CashWords, or Synthetic Language Processing (2008 – 2023)

CashWords, or Synthetic Language Processing (2008 – 2023)
Limited Edition Ink Jet Print (16 x 20 in)

Over the last fifteen years, I have been exploring what it means to write with and for machines by engaging with various digital tools creatively and critically to better understand how they function in relation to the creation, recording, revision, and distribution of verbal language that originates from human minds.  I have undertaken these projects in order to educate myself about the tools that I use on a daily basis in my own creative and research projects and to help others better understand how digital tools designed to “assist” or “facilitate” acts of human inscription function.

In 2008, I began collecting discarded lottery cards.  I initiated this project for several reasons, some personal–my grandmother had been an avid player of the lottery; some narrotological–I was fascinated by the widespread interest in and power of the transformative narratives associated with “winning the lottery”; some material–I was interested in the look, feel, and material make up of scratch and win lottery cards; some didactic–I hoped the assemblage of a visual representation of the extremely poor odds of ever winning the lottery might convince people to stop spending such a significant portion of their income on this hope/past-time; and some socio-economic–I was curious to know what would happen if I attempted to pay for things using cardboard cards marked with the value of various dollar denominations, some of them as high as $20.  

Because I reside in New York City and live in a neighborhood with a high population density, it is possible to amass fairly large collections of objects somewhat easily.  This ability to amass a collection of objects that once had significant value and were then, after a short period of time, rendered value less, was also interesting to me.

In the intervening years, I would learn through my research into writing education and linguistics about the long history of the relationships between human and non-human acts of inscribed verbal signs–what we now refer to generally as “writing”–and money. In 2023, I now understand that my collection of lottery cards, and specifically the CashWords scratch and win lottery cards, which are based on crossword puzzles, or a statistical approach to the operations of inscribed verbal language, are also an illustration of what we refer to today as natural language processing and machine learning with large language models and the creation of what John Cayley refers to as “synthetic language.”


Pins, Memorylessness, and Bags of Words: Visualizing “A.I.” and Its Histories [2021]

Pins, Memorylessness, and Bags of Words: Visualizing “A.I.” and Its Histories [2021]

Documentary, informational, and interactive in its aims, this project reflects on the 2020-2021 Histories of Artificial Intelligence Mellon Seminar at the University of Cambridge to imagine possibilities for concretely depicting the complex set of technologies, philosophies, and ideologies constituting “artificial intelligence” and its histories.  Often perceived by the general public as an incomprehensible “black box” and frequently defined by AI researchers as a “moving target,” “AI,” as late-capitalist “non-object” or set of phenomena, poses some unique challenges to those asked to define and explain “it,” its applications, and its genealogies.  And yet, having spent the last year discussing “AI” and its histories, the participants from the HOAI seminar have developed some uniquely diachronic and synthetic insights into the phenomena currently referred to as “A.I.”.  

Pins, Memorylessness, and Bags of Words
(IBM/Bell Labs/Descartes/Babbage/Baudot/Helmholtz/Markov/Hartley/Turing/Google AI Edition)
(Digital Print, 2021)
© johannah rodgers

The title of the project refers to the importance of things both abstract and concrete to “A.I.” and its histories and calls attention to the discursive complexities that are themselves part of “A.I.”: “Pins” functions at once as metonym, artifact, and symbol for the political and economic philosophies informing “A.I.”; “Memorylessness,” a technical term from the history of statistics, may be in itself a useful one for describing the frequently paradoxical characteristics of “A.I.” as a discursive and cultural object; and “Bag(s) of Words,” a concept and technique borrowed from natural language processing and machine learning, is deployed metaphorically to describe “A.I.’s” dependence on verbal language for its operations, as well as literally to collect verbal language used at discrete points in time to describe the possibilities and realities of “A.I.”.

The project is made up of a series of fictional “x-ray” images purported to be from the recently declassified medical history file of Artificial Intelligence. Consisting of collections of digital and actual objects and texts presented as digital and print based collages, the images can be used to explore the many different phenomena related to the histories of Artificial Intelligence and as a way to begin discussing in more concrete and tangible terms a set of technologies that often portray themselves as “unimaginable.”

