When we consider computer programs we generally think of games and processing. When Christopher Strachey brought forward a processing system that would generate love letters many of his colleagues found him and the project silly and ridiculous. It was his classmate, friend and colleague Alan Turing who helped him most develop the work after he left his job as a teacher. The first program Strachey wrote was the longest to date when it was completed, establishing him as an amateur, but when he finished computing in one night and made it mostly operation he gained a reputation and job offers literally over night. This led to a few assignments he would work on while on break from being a teacher at the Harrow School but on the side he had time for a different kind of project. Strachey’s interesting background growing up with an American Quaker and neighbors like Virginia and Leonard Woolf influenced his puzzling mind and lineage “can be seen as setting the stage” (304). Strachey and Turing had gone to school together and with that they were able to pull many resources. Although when they started to work together many thought the project was silly, I myself find some humility in the idea that computer programmers “needed” a computer to write love letters. What we are really looking at when studying such a project is “two elements: the generators data and process” (306)
The section Noah Wardrip-Fruin wrote on ‘Understanding the Generator’ starts off well by stating, “If we are to view the generator as a system, we must consider its surface output, the data it employs, and the processes it executes.” (307) This sums up how we can dehumanize the program and the programmer. By looking at the surface output we may not have recognized the lack of the word ‘love’ or one of its counterparts. The words are selected randomly and reflect nothing of the “writer” but more of the generator. The work ‘love’ was not selected as a more common word to choose and we can ask why. Patterns are another thing we can look for in the adjectives, nouns, verbs, letter starter, etc. as well as the shaping and structure of the letter. Wardrip-Fruin concludes that the “love letter generator, not as a process for producing parodies, but as itself a parody of the process.” (316) It was as broad as it needed to be and nothing more in the parody.
As with most technological advancements and experiments we are often looking to create a better, more developed system than the first to further achieve our capabilities. Christopher Strachey made plans to make another love letter generator, this time with desires points. These actions would generate in themes such as “Write to me,” “Answer my letter,” “Marry me,” Tell your mother,” (317) and they would have a style to accompany it, such as “yearning,” “impatience,” or “reminiscence.” The project however was abandoned with reason given as to why. Turing, who had stood with Strachey while the first generator was in progress, was going through a series of injections which would change his thoughts but also gave him breasts and are believed to have effected his thinking. Alan Turing took his own life two years after being convicted of “gross indecency.” In a time when they had laughed at the poor pronunciations of their heterosexual program, it was also at a group of those who were against their homosexuality.
I find myself fortunate to have seen the movie “The Imitation Game”, released in 2014, when I did in relation to this class. I had not considered the relation till Alan Turing started appearing in our readings a few weeks ago but the story that is Turing explains so much more on what is going on in these works. Turning was a complicated and genius man. It is curious though how he may have personally contributed to the love letter generator after viewing the movie. This confused me at first trying to connect the two stories of his life and accomplishments. How media and movies specifically portray real people can effect our understanding of them in another light.
I continue to be confused when we discuss such topics as computer programming due to my lack of knowledge on the topic. Certain terms such as Manchester Mark I means nothing to my knowledge or associative memory.
I wonder if we loose anything by dehumanizing the programmer as was explored in ‘Understanding the Generator’. When programmers generate more of what we consider ‘art’ we are able to establish more of a personal connection to the work. When Christopher Strachey created the love letter generator it was sure to make an impact on how programmers and generators were viewed at the time but have we reverted back to how we used to view them?