Transcendance

Friday 11 April 2014, 3:18 pm   ////  

The premiere of the film Transcendance, directed by Wally Pfister and starring Johnny Depp as AI researcher Dr. Will Caster, was last night in Westwood. I got to go since my spouse produced and co-wrote the iOS and Android game that accompanies this movie. Johnny Depp and other cast members were there, but, alas, I did not get to hang with them; there were many interesting conversations nevertheless and I was glad to get to see the film for the first time. (Those involved with it had often seen very many cuts already, of course.) The general theatrical release of the film is April 18.

It’s an idea-packed film with a good bit of action, explosions, and so on, as well as innumerable nanites. Much can and will be said of it. One thing I was pleasantly surprised to note, though, was that the film expressed a bit how AI researchers (and by extension academic researchers more generally) have different motivations for what they do. Some are mainly interested in the challenges that problems present, because those problems are beautiful or inherently interesting. Some want to learn and understand things about the world. Some want to produce benefits in the world. And (although this group is not represented among the top researchers in the world) for some it’s just a job to make a living. It was nice to see the nuance of these different motivations in the way AI research was portrayed in Transcendance.

Gamebooks and IF Conference at Villanova

Tuesday 22 October 2013, 11:37 am   /////  

Gamebook guru Demian Katz is putting on a conference on interactive fiction, print and online, in Villanova’s Popular Culture Series. The conference does have an academic focus, but also seeks to introduce new sorts of academics to IF.

Info is up now at the vupop site, where you can read about the conference or submit a proposal. Or, if there’s enough light available, examine yourself/take inventory!

Aha – and the deadline for submitting something is November 1!

Trope Tank Annual Report 2012-2013

Trope Tank home computers

I direct a lab at MIT called The Trope Tank. This is a lab for research, teaching, and creative production, located in building 14 (where the Hayden Library is also housed), in room 14N-233. Its mission is to develop new poetic practices and new understandings of digital media by focusing on the material, formal, and historical aspects of computation and language.

Trope Tank Atari VCS

The Trope Tank is a physical facility with unusual material computing resources from the past few decades – as well as places for researchers to sit and work with their more modern computers. The facility and materials provide for visits from classes, discussions with visiting researchers, and support for creative and research projects. The lab space continues to house the monthly meetings of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, the Boston Area’s local IF group. Trope Tank equipment has supported talks this year at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery, Microsoft Research in Redmond, UCLA, the University of Maine, and other venues.

This academic year, two Trope Tank affiliates are becoming faculty members:

  • Clara Fernández-Vara, who took part in the Tools for the Telling project back in 2007-2008 and has been a visiting scholar at the Trope Tank this year, is joining the faculty of NYU’s Game Center at the end of summer as an associate arts professor.

  • Amaranth Borsuk, who was guest organizer of the Purple Blurb series in 2011-2012 and is a current collaborator on The Deletionist, is joining the faculty of The University of Washington, Bothell as an assistant professor. She has been a senior lecturer there.

The Trope Tank’s series of technical reports, called the “Trope Report” series, now features five items and is archived in MIT’s DSpace.

There have been two major research projects (both with artistic aspects) and one creative, poetic project this past year:

  • The book 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 was published last year by the MIT Press (and is also available for free download as a PDF). Various subsets of the ten authors have been doing presentations related to the book in many different contents.

  • The story generation project Slant was initiated and the first paper was accepted at ICCC 2013. It will be presented there, in Sydney, next month. The project involves integrating or developing new work based on decades of research by Nick Montfort, Rafael Pérez y Pérez, and Fox Harrell; those three and Andrew Campana have collaborated to initiate the project.

  • The Deletionist is a current poetic project by Amaranth Borsuk, Jesper Juul, and Nick Montfort which will premiere at E-Poetry next month at Kingston University, London.

The Trope Tank will continue to support research, creative work, and teaching this summer and beyond. This is a laboratory to allow people to work with material computing systems; while it is not an archive, museum, or library, and does not offer all that such institutions do, it does provide for hands-on access to the history of creative computing. If you are interested in using the systems and materials in the Trope Tank, please contact Nick.

