Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Internet is full of mysteries. Two of the more intriguing ones have been a Twitter account, @Horse_ebooks, and a YouTube channel, Pronunciation Book, which have been running for the past several years. Both have the hallmarks of automation, chugging along anonymously and churning out disjointed bits of text in a very spam-like fashion. At the same time, their output has seemed strangely knowing and even portentous. Horse_ebooks, in particular, has inspired fan fiction, Tumblr accounts, T-shirts, and tattoos with its weird zen-like sentence fragments, such as “Who Else Wants To Become A Golf Ball,” or “For The Highest Price Possible, No Matter How Much Time You Have Had To Prepare!,” or “Everything happens so much.” Both accounts have spawned speculation among the hundreds of thousands of people who have viewed them. Were they really spambots? Were they some slowly unfolding promotion for, say, a new phone or movie? Were they machines testing out a new kind of artificial intelligence? Were they Edward Snowden’s side projects?
Most of those questions will be answered today, starting at 10 A.M., at the Fitzroy Gallery, on the Lower East Side. There, the creators of the two accounts, Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender, will prove that they are indeed human, appearing in a performance that is the final flourish in this suite of conceptual-art pieces, weaving together Horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book. They will also launch the next installment of the project, a choose-your-own-adventure interactive-video piece called Bear Stearns Bravo. Bakkila and Bender have been working on the project for almost four years, keeping their identities secret from just about everyone, including their colleagues at Buzzfeed, where Bakkila is a creative director, and Howcast, where Bender, until about a year ago, was the vice-president of product development.

The Internet is full of mysteries. Two of the more intriguing ones have been a Twitter account, @Horse_ebooks, and a YouTube channel, Pronunciation Book, which have been running for the past several years. Both have the hallmarks of automation, chugging along anonymously and churning out disjointed bits of text in a very spam-like fashion. At the same time, their output has seemed strangely knowing and even portentous. Horse_ebooks, in particular, has inspired fan fiction, Tumblr accounts, T-shirts, and tattoos with its weird zen-like sentence fragments, such as “Who Else Wants To Become A Golf Ball,” or “For The Highest Price Possible, No Matter How Much Time You Have Had To Prepare!,” or “Everything happens so much.” Both accounts have spawned speculation among the hundreds of thousands of people who have viewed them. Were they really spambots? Were they some slowly unfolding promotion for, say, a new phone or movie? Were they machines testing out a new kind of artificial intelligence? Were they Edward Snowden’s side projects?

Most of those questions will be answered today, starting at 10 A.M., at the Fitzroy Gallery, on the Lower East Side. There, the creators of the two accounts, Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender, will prove that they are indeed human, appearing in a performance that is the final flourish in this suite of conceptual-art pieces, weaving together Horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book. They will also launch the next installment of the project, a choose-your-own-adventure interactive-video piece called Bear Stearns Bravo. Bakkila and Bender have been working on the project for almost four years, keeping their identities secret from just about everyone, including their colleagues at Buzzfeed, where Bakkila is a creative director, and Howcast, where Bender, until about a year ago, was the vice-president of product development.

Notes

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