Fun for Nerds: the automatypewriter

Image source: http://boingboing.net

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As with all of my latest nerdy findings, this post comes to you courtesy of Boing Boing, the blog for all things technological, cultural, and scientific. I seem to keep stumbling upon strange and interesting kinds of typewriters, and today is following that pattern. Meet the automatypewriter!

For some reason, I am not able to embed the video here in my post, but you can click this link to view the automatypewriter. This amazing invention runs on “an Arduino, which is connected to a computer via USB,” according to Boing Boing. An Arduino is an open source circuit board for programming, according to my brother. You can read more about how the automatypewriter at the blog post and learn about the science behind this fascinating machine, but what I’m interested in is what the typewriter does and how it changes the nature of fiction in our society.

The automatypewriter here is rigged to play a role-playing game (or RPG) called “Zork.” The typewriter types out a situation that’s taking place, then you can prompt the machine with what you’d like to do next. For instance, in the video, the typewriter tells you that there is a mailbox, the typist writes “open the mailbox,” and the typewriter does so to move the story along.

So, this seems somewhat similar to those old Choose Your Own Adventure books that I used to read as a child. I’ve never played an RPG, so this reminds me of those books where you choose where and how to advance the story, but everything is initiated by a book or, in this case, a typewriter.

The machine also reminded me of  the old Smarter Child bot that existed on AOL Instant Messenger in the 90’s. At one point in the video of the typewriter, the machine says something about computers and the typist responds with “or typewriters,” to which the machine replies, “I beg your pardon.” That just took me back to those days when my brother and I would try to trick Smarter Child into saying that it was stupid. In a weird way, this automatypewriter is both an older version of Smarter Child (because it uses an antiquated machine or medium), and a  newer version of Smarter Child (because it’s a new kind of technology powering this machine).

Despite these similarities, the automatypewriter seems to be a whole new kind of technology and a whole new way of interacting with fiction and the written word. The end of the video even proclaims that this is an example of ‘interactive fiction.’ What do you make of this? Would you be interested in interactive fiction? How do you think interactive fiction would change the literary world?

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

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