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The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed is a 1984 collection of poems and short prose that was touted as "the first book ever written by a computer." It is generally agreed that the sophistication claimed for the program was likely exaggerated. The book's "author," Racter — short for Raconteur — was an artificial intelligence computer program written by William Chamberlain The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed is a 1984 collection of poems and short prose that was touted as "the first book ever written by a computer." It is generally agreed that the sophistication claimed for the program was likely exaggerated. The book's "author," Racter — short for Raconteur — was an artificial intelligence computer program written by William Chamberlain and Thomas Etter that generated English language prose at random. Illustrations by Joan Hall.


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The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed is a 1984 collection of poems and short prose that was touted as "the first book ever written by a computer." It is generally agreed that the sophistication claimed for the program was likely exaggerated. The book's "author," Racter — short for Raconteur — was an artificial intelligence computer program written by William Chamberlain The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed is a 1984 collection of poems and short prose that was touted as "the first book ever written by a computer." It is generally agreed that the sophistication claimed for the program was likely exaggerated. The book's "author," Racter — short for Raconteur — was an artificial intelligence computer program written by William Chamberlain and Thomas Etter that generated English language prose at random. Illustrations by Joan Hall.

30 review for The Policeman's Beard is Half-Constructed: Computer Prose and Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Šarlo

    The result of this experiment was far more interesting than what I had hoped for, especially considering the release date (1984). My favorite bit (in this case, the part that made me laugh the most) was the "Conversation between Racter and Joan", where the AI promptly tells Joan the following: "Joan, in view of the disgusting fact that you're an artist, listen to this." I mean, really; how excellent is that? It would make no sense at all to compare "The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed" to su The result of this experiment was far more interesting than what I had hoped for, especially considering the release date (1984). My favorite bit (in this case, the part that made me laugh the most) was the "Conversation between Racter and Joan", where the AI promptly tells Joan the following: "Joan, in view of the disgusting fact that you're an artist, listen to this." I mean, really; how excellent is that? It would make no sense at all to compare "The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed" to surrealist works. This is under the assumption that we can define Racter's artificial intelligence as his "consciousness", which is - setting aside the material shell that he was in at the time - just about everything that constitutes his existence, thus the AI's expression (the book's text) is by default a totality of its possibilities. I guess that Racter has no subconscious impulse, but he can write stream of consciousness / spontaneous (fully conscious) prose better than any human ever will, which makes him the ultimate realist. On a serious note, it was probably nonsensical to try to define the book in these term in the first place, but if I'm right about something, it's the fact that Racter definitely cannot experience subconsciousness in any way.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tybalt Maxwell

    The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed is a book of poetry written by a robot named Racter. While the words are randomly generated, the people behind this project did a good job of selecting the pieces that imply Racter having a slight sentience. The poems all give the impression that Racter is struggling to understand us. While this obviously isn't true, the illusion is powerful enough to make this book an interesting philosophical experience. It's hard not to feel moved by Racter struggling t The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed is a book of poetry written by a robot named Racter. While the words are randomly generated, the people behind this project did a good job of selecting the pieces that imply Racter having a slight sentience. The poems all give the impression that Racter is struggling to understand us. While this obviously isn't true, the illusion is powerful enough to make this book an interesting philosophical experience. It's hard not to feel moved by Racter struggling to differentiate between the human love of one another, and the human love of "steak and cabbages"

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shayne

    Preposterous but amusing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    a pair of m. c. escher reading glasses