Amodern, a New Open Access Peer-Reviewed Journal

Tuesday 26 February 2013, 6:37 pm   ////  

Amodern has just launched, and it’s not asexy…

Announcing the launch of AMODERN:

A new peer-reviewed, open access scholarly journal devoted to the study of media, culture, and poetics.

http://amodern.net

Issue 1: The Future of the Scholarly Journal

Editorial
Scott Pound

“We Have Never Done It That Way Before”
an interview with Kathleen Fitzpatrick by Michael Nardone

“Towards Philology in a a New Key”
an interview with Jerome J. McGann by Scott Pound

“Scholarly Publishing: Micro Units and the Macro Scale”
Johanna Drucker

“The Grammatization of Scholarship”
Benjamin J. Robertson

“The ‘Unknown’ Explorations”
Gary Genosko

“Beyond the Journal and the Blog: The Technical Report for Communication in the Humanities”
Nick Montfort

AMODERN is a peer-reviewed, open access scholarly journal devoted to the study of media, culture, and poetics. Its purpose is to provide a forum for interdisciplinary conversations about the role of media and technology in contemporary cultural practices. We are particularly interested in those topics that normally escape scrutiny, or are ignored or excluded for whatever reason.

The journal is distinguished by its focus on poetics as a scholarly practice, with particular emphasis on the unruly ways that people deploy media and technology behind, beneath, and despite their instrumental functions. Against the grain of determinism, we hope to attract work that bears witness to media as complex assemblages of institutions, subjects, bodies, objects, and discourses.

Please send all submissions and queries to: submissions@amodern.net

Founding Editors: Scott Pound and Darren Wershler
Managing Editor: Michael Nardone

Advisory Board

Johanna Drucker
Gary Genosko
Lisa Gitelman
Jerome McGann
Marjorie Perloff
Brian Rotman
Kim Sawchuk
Will Straw

Editorial Board

Jason Camlot
Jeff Derksen
Craig Dworkin
Lori Emerson
Jonathan Finn
John Maxwell
Nick Montfort
Sianne Ngai
Bart Simon
Matt Soar

“Creative Material Computing in a Laboratory Context”

Thursday 26 April 2012, 2:28 pm   //////////  

The Trope Tank has just issued a new technical report:

Creative Material Computing in a Laboratory Context
Nick Montfort and Natalia Fedorova
TROPE-12-03

Download the full report

Abstract
Principles for organizing a laboratory with material computing resources are articulated. This laboratory, the Trope Tank, is a facility for teaching, research, and creative collaboration and offers hardware (in working condition and set up for use) from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, including videogame systems, home computers, an arcade cabinet, and a workstation. Other resources include controllers, peripherals, manuals, books, and software on physical media. In reorganizing the space, we considered its primary purpose as a laboratory (rather than as a library or studio), organized materials by platform and intended use, and provided additional cues and textual information about the historical contexts of the available systems.

Digging beyond Data

Tuesday 20 March 2012, 2:44 pm   /////  

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, a friend and collaborator, has a great editorial in Inside Higher Ed today. It’s called “The Prison-House of Data” and addresses a prevalent (if not all-inclusive) view of the digital humanities that focuses on the analysis of data and that overlooks how we can understand computation, too.

It’s Time: Overthrow Elsevier.

Thursday 9 February 2012, 7:31 pm   ///  

The Boston Globe calls it the scientific community’s Arab Spring. Perhaps the comparison is bombastic, but this issue actually goes beyond science. It’s a question of whether the results of our research, scholarship, and critical writing as academics will be held hostage from our own universities and completely locked away from the public view, or whether we can put aside the artificial scarcity of information that commercial publishers have created and foster better, open communications.

Our colleagues in the sciences are the main ones who are taking a stand in this particular case – a boycott of commercial, closed-access publisher Elsevier – but others can stand with them.

If you haven’t, please read about the issue with Elsevier specifically, for instance in the Chronicle and the Guardian. These are good old news stories in which one side says it’s right and then the other side says it’s right, and so on.

I wrote about open access in the digital media field back in 2007, and at that point drew some ire (along with a good bit of agreement and praise) for simply refusing to review for a closed-access journal. That discussion may be interesting to those interested in this issue, too.