Works Cited 

Babbage, Charles. “Drawing of the Difference Engine.” Reprinted in Bowden, B. V., ed. (1953). Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines.  Pitman. https://archive.org/details/fasterthanthough00bvbo/page/n7/mode/2up

Baudot, J. M. E. (1888).  “Printing Telegraph.” (U.S. Patent No. (388,244)) U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/41/db/de/f22f7d839399ff/US388244.pdf

Bayes, Thomas. (1763). “An Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chance.”   Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 53, pp. 370-418.

Bundy, W. L. (1888). “Time-Recorder.” (U.S. Patent No. (393,205)) U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

Copeland, B.J., ed. (2004). “Artificial Life.” In The Essential Turing by Alan Mathison Turing. p. 513. Oxford UP. https://books.google.com/books?id=dSUTDAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Dean, Jeff. (2016). Google Tech Talk, Seoul, March 7, 2016. https://deepai.org/machine-learning-glossary-and-terms/neural-network

Descartes, Rene. (1677). Opera philosophica. Principia philosophiae. Apud Danielem Elsevirium. https://books.google.com/books?id=C4IPAAAAQAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s 

“Epingle.” Diderot, Denis. (1777). Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des metiers par une societe des gens de lettres. Pellet.  https://books.google.com/books?id=V7JanrmNAVcC&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false 

Haugeland, John. (1985). Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea. MIT. https://archive.org/details/artificialintell0000haug

Hartley, R. V. L. (1928). “Transmission of Information.” Bell Labs Technical Journal 7, 535–563. https://archive.org/details/bstj7-3-535  

Helmholtz, (1896). Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik, Sth ed., (Brunswick:

Vieweg & Sohn, 1896), p. 633. Reprinted in Lenoir, Timothy.   “Helmholtz and the Materialities of Communication,” in Thomas P. Hankins and Albert van Helden, eds., Instruments and the Production of Scientific Knowledge, special volume of Osiris, Vol. 9 (1994): 184-207.

Knuth, Donald E. (1968). The Art of Computer Programming: Fundamental Algorithms. Addison-Wesley. https://archive.org/details/artofcomputerpro0001knut_l0h13rdedition/page/n9/mode/2up 

Markov, A. A. (1913). An Example of Statistical Investigation of the Text Eugene Onegin Concerning the Connection of Samples in Chains. Bulletin of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg 7(3):153–162. Translated and reprinted in Science in Context 19(4), 591–600 (2006). Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/S0269889706001074. http://www.alpha60.de/research/markov/DavidLink_AnExampleOfStatistical_MarkovTrans_2007.pdf

“Neural Network.” https://deepai.org/machine-learning-glossary-and-terms/neural-network

Smith, Adam.  (1776). An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. W. Strahan and T. Cadell. https://books.google.com/books?id=C5dNAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22adam+smith%22+strahan+wealth+of+nations&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjBpvvUrfD8AhVrk4kEHfxyCRwQ6AF6BAgPEAI#v=onepage&q=%22adam%20smith%22%20strahan%20wealth%20of%20nations&f=false

ConcretePython: 1,000,000 Words (2020)



DEC Powers of Two

Can we use this as a graphic device for measuring human/machine relations?

re: making bread

Here are my current bread recipes:

crunchy semolina loaf

.5 t. yeast immersed in .5 c. warm, i.e., tepid NOT hot, water
3 c. white flour (preferably King Arthur commercial grade)
1 c. wheat flour
1 c. semolina
3 t. salt
3 T olive oil
1.5 c. water

breakfast bread
.5 t. yeast immersed in .5 c. warm, i.e., tepid NOT hot, water
2 c. white flour
1 c. wheat flour
1 c. cornmeal
.25 c. sugar (turbinado)
1-2 eggs
.5 c. milk
.5 c. ricotta
.25 c. melted butter

