The two novels (if we can agree to call them that) that accompany this introduction are co-winners of the inaugural Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative, awarded by the Society for Analytical Engines to the best computer-written novels of seventy-thousand words or more, as judged by a Committee of writers, literary critics, computer scientists, and ordinary humans not unlike yourself. The Bonehead Computer Museum and Bees, or the Floating Point Error, A Dissertation, (“Bonehead” and “Bees,” for short) represent the state of machine-written narratives in the year 1998.
One of the more startling developments in the entire process is that both winning entries were written not in LISP, the programming language generally preferred for artificial intelligence (AI) programs, but in APL (the letters stand for “a programming language”); not only that, they were written in a dialect of APL that runs only on Data General NOVA computers, a model last manufactured in 1982, and currently in use only in the on-board flight computers in Grumman-built AWACs, the military aircraft used for airborne battle command. The actual computer on which the two novels were “written” was obtained at auction of a government surplus, end-of-useful-life AWAC parts, and it is interesting to note, (given the subject of Bonehead) that this machine was in use over the Kasimiyah ammunition dump during the Gulf War.
After the computer was obtained, there still were some interesting problems in setting up the run-time environment for the storywriters. On the hardware side, constructing the NOVA’s information environment required some ingenuity, since NOVAs were largely obsolete before the Internet existed, and therefor there was no easy mating protocol to hook the CPU to the network card. On the software side, the Committee faced the crucial challenge of verifying that the programs behaved as advertised; that is, that they were not hoaxes, the software equivalent of the dwarf-in-the box chess-playing “machines” of the late 1800’s. Making this verification was no mean feat. APL is a language known for its concision, ability to manipulate symbols, and “power;” it is even more famous for being inscrutable even to those adept in programming it. APL was designed to use all the characters on the original “symbol” type-ball of the IBM selectric typewriter, and in appearance it more nearly resembles Egyptian hieroglyphics than any other language. (APL is called a “write-only language,” since nobody knows how to read it.) To make matters worse, the source to the APL compiler was encumbered when Fairchild Semiconductor won its notorious antitrust suit against Data General, therefor the only way to verify that the submitted programs actually “wrote” the novels that they claimed to was by disassembly of the MP/AOS pseudo-op pop code that the compiler produces as an intermediate step? laborious process akin to putting together paper documents that have gone through a shredder. If it were not for the stunning clarity of the MP/AOS assembly language programming manual, this present volume would not exist, and the Hofstadter prize would await its first claimant.
Complete APL sources to the programs that wrote Bonehead Computer Museum and Bees are included on the CD-ROM packaged with this book.
[i forget where i got this. but it’s quoted on computer-programming-forums with a fantastic discussion including somebody who is the Author of the Chronicles of the Magic Jigsaw Puzzle ]