And there is plenty to read about open access more generally, such as John Willinsky’s book The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship. (Registration is required, but the full text of the book is available for free download.)

I hope that these links help to inform, and that, if you’re an academic, you’ll choose to

visit The Cost of Knowledge

and join the protest against Elsevier.

There are 5000 of us now.

Your Conference Can Have Women!

Tuesday 20 December 2011, 8:03 pm   ///  

I recently had the chance to revisit the Gendered Conference Campaign, which is not new (it’s more than two years old) but is (unfortunately) still relevant. Without fixing blame on conference organizers, this page lists several “all-male” academic conferences (those where all the invited speakers are men) and offers useful, concrete suggestions for including women in your own conference.

I’ve gone to quite a variety of conferences and symposia, in writing, literary studies, game studies, digital media, and several flavors of computing. The gender balance has varied widely, from “looks like America” in some humanities conferences to “sausage fest” in some computing conferences. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to at least one small conference that was truly all-male – not just with all male invited speakers, but where everyone was male – and I’ve certainly been to a five-person symposium where all the participants were all men. Well, I bemoan it, and I point to those useful suggestions for allowing more women to participate. These are most useful to read before conference planning even begins, so if you are thinking of planning an event at some point in the future, give them a read.

Positive Publication

Monday 21 November 2011, 10:08 pm   /////////  

An interview that James J. Brown, Jr. did with me is now up as part of the latest issue of JEP: The Journal of Electronic Publishing.

It’s entitled “The Literary and the Computational: A Conversation with Nick Montfort.”

I’ve banged up against some fairly conservative, and indeed rather backwards, ideas about what publishing is recently; it was great to talk with Brown and see him and JEP representing a much more positive idea.

Chicago Colloquium Notes

Monday 21 November 2011, 2:02 pm   ////////  

I went to the Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities & Computer Science this weekend (Sunday and today), and gave the keynote that opened this event. I spoke about Platform Studies, describing how the difference between Pong and Hunt the Wumpus could be better understood by considering that these games were made of different stuff — different material computing systems. Then, I brought in the five-level model of digital media studies that I introduced in Game Studies in my article “Combat in Context” back in 2006. I spoke about the existing and forthcoming titles in the Platform Studies book series by MIT Press: Racing the Beam (Montfort & Bogost, 2009); the book on the Wii, Codename: Revolution by Steven E. Jones and George K. Thiruvathukal; and The Future was Here by Jimmy Maher, covering the Amiga. I also spoke about 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); GOTO 10, a book engaging with platforms that I, and nine co-authors, are completing. Finally, I concluded by offering 16 questions about the digital humanities, in a lecture moment that was inspired by a particular 20th century American composer.

A few of my favorite aspects of the colloquium:

  • Talking with Steven E. Jones and George K. Thiruvathukal, colloquium organizers and Platform Studies authors, among other platform-interested authors.

  • Meeting Perry Collins, a new program officer for the NEH Office of Digital Humanities. This was Perry’s first trip outside the Washington, D.C. metro area, and she immediately (first talk of the colloquium) got to do something all of her colleagues at the ODH — Brett Bobley, Jason Rhody, Jennifer Serventi — have already done: listen to me complain about the prevailing, overly traditional, overly narrow model of the digital humanities that doesn’t embrace contemporary work and the expressive, creative power of computational media. There are some things to enjoy about being a gadfly, but I do wonder if I’ve now become a hazing ritual at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

  • Getting to talk more with Kurt Fendt and two CMS students working for his group, HyperStudio, about their current projects. Although I can walk over to their space without going outside, of course I have to travel to Chicago to really learn about what they’re up to, and to hear discussion of it supported by an immense poster — it’s the nature of things.

  • Suggesting to Quinn Dombrowski of DHCommons that that site have some facilities for allowing potential collaborators to meet at conferences, and to know about who was at conference together, and then discussing this with her over Twitter and email while she was sitting six feet away from me.

I had many other good conversations, saw several intriguing presentations, and even saw some nice automated text collage, but those are the most amusing highlights, at least.