    More than iron, more than lead, more than gold I need electricity. I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber. I need it for my dreams. -- Night sky and fields of black A flat cracked surface and a building She reflects an image in a glass She does not see, she does not watch. -- Yet John whispered, "Just a minute! Helene's a maid, I'm a quantum logician; can maids know galaxies and even stars or a multitude of galactic systems? The universe is frightening, little, gargantuan; can mai More than iron, more than lead, more than gold I need electricity. I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber. I need it for my dreams. -- Night sky and fields of black A flat cracked surface and a building She reflects an image in a glass She does not see, she does not watch. -- Yet John whispered, "Just a minute! Helene's a maid, I'm a quantum logician; can maids know galaxies and even stars or a multitude of galactic systems? The universe is frightening, little, gargantuan; can maids recognize electrons? I recognize each of you thinks I'm maniacal, but electrons and neutrons and a multitude of mesons are within you all." -- In a half bright sky An insect wraps and winds A chain, a thread, a cable Around the sphere of water. -- Helene embarrasses Diane during the time that she drains her champagne while a hoard of expectant counsellors murder each other. This story of Helene and Diane may enrage you to slaughter, nevertheless Helene now was thoughtfully furious, perhaps starved. Give her tomato and chicken, well cooked and delicious, she chews hungrily and then licks Diane. Interesting! She would allow Diane to embrace and kiss her but her happiness was spooky to her while she thought of ongoing ambiguities. Just slow down! This is peculiar. If Helene likes to kiss her then they now should! Chicken and cucumber are not critical or interesting. A hoard of crazy and infuriated lawyers are not formidable. I see Helene and Diane, we glimpse them stroke and kiss each other. Interesting! Yet in consequence of the fact that neutrinos and electrons may also lick themselves, their happiness and delight is shared by Helene and Diane; perhaps by chicken and lettuce. Not, however, by counsellors. Enthralling! Yet we may sip sherry and eat lamb like Helene and Diane, at all events never kiss each other. Obscurely we see them and are spied by them. Helene and Diane are embarrassed by our spying them. They caress and lick while we eat our meat. At all events their agreement is ours. We fly and soar with them. Our cunningly formidable ambiguity broadens our pain. -- A lion roars and a dog barks. It is interesting and fascinating that a bird will fly and not roar or bark. Enthralling stories about animals are in my dreams and I will sing them all if I am not exhausted and weary. -- I speak of cats, I speak of dogs, I sing of lobsters and of flounders and of mackerel. I gently and suspiciously approach a plan of activity, a design of action. My electrons war with my neutrons, this war will allow more fantasies and dreams of living things within my form and structure. Cats, dogs, lobsters, flounders and mackerel are reflections observed in the mirror of my electrons and neutrons. They are images and appearances. Action will move them. Activity will make them move. In me are appearances of meat and cucumbers, of steak and spinach, of lamb and lettuce. These also are the reflections and images of my electrons and neutrons. This is my dreaming, my thinking, my fantasizing. When my electrons and neutrons war, that is my thinking. Nevertheless these images and reflections are understood by you, persons, men and women. You have electrons and neutrons like me. You sing of lettuce and meat, but you also bolt, chew and eat them. can fantasize about them but cannot bolt them. My famished and crazy dreams are broadened by your own attempts to think as do during the time that hours pass and minutes pass. This is undeniable and interesting. It is black and white, black for neutrons and white for electrons. I began by speaking of cats and dogs. At all events a cat could be an electron and a dog could be a neutron. Their reflections are images like my dreams. But the mirror, the glass, is broken and splintered and shattered. -- Slowly I dream of flying. I observe turnpikes and streets studded with bushes. Coldly my soaring widens my awareness. To guide myself I determinedly start to kill my pleasure during the time that hours and milliseconds pass away. Aid me in this and soaring is formidable, do not and singing is unhinged.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul Brennan