I use the same bowl, knife (for stirring), teaspoon, and water cup measure each time I make bread so it becomes habitual and like second nature.  Put the yeast and tepid water in the bowl, let it stand for 5-10 minutes.  Measure out all of the dry ingredients into the bowl, stir once or twice with a knife.  Add the water, mix with the knife.  Add the oil, stir with the knife, scraping the sides and incorporating all of the ingredients.  You will have a lumpy bunch of stuff.  If you need more water to incorporate everything together, add it in very small quantities.  At this stage of the process, a little water goes a LONG WAY!  Though you can always add more flour if you add too much water, for ease of preparation, you’re trying to just mix and massage your mixture into a dough with the “proper” consistency.  The weather every day is different, so your flour/water/yeast/oil/salt mixture will likewise have slightly different characteristics.  Once you have a mixture that is mostly “coherent,” i.e., sticking together, knead it by hand in the bowl until it is all fully mixed.  Your dough will still be a bit sloggy, i.e., not smooth and tight, but that is just the way the dough is before the first rise.  Once you have a workable dough mixture, put a wet cloth over the bowl and let it rise for 2 hours.  Knead the mixture and let rise for another hour.  At this point, I have started putting the dough in the refrigerator (if it is summer) or simply on the counter (if it is winter) and letting it rise over night.  You don’t have to do that.  And, if you want to bake your bread after the third rising, you can.  

To bake the bread, preheat the oven to 400 degrees (for the crunchy semolina loaf) and spray the oven with water two or three times.  Once the oven is at the right temperature, mold your bread into the shape you want and place it on a baking sheet prepared with a thin coat of cornmeal.  Spray water on your loaf.  Bake in the oven for 40 minutes.  That’s it!  You should have some lovely bread! Instructions for preparing and baking the breakfast bread are forthcoming.

Towards a Steadying Culture of Food: Part I

Toward a Steadying Culture of Food, or How To Feed Yourself If You Are a Highly Sensitive Person

October 21, 2020

Johannah Rodgers

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about food and cooking, in part by choice and in part because of how I was raised, i.e., initially as a macrobiotic by a parent who was mentally ill, and then as an omnivore by a parent who was mentally ill in a different way.  The odd thing about my conventionally, as opposed to differently, mentally ill parent was that she was always determined that I, unlike she, would learn to cook.  As a result, I spent a lot of time as a child cooking with my other parent, who had grown up on a farm and cooked as a girl and then at the convent where she spent her twenties and thirties.  She was born in 1929 on a farm in eastern Kentucky and her generation and upbringing both have a lot to do with how she cooked, along with many other things about her, i.e., her love of glamour, drama, and absurdity.  Fortunately, she was not an absurd cook!  

So I grew up knowing about food and knowing how to cook, but not really knowing very much about how to feed myself.  I was fortunate in that I was fed throughout my life primarily with whole grains, lots of vegetables, fresh meat, and homemade baked goods.  We cooked with butter instead of shortening and fresh ingredients mattered and processed foods were considered both a waste of money and unhealthy.  As an adult, I’ve come to understand just how expensive processed foods are both in terms of their actual monetary cost per calorie and for your health.  People quite literally cannot “afford” to eat them.  Unfortunately, once you step away from processed foods, you need to dedicate some time to shopping and cooking.  You will ultimately save a ton of money, which I think is wonderful, but you will also have to re-train your palate to crave the foods that you know how to make and that are good for you. 

You need to eat at least three times a day:  Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.  In many cultures, this is just a given, as it should be in every culture.  As a hypersensitive person, I find that consistency in my diet is unbelievably important, as is knowing which foods give me energy, make me feel fed, and make me crazy.  Everyone is different so there is not some cookie-cutter plan that will work for everybody.  That said, people in general can be put into categories based on how they process carbohydrates and other food groups.  Some people process carbohydrates very efficiently and some people don’t.  Since I fall into the latter category, I find that my diet has to be protein rich, consist of a mix of animal, dairy, and plant proteins, low-sugar (which means also not eating too much white flour since it is metabolized in the same way as white sugar in my body), and include lots of vegetables and fruits.  

For breakfast, I eat either oatmeal prepared with some fruit (half an apple or pear) and almond slices or some eggs and toast/tortillas and sauteed greens.  For lunch, I eat a salad and some animal protein, some fat, and some bread or corn tortillas.  For dinner, I eat more animal protein, some kind of grain, and lots of steamed vegetables, usually steamed kale, but sometimes instead, a mixed salad or other stemmed or sauteed green vegetables.  

