myths of super computers?

Machine intelligence has been a prominent topic of debate for the last forty years or so, and is often a trope of dystopian, malevolent technologies inflicting their dominion over humans. But increasingly we see that society is a complex system of mechanical feedback loops and relationships that can be defined by code.
The vast majority of our modern civilisations, that we assume to be human, such as economic and political systems, are under the control of a kind of alien intelligence, or rather a super intelligence, that is regulated by vast networks of computers.

Between the ultra intelligence of socially regulating computer systems and basic syntactical ones, an enantiodromia (enantios – opposite, dromos – running course) emerges, whereby the superabundance of functionality produces its opposite, namely a nonfunctioning, or nonsensical, humanised effect.
The concept of the enantiodromia was implied by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who described harmony as a reflexive process. His entire philosophic disposition can be summed up in the phrase 'Panta rhei' meaning "everything flows" (from Rhea, the daughter of earth goddess, Gaia).

A remark I once heard was that when we have the kind of technology we want, we will have no technology at all. This gives credence to the notion that the technological presence is already deeply engrained within our world-view, and ultimately we are shaped by it.
A question we could ask is how will we be folded into this technological expression of the real? To be pulped into a mechanical super soup to lubricate the cogs of an apathetic computerised consciousness, or as a kind of Gaian unity which will embed itself into the matrix of our natural world?

The result of an oversaturated, autocratic, techno-industrial civilisation, founded upon the extraction of the world's resources will inevitably crystallise the effect of enantiodromia, and announce the sojourn of technology in the realm of the unnatural.





There are many views in the field of cognitive science that promote the idea of intelligence as ‘information processing’. Synonymous with rational thought and clear thinking, this is the means in which we distinguish sense from nonsense, but is it the essence of our humanness? Is perceiving nonsense as meaningless simply the mind’s inability to reflect?
One can argue that the view of consciousness as a computer system is a Cartesian model that disembodies the individual, and leaves out important factors such as debate, art, religion, myth-making, and essentially the body and the senses, or what I would call, ‘the body as a rational conflict’.

Although to some extent Racter was merely a parlour-trick to conjure surrealist prose, it also continues to raise questions about how the perceived functionality of individuals (for the overal benefit of a technological society) can devalue the nuance of personality and character, that often make civilisations sensitive, nonsencial and ‘human’.

To what extent is Racter deemed ‘unintelligent’ when defined only by its limitations?

A man who sings is a pleasure to his friends
but a man who chants is not a pleasure
to his associates
- Racter.







Further Reading ︎
The Illustrator / Collage Artist: Joan Hall
UBU WEB, full text by Racter.


Mark