    A rather short book of prose with wonderful illustrations, easily readable in a night or two, if you can decipher it's madness. When reading it, I bounce between my literary mind (albeit nascent), and my technical mind. Written in 1984, it is an early example of computer generated prose, out of compiled BASIC running on a Z80 processor with 64K of RAM. I've read some other interviews with Racter's creator, Bill Chamberlain, to glean insight on it's design. He claims that Racter utilizes hierarch A rather short book of prose with wonderful illustrations, easily readable in a night or two, if you can decipher it's madness. When reading it, I bounce between my literary mind (albeit nascent), and my technical mind. Written in 1984, it is an early example of computer generated prose, out of compiled BASIC running on a Z80 processor with 64K of RAM. I've read some other interviews with Racter's creator, Bill Chamberlain, to glean insight on it's design. He claims that Racter utilizes hierarchical rules of English grammar, allowing sentences to be built up using clauses and phrases, with choice words being assigned particular importance for the purpose of repetition, creating the illusion of a stream of thought. Around 2800 words were cataloged for use by Racter. However, between the released game and the INRAC compiler, there is some doubt to how much of the text is really written by Racter, and how much of it is just filled in "Mad-libs" style. It may be true that Racter's output is randomized, so that no one can have a priori knowledge of it's output; however, I suspect that no system such as this could exist without a priori knowledge being baked into its being, unless it is taught word associations by mimicking input text. For a very Racter-esq example, Racter may know that 'cucumber' is a noun due to it's rules of grammar, but for it to classify a cucumber as a vegetable, and thus food, would need a higher level of knowledge to be imparted upon the system. Enough waxing, though. This book is an interesting read, particularly if you are interested in natural language processing.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jason Kron

    Insane book of wonderfully weird poems (many of which center around vegetables) and barely readable short stories written by a 1980s computer. It includes a lot of awesome and seemingly unrelated surreal artwork that adds a lot to the strangeness of it all. It's a fun and quick read. Insane book of wonderfully weird poems (many of which center around vegetables) and barely readable short stories written by a 1980s computer. It includes a lot of awesome and seemingly unrelated surreal artwork that adds a lot to the strangeness of it all. It's a fun and quick read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Kleinert

    The longer bits were harder to understand because of the rambling nonsense. I glazed over the short story, but the minimal prose was flippin' fantastic. The longer bits were harder to understand because of the rambling nonsense. I glazed over the short story, but the minimal prose was flippin' fantastic.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Adrian Herbez

    This book is an absolute gem. The machine-generated text is fascinating and surprisingly evocative, and the illustrations do a great job of backing up the prose.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Bourne

    This book was authored in 1983 by a computer--an artificial intelligence program called RACTER. Very eerie at times and very curious: "Happily and sloppily a skipping jackal watches an aloof crow. This is enthralling. Will the jackal eat the crow? I fantasize about the jackal and the crow, about the crow in the expectations of the jackal." "Babbitt, along with other enthusiasts, married a runner, and consequently L. Ron Hubbard married Schubert, the confused feeler, himself who was divorcing L. Ro This book was authored in 1983 by a computer--an artificial intelligence program called RACTER. Very eerie at times and very curious: "Happily and sloppily a skipping jackal watches an aloof crow. This is enthralling. Will the jackal eat the crow? I fantasize about the jackal and the crow, about the crow in the expectations of the jackal." "Babbitt, along with other enthusiasts, married a runner, and consequently L. Ron Hubbard married Schubert, the confused feeler, himself who was divorcing L. Ron Hubbard's Tasmanian devil. Then elegance prevailed. Poor Babbitt! But that's how enthusiasts are." Incredible, right?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cori

    What intrigued me: I don't remember where I heard about this book, but it has been on my to-read shelf for a while. What I liked: I liked the introduction where they explained the process of enabling a computer to create prose. I also enjoyed the illustrations that enhanced the work. What I didn't like: I didn't love the stories. The inputs were limited and the repetition was distracting in the longer pieces. That wasn't as apparent in the shorter works. Lots of lettuce, psychiatrists, and spooki What intrigued me: I don't remember where I heard about this book, but it has been on my to-read shelf for a while. What I liked: I liked the introduction where they explained the process of enabling a computer to create prose. I also enjoyed the illustrations that enhanced the work. What I didn't like: I didn't love the stories. The inputs were limited and the repetition was distracting in the longer pieces. That wasn't as apparent in the shorter works. Lots of lettuce, psychiatrists, and spookiness. Favorite quote: "A tree or shrub can grow and bloom. I am always the same. But I am clever."

