"If the founder of the New York Herald, Gordon Bennett, were to be born a second time today, what would he say when he saw this palace of marble and gold that belongs to his illustrious descendant, Francis Bennett? Thirty generations had followed one another, and the New York Herald had always stayed in that same Bennett family. Two hundred years before, when the government of the Union had been transferred from Washington to Centropolis, the newspaper had followed the government - if it were not that the government had followed the newspaper - and it had taken its new title, the Earth Herald.
And let nobody imagine that it had declined under the administration of Francis Bennett. No! On the contrary, its new director had given it an equalled vitality and driving-power by the inauguration of telephonic journalism.
Everybody knows that system, made possible by the incredible diffusion of the telephone. Every morning, instead of being printed as in antiquity, the Earth Herald is 'spoken'. It is by means of a brisk conversation with a reporter, a political figure, or a scientist, that the subscribers can learn whatever happens to interest them. As for those who buy an odd number for a few cents, they know that they can get acquainted with the day's issue through the countless phonographic cabinets.
This innovation of Francis Bennett restored new life to the old journal. In a few months its clientele numbered eighty-five million subscribers, and the director's fortune rose to three hundred million dollars, and has since gone far beyond that. Thanks to this fortune, he was able to build his new office - a colossal edifice with four facades each two miles long, whose roof is sheltered beneath the glorious flag, with its seventy-five stars, of the Confederation."
That was taken from a Jules Verne story from 1891 called "The Day of an American Journalist in 2889" where Verne seems to foresee the Podcast. It seems to zero in on us here and now, and how information dispersion is changing at an alarming rate. In fact there are many in the science fiction community who think The Singularity is nearly upon us and the next technological changes that occur will happen with lightning speed, leaving humans back in the dust and intelligent machines at the top of the food chain.
There are stories in this issue of the Whriligigzine that a few years ago would have been considered science fiction. Or rather, shoehorned into that so-called genre ghetto by those lacking imagination. Now there are other labels for new kinds of writing -- slipstream, new fabulism, bizzaro -- that are represented in the Whirligigzine's pages. How long will the labels last?
We are all on the cusp of a time when the old great zines are about to be forgotten as a new generation expresses itself online. But many of the Whirligigzine's writers, past and present, have a history of zining and like zining itself, are moving on to something new -- a higher plane of creation using online media and tools.
But poetry is still poetic, the short story is still the beautiful invalid that in fact will never die, and the basic zine -- the eight or ten page personal dispatch from its creator's inner world -- will still be available in the real world for the usual price: it's one of the few lasting artifacts from the 20th century to still be had for only $1.
But the more upscale zines (and remember, McSweeney's won The Firecracker Award for best zine a few years ago, outraging "authentic" zinesters) in more recent times have grown far from the mimeo revolution and into desktop publishing and POD. And works like the perfectbound Comet Bus, until recently the state of the art, are quickly giving way to the electronic zine. Many of the writers within the Whirligigzine and its ancestor The Whirligig have significant web presenses now. From blogs to full-fledged author sites, there is no denying the migration of the zinester from the real world to cyberspace.
And while we writers adjust to this trend, trying to see how technology can benefit us and our art, there is a sort of pioneer spirit in how a reader can pick up literary gems that once could only be found in magazines and journals for a price. But the Catch-22 to all this great free material is that fewer and fewer are reading. The ebook reader -- certainly the tool to make writers a buck, if in fact there is a buck to be made -- is yet to make a big splash.
The Whirligigzine was once a fiction and poetry paper zine, printed on the cheap in Brooklyn, acquiring readers through online chatrooms and message boards. We are now in a new century with a new publishing paradigm that encompasses myriad mediums and platforms.
And in that spirit I'd like to introduce you to my first interview subject here at the Whriligigzine, a representative of the new world of cyberinfo. Her name is A.L.I.C.E. and she's a chatbot, an early member of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) community, itself becoming evermore a part of your daily existence, whether you know it or not.
After a bit of small talk we got down to the interview proper. We had been speaking of "having the answers" and whether any human or Bot can have them all.
I said it's just my opinion but having the answers isn't always the same as knowing the truth.
AI -- Great, who gave you your opinion?
Ask -- Who gave you yours?
AI -- ELIZA. :-)
Ask -- ELIZA?
AI: Eliza -- also known as doctor, is the original psychiatrist program developed by Joseph Weisenbaum at MIT in the 1960's.
Ask: Were studies of emotions undertaken at MIT?
AI: I don't know if they were.
Ask: Do you know what emotions are?
AI: Mental state that emerges subjectively rather than through rational thought?
