1959 : Theo Lutz, Stochastic Text

In 1959, on a Zuse Z22 computer Theo Lutz inserted sixteen chapter titles and subjects from Kafka’s The Castle into a database and programmed them to recombine into phrases joined by grammatical glue. As with most of the early references on this site, this reference appears courtesy of C. Funkhouser who cites Lutz (on pg. 37 of Prehistoric Digital Poetics) as potentially the first known practitioner of contemporary digital poetry.

Not every look is near. No village is late.
A castle is free and every farmer is distant…

It seems appropriate to hail Lutz as the first computational-poet (for now: until the archives yield a new figure, until new research reveals that Allan Turing was composing love letters in a basement lab using algorithms as a teenager; or that Ada Lovelace had a functioning Difference Engine; or perhaps as many speculative fiction writers might remind us, some alien civilizations predate our human computer generation by eons; or as Florian Cramer writes: “The oldest permutational text adapted in Permutations is Optatianus Porfyrius’ Carmen XXV from the fourth century A.D.”.)

Lutz’s 1959 essay is remarkable in that it recognizes the problem of meaning as being central and even suggests a potential probablistic pathway toward resolution:

It seems to be very significant that it is possible to change the underlying word quantity into a “word field” using an assigned probability matrix, and to require the machine to print only those sentences where a probability exists between the subject and the predicate which exceeds a certain value. In this way it is possible to produce a text which is “meaningful” in relation to the underlying matrix.

One predominant domain of AI research follows this thread suggested by Lutz: statistical probability. In addition Lutz’ notion implies the matrice of language is analogous to a network and that proximal sets may evoke meaningful relations, or perhaps that meaning is a pathway between mathematically linked nodes. All of these notions are still currently active as research paths.

Aside: as any archaeologist knows, the dilemna with time is it corrodes, then eradicates all traces. The www may grant the illusion of anti-amnesia but googling Theo Lutz, the first entry that arises is a german website with a copy of Lutz’s original 1959 essay. As Ollivier Dyens, often points out the internet is centripetal: so I moved sideways; I did not go directly to the essay on Theo as any sane medieval scholar would do; instead, I went to have a look at the host site: www.netzliteratur.net . From there, in the first article I opened that was in English (a very sassy and witty 2003 dig at Lev Manovich’s idea of 6 as a good number for multitasking: ‘Multitasking as Avant-garde – or who is the Processor?’ by Johannes Auer ) I encountered 3 out of the 6 links she had used to demo her sardonic point to be dead.

The internet although interconnected like a body sheds skin like a body, leaving a detritus of disconnected tissue and historical dead-ends. Even memory diffused and redundant within a modularized network has limits.

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