“The Difference Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform”
Ada Lovelace, 1842
Taking its name from Charles Babbage’s 1822 proposal to build the first modern computer, The Difference Engine consists of four ‘nodes’, each with full control of an email account, set up to attract as much spam as possible. Each node also has control of a unique speech system that allows it to control pitch, harmony and duration in proportion to how interested it is in the emails that it receives (samples below).
Using a reverse-engineered spam filter, rather than ostracizing words that do not fit within its predicted pattern model, it prioritizes words that are unique and unexpected. It then searches the Internet to find out what they mean and, using distinct evangelical melodies, sings what it finds into the gallery.
The search terms are then fed back into its spam filter, automatically training it to look for similar words and websites. Consequently, each node develops a unique set of obsessions and fascinations: one may be interested in politics, one in sex, one in special offers, one in religion, etc.
The nodes’ search for meaning reveals as much about us as it does about them. They can only learn within the semantic framework we have built for ourselves. The nodes map our society’s anxieties and compulsions via a data structure, the Internet, that we can no longer entirely make sense of on our own.
|NODE ONE sample (alto)|
|NODE TWO sample (bass)|
|NODE THREE sample (soprano)|
|NODE FOUR sample (tenor)|