Monday, April 24, 2017

STYLOMETRY by Tamara K. Walker

“Algorithms are musical,” you thoughtfully articulate, munching on air with your daily snack of posters and sandwiches. The classroom is empty, and you yearn to grasp the naked spokes of the dry-erase asterisk on the whiteboard and turn it like a ship’s wheel.

“That’s trite,” I say, abruptly but patiently, dismissive in the way you know I’m not being cruel.

“Music is algorithmic. Beat is procedure. Melody is function. Evident.”

“Yes, music is composed of algorithms, but in the other direction,” you persist. “Are algorithms, writ large, music? I think there’s more to be gleaned from that mapping, much more.”

My contemplative silence yields the point, as cursive mice etch wavering borders around the room with their bodies. Just a moment ago you were considering the repulsiveness of larvae, chalking speculative skeletons around the aversion to early forms of insects and animal life, by extension. The skeletons led you down the hallway to alpha and beta versions of software, and from there, to algorithms.

A textbook entitled Forensic Linguistics sits on your desk, your light reading, the cover so glossy new you could see your face reflected in it, except that it always shows reflections of someone else’s face, and never anyone you recognize or have ever seen. You’ve taken exactly one bite out of a honeycrisp apple and set it on the book on your desk on the floor on the fireplace, and I silently admonish you to not bite it again, lest you suffer Turing’s fate, which I am certain is inevitable based on the random patterns of the mice.

“You know about stylometry.”


“Authorship attribution. How to tell which author wrote what. I’ve been thinking about metastylometry. Instead of algorithms and methods to recognize an author’s style, this would enable one to predict the evolution—which distinctive features will develop.”

“So you’d not only be able to discern which author wrote a given text, but what the texts a given author would be likely to write in the future will look like.”

A snowy electronic silence pervades the room. Your desk dissolves in a flurry of mahogany particles like a malt ball core in saliva after the chocolate has melted, visually revealing the salient denuded truth: you are no longer my pupil, and I have ceased to be your teacher. We frantically struggle to wrest control of the exposed underpinnings.

I win, or you gain the upper hand; we can’t say for certain which one of us I am now that there’s a victor and that victor is me. I hastily interrupt the algorithm, excise our function, and run the modified version in safe tranquil perpetuity. Genuinely endless loops of you, as a little one, a larva, playing in the sandbox.

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