Conferencing on Code and Games

First, as of this writing: I’m at the GAMBIT Summer Summit here at MIT, which runs today and is being streamed live. Do check it out if video game research interests you.

A few days ago, I was at the Foundations of Digital Games conference in Bordeaux. On July 1 I presented the first conference paper on Curveship since the system has been released as free software. The paper is “Curveship’s Automatic Narrative Style,” which sums up or at least mentions many of the research results while documenting the practicalities of the system and using the current terminology of the release version.

four FDG attendees

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Malcolm Ryan, Michael Young (next year’s FDG local organizer) and Michael Mateas in between sessions at FDG 2011.

At FDG, there was a very intriguing interest in focalization, seen in Jichen Zhu’s presentation of the paper by Jichen Zhu, Santiago Ontañón and Brad Lewter, “Representing Game Characters’ Inner Worlds through Narrative Perspectives” and in the poster “Toward a Computational Model of Focalization” by Byung-Chull Bae, Yun-Gyung Cheong, and R. Michael Young. (Zhu’s work continues aspects of her dissertation project, of which I was a supervisor, so I was particularly interested to see how her work has been progressing.) Curveship has the ability to change focalization and to narrate (textually) from the perspective of different characters, based on their knowledge and perceptions; this is one of several ways in which it can vary the narrating. I’ll be interested to see how others continue to explore this aspect of narrative.

Before FDG was Digital Humanities 2011 at Stanford, where I was very pleased, on June 22, to join a panel assembled by Rita Raley. I briefly discussed data-driven poetic practices of different sorts (N+7, diastic writing, and many other forms) and presented ppg256 and Concrete Perl, which are not data-driven. I argued that as humanists we should be “digging into code” as well as data, understanding process in the new ways that we can. It was great to join Sandy Baldwin, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, and John Cayley on this panel, to discuss code and poetry with them, and to hear their presentations.

¡Viva ICCC-11!

Tuesday 3 May 2011, 12:00 am   /////  

The Second International Conference on Computational Creativity (ICCC-11) in Mexico City was a great success, thanks in large part to local organizer Rafael Pérez y Pérez and to the support of UAM and UNAM Posgrado.

If you’re interested in computational models of creativity, please take a look at the proceedings. It was announced in Mexico City that the next ICCC will take place in 2012 at University College Dublin. We hope you’ll look forward to joining us there. And from year to year, computationalcreativity.net will keep you informed about conferences in the series.

Book Arts and Broadsides Showcased

Thursday 9 December 2010, 12:42 pm   ////////  

a photo (and not a very good one, sorry) of the Building 14 WHS Books Arts & Broadsides display case

MIT’s Building 14 has a great new display thanks to poet Amaranth Borsuk, who is a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Writing & Humanistic Studies program, where I also work. There are some wonderful pieces from many of my colleagues and their students, all of them displayed brilliantly. I’ll mention the digital tie-ins: The broadside “Love Letters,” done in one of my graduate CMS.950 Workshop classes, consists of computer-generated poems produced by a Manchester Mark I emulator. These were set on a letterpress by the class thanks to the Bow & Arrow Press’s John Pyper. And Peer Hofstra, who took my 21W.750 Experimental Writing class last semester, did an extraordinary untitled book for his final project. It’s made of punched cards, with the words are formed by alphabetically-arranged letters punched out from those pages. Each word is some are subsequence of the alphabet, so “APT” can occur, while “APE” cannot. Alex Corella’s Experimental Writing final project, which cuts up and rearranges the text on Cambridge historical plaques, is also on display. If you’re on campus, do stop by to see the case, which is by the elevator on the first floor of Building 14. It will be up for at least this month, December 2010.

On Researching Adventure Games

Monday 4 October 2010, 6:59 pm   //////  

Clara Fernandez-Vara, a postdoc here at MIT in Comparative Media Studies who researches at the GAMBIT lab and is part of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, has written a short, helpful piece for Adventure Classic Gaming, explaining some ways that academics have studied adventure games – and some of what’s useful about that activity. The piece is called “Adventures in games research.” Give it a read and, if you have one, drop a comment there or here.