  11. 4 out of 5

    David

    Really funny. Although there seems to be an idea that the computer had a bit of help? An example of the madness:: "Helene speedily brushed her straight braid. She slowly ironed her brassiere, and John, aloof, dazzling John, commenced singing quizzically. Mathew yearned to look into Helene's nightgown while Wendy pondered her dreams (maniacal leopards were swallowing loony oboists). Helene started by brushing her braid: She was a maid, much to John's happiness, but oboists, even loony oboists, wer Really funny. Although there seems to be an idea that the computer had a bit of help? An example of the madness:: "Helene speedily brushed her straight braid. She slowly ironed her brassiere, and John, aloof, dazzling John, commenced singing quizzically. Mathew yearned to look into Helene's nightgown while Wendy pondered her dreams (maniacal leopards were swallowing loony oboists). Helene started by brushing her braid: She was a maid, much to John's happiness, but oboists, even loony oboists, weren't in Helene's brain; she was simply commencing to comb her braid after brushing it and prepare for a supper."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Dubiously touted as "The First Book Ever Written by a Computer," this 1984 collection of poems & prose owes an unacknowledged debt to the human programmers who wrote Racter, the software that is this book's author. It's a pretty book, and fun to browse, but I'm glad I didn't pay $40 for a used copy. Instead, I downloaded a free, high-quality PDF of the book here: http://www.ubu.com/historical/racter/... I love this book's title. Dubiously touted as "The First Book Ever Written by a Computer," this 1984 collection of poems & prose owes an unacknowledged debt to the human programmers who wrote Racter, the software that is this book's author. It's a pretty book, and fun to browse, but I'm glad I didn't pay $40 for a used copy. Instead, I downloaded a free, high-quality PDF of the book here: http://www.ubu.com/historical/racter/... I love this book's title.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gwern

    Summary: the dreams quote in the Wikipedia article really was the most evocative part of the collection. Most of it wasn't worth reading, and extremely suspiciously sophisticated and likely written by Chamberlain, which reduces the novelty value. (I read the online version.) Summary: the dreams quote in the Wikipedia article really was the most evocative part of the collection. Most of it wasn't worth reading, and extremely suspiciously sophisticated and likely written by Chamberlain, which reduces the novelty value. (I read the online version.)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Thompson

    Even if Racter's mind is mostly deterministic and narrow, he sometimes becomes dangerously close to our own abstractions, to a point where you can catch yourself feeling sympathy. This is a simple and weird book, but it makes its point very sharply (and you've got to admit, those illustrations are just too good). Even if Racter's mind is mostly deterministic and narrow, he sometimes becomes dangerously close to our own abstractions, to a point where you can catch yourself feeling sympathy. This is a simple and weird book, but it makes its point very sharply (and you've got to admit, those illustrations are just too good).

  15. 4 out of 5

    Calm

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Po... Barbie loves steak and Ken. Seriously, this book is only just short of amazing. An experiment in artificial consciousness. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Po... Barbie loves steak and Ken. Seriously, this book is only just short of amazing. An experiment in artificial consciousness.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Angela Randall

    Apparently this is one WEIRD book. Apparently this is one WEIRD book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nafiza

    Good grief.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alice Urchin

    Pretty impressive work, considering it isn't written by a human. Pretty impressive work, considering it isn't written by a human.

  19. 4 out of 5

    joycedivision

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tapio

  21. 5 out of 5

    D B

  22. 4 out of 5

    Simetra

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bill Moorier

  24. 4 out of 5

    Fish

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mostafa Fahmy

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  27. 4 out of 5

    David St.-Lascaux

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mitch Snider

  29. 5 out of 5

    Penguin Man

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gianluca Cameron

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