history of computing

[On fugues and functionalism]

Around 1960, Walter Reitman of the Complex Information Processing group at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) made tape recordings with his co-investigator Marta Sánchez ‘thinking aloud’, as an unnamed experimetnal subject composed a fugue at the piano keyboard. Reitman used protocol analysis to mine the 150-page transcript of this recording, seeking design inspiration for a new computer model of ‘human information-processing’—Argus—which was intended to complement the then-recent work of his colleagues Herbert Simon and Allen Newell on the General Problem Solver. I relate and contextualise this unusual historical case, which shows how Western art music composition was used in the experimental systems of early 1960s AI research as a proxy for so-called ‘ill-defined problems’ and as an apodeictic demonstration of supposed algorithmic creativity. With the release of the Google ‘Bach doodle’ in March 2019, little appears to have changed in how high culture is mobilised in the rhetoric that surrounds AI systems.