The Amme Talks is a conversation between a writer and a milk-spilling chatbot who promises to liberate speech (and revolutionize poetry) via words that refer to nothing but themselves. To mark the publication of the book (as a paperback and ebook), novelist and former Triple Canopy editor Lucy Ives will speak with fellow writers Alexandra Kleeman and Nora Khan, both of whom have investigated artificial intelligence, dumb machines, and the progress of human and robotic expression. They’ll consider what kind of poetry can be made by programs, and whether the inventiveness of software has anything to do with the Turing test.
The Amme Talks hinges on a series of dialogues between the poet Ulf Stolterfoht and the titular bot, whose name means “wet nurse” in German. Amme is the creation of artist Peter Dittmer; she is not just a chatbot, actually, but a steel-and-glass construction with a computer interface, which is connected to a glass of milk, a robotic arm that tips over the glass, and a tube that releases water, as if urinating. For one week in 2003, Stolterfoht interrogated Amme, hoping to turn her answers into an essay on poetics. But instead of mining Amme’s performance of an idiosyncratic and mechanical form of human speech, he stumbled on a remarkable “second-order realism” in which words refer not to things but to themselves. Translator Shane Anderson, in his introduction, calls Amme “the first machine that makes poetry.”
Lucy Ives is the author of many books of poetry and prose, including The Hermit (2016), the novella nineties (2013), and, most recently, the novel Impossible Views of the World (2017, published by Penguin Press. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, Lapham’s Quarterly, Bomb, Conjunctions, The New Yorker, and Triple Canopy, where she was an editor for several years.
Nora Khan writes fiction and creative non-fiction about digital visual culture, artificial intelligence, electronic music, and games. Her writing has been published in 4Columns, Art in America, the California Sunday Magazine, the Village Voice, Rhizome, aCCeSsions, Conjunctions, and American Literary Review. Her criticism won a Thoma Foundation 2016 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, awarded by the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation. Khan is a contributing editor at Rhizome and a research resident at Eyebeam.
Alexandra Kleeman is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, and has been published in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Harper’s Magazine, Vogue, and n+1. She is the author of the novel You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine and the short-story collection Intimations. She teaches at Columbia University and lives in Staten Island.