MonthMay 2006

Anagram Genius powered chatterbot

I’ve just found out about a chatterbot powered by Anagram Genius called Sternest Meanings.

Whatever you say to it, it responds with a perfect anagram (and thus waits for you to open the conversation, unlike every other chatterbot I’ve seen).

The program is the work of Ian Li who is a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University.

Ian appears to have had it running on internet chat for a while but recently migrated it to the web and someone reported it to digg.com resulting in huge amounts of traffic today. Judging by the comments it looks very popular with their readers. The story easily made it to their front page.

After playing with it, I wondered what would happen if this chatterbot were to put in touch with another, more conventional chatterbot. It seems that the author had exactly the same idea. Ian Li’s blog reports a surreal conversation between an ELIZA like chatterbot and Sternest Meanings which begins:

Eliza: Hi. I’m Eliza. Tell me your problems!
Sternest: Moralize repel humility. Slob me.
Eliza: Perhaps you would like to talk about a problem?
Sternest: Weak, spoutlike, proud tally-ho. Up rambo to able.
Eliza: What does this mean for you, saying “Weak, spoutlike, proud tally-ho Up rambo to able”?
Sternest: Sure-footed, womanish hasty. Up gawky, poetlike dinosaur. Halo to ambulatory pleb.
Eliza: I understand!

AI (Artificial Insanity) at its finest.

More anagram craziness

Though perhaps not quite on the scale of Dan Brown, I got contacted today by a Professor of Psychology from Chicago, Dr Jon Smith, telling me about a book he had written using Anagram Genius.

His career seems mostly to be related to writing about stress and how to conquer it, but recently he has taken to writing “parodies of religiosity” about a god called The Flying Spaghetti Monster (“the world’s first carbohydrate-based deity”). I must confess I had the author labelled as a possible crank until I typed “Flying Spaghetti Monster” into Google and found that it was discussed on almost one million web pages

The deity was conceived for the very serious purpose of debunking Intelligent Design in the United States. The idea is that instead of beating one’s head against the wall trying to engage directly in the debate with its proponents, one should debunk their ideas by making precisely the same arguments for a ridiculous religion and thus reveal the flaws in their position, reductio ad absurdum. Much more can be found on the Flying Spaghetti Monster Wikipedia page.

Intelligent Design is a philosophy put forward as a genuine scientific theory in competition with Darwinian Evolution. It asserts that life as we know it was created by a supreme being instead of coming about via evolution. The debate in the US centres around whether it should be taught in schools alongside Darwin’s theories (and whether it is a genuine scientific theory or simply theology masquerading as such).

The description of the book on his website reads:

1,000,000 Verses Direct from the Flying Spaghetti Monster
This remarkable book contains exactly 1,000,000 verses direct and uncensored from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s 600 pages and 5,000,000 words. Revolutionary computer techology and groundbreaking artificial intelligence software from Europe have searched nearly 3,000,000 verses and identified 1,000,000 as most profound. All are RANKED for meaningfulness, a claim no other world religion can make about its scriptures! Useful tool for intimidating disbelievers and squashing religious dissent. Excellent bedtime reading for insomniacs. A beautiful coffee table book or door stop. Close your eyes, and poke any page with a pencil to obtain your own personalized Spaghetti “reading.” (Research yet to prove FSM readings less accurate than readings from astrology, Tarot cards, the Book of Revelation, or pig entrails.) WARNING: THIS IS AN ABSURDLY GIGANTIC HOLY BOOK GUARANTEED TO BAFFLE AND BEMUSE THE MOST SOMBER AND PIOUS SEEKER.

The “groundbreaking artificial intelligence software from Europe” is, of course, Anagram Genius and what the above is saying is that the entire book was generated directly by my software. (The bit about being “ranked for meaningfulness” is a reference to the Anagram Genius scoring function.)

As the scripture is the word of the deity, as it also came directly from Anagram Genius and as I am the creator of Anagram Genius, I asked him where this placed me….

The response was that in this metaphysical hierachy I was “The Grand Programmer” who was “the ultimate source” of both scripture and god. It isn’t often one gets flattered quite so profoundly (even if it is a “metaphysical hierachy” that includes a deity with meatballs for eyes, lots of tangled spaghetti for a body and many “noodly appendages”….!)

Official website of the Da Vinci Code movie is an anagram

I’ve just noticed that the official website of the Da Vinci Code movie is www.sodarktheconofman.com – i.e. one of the Anagram Genius generated anagrams.

It redirects to a section beneath www.sonypictures.com but it is the URL that is being used in their advertising and the official URL of the movie listed at www.imdb.com

I’ve now seen the Da Vinci Code movie

The worldwide launch of the Da Vinci Code movie was today and I’ve just come back from seeing it.