I moved to Brooklyn in 1995 and I honestly do not think I would have survived as long as I have in NYC without steamed kale.  It is plentiful, easy to prepare, and can be frozen in individual portions for quick re-heating (if you steam a whole bunch of kale at one time, you can just use pieces of aluminum foil to wrap up individual servings that can be put in your freezer.  I also freeze individual portions of black beans and chick peas, which are two other things I eat a lot of and which are much better tasting and less expensive when you cook your own instead of buying them prepared in a can.)  Of course, it is a good idea to have a few cans of beans around in case you ever need them.  You can make a very delicious meal by frying up some garlic and onions in olive oil, adding a can of beans and eating that with brown or white rice and possibly some yogurt or sour cream on the side plus … some steamed kale! 

Over the years, I’ve also found that corn meal is a much better flour for me than wheat flour.  I still eat wheat flour, but I do so in moderation.  I always have a stack of corn tortillas in my refrigerator, which I toast on my stove and use to make tacos, eat with eggs, use in soups, or eat as a snack.  Regarding snacks, I find pretzels with peanut butter is a very good one, as are nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews), which I also often use in salads or when making stir fried vegetables.  Re: fats, I always have olive oil and butter on hand and I’ve also found that coconut milk and avocado are, in addition to nuts, some of the best vegetable based fats for me.  You can use the coconut milk to make vegetable curries or smoothies, both of which can be quite satisfying.  

Eating lots and lots of vegetables is really important, both for your digestion and for stabilizing your blood sugar levels.  I always have the following vegetables in my house:  lettuce, cabbage, carrots, kale, potatoes, garlic, onions.  I also try to always have: lemons and limes and whatever fruits are in season, i.e., apples, pears, plums, mangoes, pineapples, strawberries, blueberries.  Stewing fruit with just a little bit of turbinado sugar to make a “fruit compote” is a great snack.  I also like making pies and cakes with very little sugar, i.e., ¼ c. or less per pie, cake, batch of cookies.  In terms of condiments, I keep salt, red wine vinegar, honey, maple syrup, mayonnaise, and ketchup.  I am a big believer in making your own salad dressings, which can be fun, but can also be as simple olive oil, red vinegar (store brand is fine), and salt.

In addition to having a list of easy to prepare dishes ready at hand, one other important thing is simply not to get too hungry.  There are times when you may not feel hungry or feel like eating, but eating at least every three hours is a good idea.  Once my blood sugar gets out of balance, both my moods and my physical well being suffer and it can take quite a while to get things back to a state of balance.  As a result, I always carry some food with me at all times, i.e., a handful of almonds, a banana, a piece of toast with cheese or peanut butter on it.  This may not sound glamorous, but it has really helped me (or at least it did when I still went places in the outside world on a regular basis ;)).  I also tell myself that this is how “French people” live and therefore pretend that it actually is somewhat “glamorous.” 

OK, so that is it for now.  I guess the last thing I would say is that it is pretty astonishing how few things humans can eat.  The list could be as short as the following: fish, pigs, cows, chickens, other fowl, deer; grains; fruits; vegetables and legumes.  Pay attention to how specific foods make you feel, i.e., excited, sated, energetic, calm, etc., and make sure to consistently eat the foods that make you feel best and most energetic.  I am happiest when I am eating almost zero sugars, and by sugars, I include all sweeteners, not just cane sugar, and white flour.  However, I still eat some.  Turbinado sugar, maple syrup, and honey are all sweeteners that play less havoc with my blood sugar levels; I eat more rice (both brown and white) than pasta and often eat potatoes instead of either; quinoa is actually a legume, not a grain, so that is a food that gives me lots of energy.  Also: eating some roughage with whatever sugars you consume is a good idea.  So, if you’re going to eat ice cream, mix some nuts in it; if you’re going to eat cake, eat some fruit and nuts with it; same goes for eating chocolate and pasta.  

make your own word drawing

make your own word drawing

to make your own word drawing, you will need one sheet of paper and a pencil or a pen

after finding a quiet place to sit with access to a flat writing surface,



first,  orient the paper in a “landscape” position, i.e., it is wider than it is tall;


second, set aside anywhere from 10 to 100 minutes to think about some topic, question, phrase, or word, OR, attempt NOT to think of any of the above;


third,  draw a line across the paper, left to write, as part of which you will transcribe whatever word or set of words are in your head;


fourth, repeat until it is no longer possible to draw another line across the page;


fifth, read over and draft a title, which you will transcribe on the back of the sheet of paper, along with the date;


sixth, store in a file or box marked “word drawings.”