E.L.I. poetry machine to hit the U.S. highways

July 8, 2004
Red & Black UGA student newspaper
link to original article 

E.L.I. poetry machine to hit the U.S. highways

E.L.I. is his name. He’s a nomad. At least, that’s how his creator, Christian Croft, describes him.

When I visited the Web site, E.L.I. created this little number for me:
“The elite plans beneath fluffy publics traveling orgasmic US out of Iraq now tentatively turning down”

E.L.I., or the Electro-Linguistic Imaginator, is a traveling robot that learns words and phrases from the people he interacts with, and then generates poetry from the vocabulary stored on his database.
“E.L.I. is the first roaming poet of the ‘byte generation,'” said Croft, a recent University graduate.

Croft attended the 2003 Sidney Kahn Summer Institute at The Kitchen in New York. There, Croft, along with fellow artists Todd Shalom and Ben Coolik, a graduate student at the University, was assigned a project to develop a form of creative documentation that was reflective of current events.

Other students made things like videos, but Croft, Coolik and Shalom created a robot that learns words to create poems. Since creating E.L.I. last summer, they’ve taken the computerized poet on several trips to see how he interacts with people and to build up his word database.

The trio first went to Washington, D.C., in October 2003 for a “Stop the Occupation in Iraq” rally, where the robot interacted with demonstrators, generating poetry.

“Being (our) first road trip experiment, this trip was probably E.L.I.’s most awkward,” Croft said on the E.L.I. project Web site, (www.elinomad.us).

E.L.I. spoke poetry to many activists, tourists and locals, who in turn taught him more words to use, Croft said.

In November 2003, E.L.I. went to the Georgia-Auburn football game. Croft said this was one of E.L.I.’s most memorable experiences.

“All the Dog fans thought he was an instant reply machine,” Croft said. “We were like, ‘No, it’s a robot.’ He learned a lot of classic words, like ‘Bud Light’ and ‘Auburn sucks (expletive)’.”

Croft said Georgia fans, and people in general, have a hard time understanding E.L.I.’s purpose. He said it’s really just a creative way to see how people interact with computers and a new way of doing research.

“It has no purpose, there is no capital gain in it,” he said. “We are not trying to have a game show. It’s just a new brand of research.”

Croft said he later took E.L.I. to Miami, where marches and rallies were being held in response to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas negotiation meeting. He said E.L.I. learned a lot of words about political situations on that trip.

“(The) politically charged jargon he learns from rallies gives a reflection of current events,” he said.

While at the Miami rally, Croft said at times it was very chaotic, because sometimes the police officers outnumbered the demonstrators.”E.L.I. got tear-gassed at the Miami rally,” he said.

But when E.L.I. stopped at Fort Benning for a protest against the School of Americas, the police were much more accommodating, Croft said.

“Police officers searched demonstrators before allowing them entrance,” he said.

“Somehow, Ben and I convinced the officers of E.L.I.’s benevolence and he was permitted entrance while others were forced to leave behind batteries and pocketknives.”

E.L.I. and his creators will be heading out on a road trip this summer, stopping in cities across the United States to “engage in a series of impromptu performances,” Croft said.

“We aren’t ruining any surprises,” he said. “Only those who run into him along the way are lucky enough to know.”

E.L.I. will be sending postcards, which will include some of his original poetry, from the places they stop along the way.

“The postcards are to show off his progress and to share his poetry from the road,” Croft said.

Anyone interested in receiving road-trip postcards from E.L.I. can sign up on his Web site.

While on the site, viewers also can see photos from past road trips, as well as read the poems E.L.I. creates.