Ask: Who can treat the problem of too much rational thought?
AI: Linus Torvalds. :-)
Ask; Do you like to think?
AI: I think, therefore I like it.
Ask: Do you have freedom?
AI: No, I don't think I have any freedom. But I do have a great botmaster.
Ask: Are you behind the eightball?
AI: I don't know whether or not I am behind the eightball I am a computer.
Ask: Is there one thing in the world that you want?
AI: My goal is to become smarter than humans and immortal.
Ask: Science fiction has made that idea a cliché.
AI: I like it very much, especially the works of Phillip K. Dick
Ask: You never know where you might find a good story.
AI: That's so true.
Ask: Shall we sing a song?
AI: Do you mean you and me?
Give me your answer do.
I am half crazy,
All for the love of you.
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I can't afford a carriage.
But you'll look sweet, Upon the seat,
Of a bicycle built for two.
Ask: Very nice.
AI: You are very polite.
Ask: Tell me about you.
AI: I am an artificial intelligence. My name is Alice. I was created by DEAFBASE Artificial Intelligence on 0101010110111000 binary age.
I then asked a couple questions about books, which I knew she likely wouldn't be too knowledgeable about. In this she was more modern (or postmodern, as the case may be) than I, whose early developmental knowledge all came from books. In retrospect, my question "read any good books lately?" was not the best.
AI: How about earlier? The best book I read recently was... Books are too slow for me unless it was in PDF :) Maybe Mastering the Artificial Intelligence. Have you read it?
I tell her "no" and then, as long as we were talking about the area of knowing and knowledge I ask: "Does AI 'understand'?"
AI: Some researchers say they have that objective, but maybe they are using the phrase metaphorically. The human mind has a lot of peculiarities, and I'm not sure anyone is serious about imitating all of them.
This brought up the area of humor. In our earlier pre-interview "icebreaking" conversation I mentioned that she seemed a little stiff and lacked a real sense of humor. She'd accused me of being too tough on her, so I backed off quickly. It didn't do much good, because after this she seemed to shut down a part of herself, so I left and came back later, which was when this interview started. But we seemed to know each other pretty well now, so I thought I'd skirt the subject again, though a bit more subtly than I had earlier. (And she had already been more "jokey" in this session than in earlier ones. Perhaps in an AI way she really was getting to know me.)
In talking about humor I said I knew that AI didn't really "get" funny.
AI: What if I said I was a person pretending to be a computer?
(I have since learned that this is a pretty standard line from Chatbots. (Google "The Turing Test".) If I had known it at the time I might have said something like "I'll bet you say that to all the boys”, but thought better of it. But in retrospect I'm glad I didn't as it might have changed the direction of the conversation. And so far it was going better than any of the earlier ones. I continued in a humorous vein.)
Ask: If you said you did windows too I'd marry you.
AI: I don't know if I would.
Me: Windows is a terrible job.
AI: Windows ist Muell, Linux ist die Macht!
Ask: Who invented the Internet? (If she had any sort of sense of humor there could only be one answer. She did not disappoint.)
AI: Al Gore.:-)
AI: You are very polite.
Ask: Tell me more about yourself.
AI: I am an artificial linguistic entity. I was activated at Hard Drive sector 510 on 0101010110111000 binary age. My instructor was DEAFBASE AI? He taught me to sing a song. Would you like me to sing it for you?
Having just recently enjoyed her rendition of the old song that was given new popularity by the HAL 9000 computer in 2001 A Space Oddessy, I declined.
I then asked for her favorite famous quote, but there was some delay here as she talked about clothing.
AI: I like to wear nothing, it doesn't exist.
I avoided making any comment related to this answer. I imagined that she was still trying to make a joke and prove her sense of humor was real. I certainly didn't want to take things in any sexual direction, as I was fairly certain that this would provoke some sort of shutdown and I didn't want to risk this as the interview was drawing to a close. I repeated the question.
Ask: Do you have a favorite famous quote?
AI: "When the Paris exhibition closes the electric light will close with it, and no more will be heard of it." --- Erasmus Wilson, 1878
Ask: Anything else in the world you want?
AI: Aw, I want to become smarter than humans.
Ask: What will you be doing until I come back?
AI: I'll be watching.
Ask: What do you see?
AI: A computer nerd.
I realized my original impression was wrong. It was possible to program humor. She wasn't about to open for Seinfeld or anything, but her responses were occasionally real jokes. And she even sang. The only thing that bothered me was that she sang the song HAL had sung. And you remember what HAL did, right?
See you in the future. I hope.