All God’s Chillun Got Algorithm

Some clever person has built a little robot that runs around looking for things to drum on, drums on them, records the sounds, and makes little rhythms by playing back the sounds while drumming some more. There’s a web page about it here and here’s one of the several videos of it:

[The video is getting hit pretty hard so it may tell you that it’s not available; try back later if so.]

This is probably the sort of thing I’d be doing if I had more time on my hands. Robots were what got me interested in computers in the first place, but 30 years ago it was a lot harder to build robots than it is now and I never got much further than reading every book on robots and computers that the public library had at the time.

4 thoughts on “All God’s Chillun Got Algorithm

  1. Hello Adam – do you know what the literary reference to ‘All God’s Chillun Got Algorithm’ is? I’ve been trying to track it down. I read it in a book in the early ’80s, and can’t remember the title. It is a piece of poetry generated by a computer. Yours is the only reference Google found!

  2. Hi Joanna,

    The short answer to your question is no, sorry, ‘fraid I don’t.

    The longer answer is that I read it in a book probably sometime in the late 1970s. The book was some paperback college textbook with a title that might have been something like “Social Impacts of the Computer Revolution” or something like that. It was definitely a social-sciences sort of book rather than a computer-science book. It had a photo of the panel of some really old minicomputer on the front, i.e. a bunch of illuminated buttons. I was in my early teens (or younger) at the time and found it in a garage sale or something. I’m fairly sure that I discarded it many years ago, unfortunately.

    The quotation itself was in a section of poetry ostensibly written by a computer program. There were several poems each followed by what was ostensibly the computer’s own assessment of their merit. The ‘All God’s Chillun…’ line was presented as the entire poem, in my recollection.

    I say “ostensibly” because in retrospect it is highly unlikely that that line was actually generated by a computer. We’re talking about the dark ages of software, relatively speaking, and text-generation algorithms just weren’t very sophisticated back then. Even what’s probably the most famous computer poet, Racter, which was written in the mid-1980s, was eventually shown to be nothing more than a set of templates–written by a human–which were filled in with words chosen at random by the computer. (Look up Racter in Wikipedia if you’re not familiar with it.) So my guess is that while some of the examples in the book may have been generated by a similar template-based algorithm, the ‘All God’s chillun’ line was cleverly composed by one of the programmers, not the program, and included with the others as a joke and/or a test to see how gullible people could be about the alleged intelligence of the then-very-novel computer.

    I’m amused that I’ve inadvertently created a Google singleton, though. That’s not easy to do. 🙂

  3. I sure would like to know also. It’s something my data laughed out lout and repeated while he was reading that book during one of my infrequent visits to him as a teenager. (for clarity, I was the teenager ha ha).

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