The Christmas poem at the beginning of this chapter was born without complications, after such an experiment to teach a "Z 22" computer to formulate free sentences.
The first composition-exercises given to this automatic machine dealt with vaguely rustic matters. It was supplied with words like "farmer," "village," "castle," "duke" and "farmhand," with adjectives such as "open," "silent" and "narrow." Added were such short words as "a" and "an," "each," "every" and "all," "is" and "not." Then the computer was taught how to combine these words grammatically so that readable sentences would be produced: first the adjective, then the noun. "A" could appear before "farmer," but not before "apple"; "each" or "every" could be used with any of the singular nouns mentioned, but not (any more than "a" or "an") with any of them in their plural form, with a suffixed "s" - in which case "all" is needed.
So that you have an idea of the extent of such an exercise, the program communicated to the computer comprised 500 instructions.
To enable it to form sentences from the words as it might choose, a kind of creative element also had to be supplied to the electronic computer. This was the random numbers generator. It decided, by the "numerical experimentation" method, which verb should be used in conjunction with which noun, and whether "each," "every," or "all" would be usable.
When the program was switched on for the first time, excitement was intense. A computer capable of writing its own sentences! What would come out?
The following came out: "Not every view is close. No village is late. A castle is free and every farmer is distant. Every stranger is distant or a day is late. Each house is dark. A duke is green."
The sentences seem quite curious, not to say ludicrous. But the programmers were quite satisfied. After all, a small child who has only just learned to speak cannot be expected to utter philosophical proverbs. Moreover, the linguistic capacities of the computer could naturally be still further refined. It could be pointed out to the machine that it must exercise caution when describing farmhands and dukes. "A duke is green" - but no duke is ever likely to be. Such limitations, of course, are rules with exceptions. Even a duke's complexion may be red or white, the duke himself may be "blue," and there are of course "green" farmhands.