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Literature Machines

The Italian novelist Italo Calvino was unusually optimistic about the invention of a “literature machine.” In his 1967 essay “Cybernetics and Ghosts,” he imagines a computer that would be “capable of conceiving and composing poems and novels,” bringing to the page what humans “are accustomed to consider as the most jealously guarded attributes in our psychological life.” For him, literature is simply “a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material, independent of the personality” of the writer. When read today, Calvino’s predictions—“provocative and even profane” at the time, as he admitted—seem eerily prescient. Read more

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