A Collection of Thoughts

September 15th, 2016

I really enjoy this exercise of writing a blog after each meeting. By creating a space dedicated to the seminar itself, I am able to reflect on the materials and pick through new information to identify topics that really resonate with me. Before coming to Harvard, I conducted computational chemistry research at a local university. But during the two years, I only scratched the surface of the “nuts and bolts” of the why’s and how’s of computational work. In a sense, I’ve always been more focused on the present and future of computers and the internet rather than the history and progression from times of the past. However, after the first seminar meeting, I found a strong sense of urgency in understanding how the past and the present relate to each other. After all, the present that we are in right now will become that past forty or fifty years down the road.

One of the most entertaining parts of the reading was the conversation between PARRY and The Doctor, which branched out in multiple directions before ending with the rather hilarious labeling of The Doctor as a nag. The interaction between the two conversational programs, however, resembled the interaction one would have with Siri in present times. Although Siri appears to be less argumentative in comparison, it still possesses some of the qualities and design of PARRY and The Doctor. For example, it tends to imitate a real life conversation by observing common etiquette rules such as using greetings and exclamations. However, Siri is capable of more complex tasks such as using Automatic Speech Recognition and carrying out actions based on users’ commands. It would be extremely interesting to see a conversation between PARRY and SIRI, which would be symbolic, in a way, of a meeting and confrontation between products of different generations.

Another interesting discussion was focused on the use of the @ symbol in email communications. As the line “If you always wanted to know who put the ‘at’ sign in your Email addresses, then When Wizards Stay Up Late is the book for you” was printed at the top of the cover page of the book, I have been careful to not miss the explanation while going through and catching up in the readings. The end result was a bit more anticlimactic than I expected, with Tomlinson simply picking a punctuation he wanted without realizing what he had done would leave a continuing legacy. However, the ensuing debate appeared more interesting, with different sides questioning what should go on the sides of the “@” sign and whether the sign was appropriate at all. To me, this revealed how much thought was given to a convention that is often taken for granted today and reinforced how the little details we see on our screen may have rich histories behind them.

Excited for next class and all the surprises that will come along the way!

One Response to “A Collection of Thoughts”

  1. profsmith said:

    I don’t know how close the following online chatbot is to the original implementation of PARRY, but you could run your experiment with Siri and this relative of PARRY. Let us know what you discover!


    And on your other at-sign thoughts, the Internet community has had many lengthy debates about what today might seem like straightforward decisions. I’m not a good one to point you at them (I liked to build stuff more than debate about the details), but Jim might suggest some good ones!

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