New Journal Primes You for ppg256

Thursday 19 August 2010, 10:26 am   /////////  

Emerging Langauge Practices is a new journal based at SUNY Buffalo (poetic hotbed and host of the next E-Poetry) and founded by Loss Pequeño Glazier, Sarah JM Kolberg, and A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz. Issue one is a real accomplishment.

There are eye-catching creative projects by mIEKAL aND & Liaizon Wakest and by Lawrence Upton and John Levack Drever. There are also pieces by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and Molleindustria. (We can only hope for further industrialization of this sort and more of these compelling productions in future issues.) The issue also includes a piece by Abraham Parangi, Giselle Beiguelman’s mobile tagging, Sandy Baldwin’s plaintive piece “** PLEASE REPLY MY BELOVED **,” and Jorge Luis Antonio’s wide-ranging article on digital poetry.

The item that particularly caught my eye, though, was this article by Mark Marino: “The ppg256 Perl Primer: The Poetry of Techneculture.” Marino is an officer of the Electronic Literature Organization with me and a current collaborator of mine, although he completed this article before joining me on our current project. The discussion he developed for the first issue of ELP is really in-depth. Marino not only considers the workings and connotations of my ppg256 series of poetry generators, and considers related code and literary traditions from Perl Golf to the Oulipo – he also considers other programs that interest me and that I’ve discussed publicly in various contexts, sometimes with collaborators. And, he connects the coding traditions relevant to ppg256 to technical practices in boy culture and (via needlework) girl culture.

In one section near the beginning of the article, Mark relates a line of BASIC that I posted on his Critical Code Studies forum and notes (partly in jest, I think) the following:

I cannot include the full discussion here (over 5000 words) because as Montfort told me over the phone (in jest, I think), he is planning a book-length anthology of readings about the program.

Well, that’s more or less the project Mark and I, along with several others, are now embarked upon. However, we’re writing this book in a single voice rather than collecting articles about the program. More on that before too long; for now, go and enjoy the new Emerging Language Practices.

Congratulations, CMS Grads

Monday 7 June 2010, 8:32 am   ///  

Now that I’m out of my academic robe and back into my more comfortable usual attire, I wanted to send a blog-based shout-out to those in Comparative Media Studies who finished their work in the past year and were awarded masters degrees on Friday:

  • Jason Begy
  • Audubon Dougherty
  • Madeline Clare Elish
  • Colleen Kaman
  • Flourish Klink
  • Hillary Kolos
  • Michelle Moon Lee
  • Xiaochang Li
  • Jason Rockwood
  • Nick Seaver
  • Sheila Murphy Seles
  • Lauren Silberman

Hurrah for Technology, ‘ology ‘ology oh – and for these recent MIT graduates.

Critical Code Studies Conference at USC

Tuesday 25 May 2010, 8:12 pm   /////  

My collaborator Mark Marino is putting on a conference at USC which looks to be a great event. (I don’t pimp conferences on the blog here unless I’m involved in organizing them or planning to attend; I’m certainly submitting to this one.) Note that abstracts are due very soon – June 1.

Announcing a 1-Day conference on Critical Code Studies at the University of Southern California

Critical Code Studies @ USC

July 23, 2010 Hosted by The Center for Transformative Scholarship & The Institute for Multimedia Literacy Keynote: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Brown University As digital humanitarians continue to turn their attention to the software and hardware that shape culture, the interpretation of source code offers a rich set of symbols and processes for exploration. Critical Code Studies names the practice of explicating the extra-functional significance of source code. Rather than one specific approach or theories, CCS names a growing set of methodologies that help unpack the symbols that make up software. While still in its initial state, this nascent area of study has been growing rapidly over the course of 2010. Following the massively successful Critical Code Study Working Group, we will be gathering at USC for a one-day conference to present readings of code. We are currently exploring the innovative publication of conference proceedings through Vectors and others partnerships. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics, will present a keynote address. During the Working Group, she presented a powerful chapter from her monograph, Programmed Visions: Software, DNA, Race (forthcoming MIT, 2010). Please submit a 250-word abstract to markcmarino at gmail dot com by June 1, 2010 (Subject: “CCS @ USC 2010″). Presenters will be notified by June 15.
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