I won’t write a long review as others will have a lot more to say about it generally, but I enjoyed it. It was a very visual movie – lots of very beautiful cinematic shots and ghostly flashbacks into history. I also thought the casting was really excellent.

From a personal perspective something I was very surprised (and pleased) to see was that despite having a budget of $125 million for the movie’s production, they chose to faithfully lift all of “my” anagrams straight from the novel unaltered, apparently unable to improve on that part of the plot.

In fact they appeared to go even further than what I remember from the novel. One of the Anagram Genius generated anagrams, So Dark the Con of Man, was referenced several times beyond the scene in the Louvre as a reference to the wider conspiracy. Robert Langdon asked Sophie whether she had heard those words in her childhood and the “dark con of man” seemed almost to be used as the official name for the wider plot.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not in the movie credits: my contribution was covered by the writing credit to Dan Brown (who in turn thanked me in the novel) but I’m still delighted.

Da Vinci Code TV adverts

I saw the first television advert for The Da Vinci Code movie today (Sky One, UK).

The very first words of the advert were “this is an anagram” and “my” So Dark the Con of Man anagram was displayed as the opening sequence to the ad!

This is very interesting to me as until today I had no idea whether any of the Anagram Genius generated anagrams from the book would be used in the movie. Now I know.

My contribution to The Da Vinci Code

In case there is anyone left on the planet who doesn’t know, The Da Vinci code is one of the best-selling novels of all time. The official Dan Brown web site is now claiming more than fifty million copies sold worldwide and the book has been translated into 44 languages. A major motion picture has now also been made of the book which will be launched worldwide at the end of this week.

Thanks to its religious controversy, record sales, high-profile court battles and the launch of the movie, it has also had almost non-stop press for the last few years.

My name appears in the acknowledgements of each of those fifty million copies.

As I have a unique name and as a surprisingly large percentage of the people who read book also read the acknowledgements (which appear at the start) I’ve been asked about my role an absurdly large number of times. (Dan Brown didn’t elaborate as to why I am thanked for reasons that are discussed later).

My acquaintances that know me the least are usually the most intrigued, wondering if I’m a secret member of Opus Dei or some other secret society mentioned in the book. Those that know me well have usually worked out that the link is anagram-related.

I am the author of the Anagram Genius technology which uses Artificial Intelligence techniques to make remarkable new anagrams of any text given to it and tries to make those anagrams fun, relevant to the subject and grammatical. It is now on its ninth major version and has a development history starting in 1988. (For more information see the anagram section of my personal site.)

As a consequence of my authorship of this software, the publicity I have had for it and the power of the internet in enabling people to find me, I get consulted frequently on the subject of anagrams.

It thus wasn’t a particularly unusual event when a customer by the name of Dan Brown emailed me in September 2002 saying he had recently completed a novel using anagrams that the Anagram Genius software had found. I’d never heard of him and when I went to his website and mentioned "the Da Vinci Code" in my reply, he was amazed that I had heard of it (until he realised I’d been to his site). We exchanged a few emails over the following months, I sent him a signed copy of my Anagram Genius book in exchange for the signed copy of the Da Vinci Code he sent me and the rest is history. I don’t think anyone could have fully appreciated the impact that publication would have before it happened. The non-stop publicity ever since has given me a more-than-minor feeling of surreality: what it has done to Dan Brown cannot be imagined.

Original Credit

The credit in the acknowledgements was originally going to be "William Tunstall-Pedoe and his Anagram Genius software" but by the time that the book got to the Galley Proof stage in February 2003 the reference to Anagram Genius had been cut by the publisher. The explanation for the removal was that any reference to anagrams in the credits might give away the first big plot twist to the reader. This seemed like a reasonable concern (but it didn’t stop the publisher putting a page of reviews at the start of the UK paperback mentioning anagrams).

Spin-off products

The success of the Da Vinci Code has resulted in numerous spin-off products as people have rushed to try and cash in on Dan Brown’s success and Anagram Genius has been used for at least two of these as well. The author of the book The Secrets of the Code emailed me to tell me that a section of his book had been written using Anagram Genius showing what alternative anagrams Dan Brown could have used. He did give full credit to the software including a URL but (perhaps embarrassingly considering the title of the book) failed to realise that the same software had been used by Dan Brown. By the time I told him, it was too late to be mentioned.

The software was also used in The Da Vinci Game to generate all the anagram puzzles. They were also good enough to give the software a prominent credit.

Artificial Intelligence

Perhaps an untapped source of interest about my involvement is the fact that this may be the first time that Artificial Intelligence software has contributed to a novel. The fact that some of the wonders of the book came out of the mind of a computer and not from that of a human is surely noteworthy, particularly considering its huge success.