The Library of Nonhuman Books (2019) is an autonomous-art-system, intended to function as a “bridge” between human and nonhuman readers of books produced between the mid-15th and late-20th century. The project allows the viewer to speculate on the book to come in a near-future scenario in which post-literate society defers reading to nonhuman counterparts. The custom-designed, autonomous-art-system uses Artificial Intelligence to make new books from existing publications through a process by which it reads, interprets and ‘illuminates’ (or more simply, illustrates) any physical book placed below its dual-cameras, in real-time. This reading-machine leverages Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing to find new meanings hidden within books. Through a process of digital erasure, the machine algorithmically redacts the text leaving only selected words. Finally, an internet search retrieves an image to illustrate the page based on the resulting verse. Through this process of ‘artificial illumination’ new meanings are proposed that, until that moment, have remained latent in the original work, not consciously perceived by the human reader. Once every page is processed, the newly ‘illuminated’ book is automatically uploaded to print-on-demand services and the resulting volume—a book not designed by humans—is added to the Library of Nonhuman Books.This project creates a digital palimpsest, or scraping away, of texts, which are offered in the place of, or alongside, the original material book. Working within the genre of erasure poetry (Benzon & Sweeney, 2015) with the added disruption of ‘illumination,’ our reading-machine leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to make and unmake meaning with every turn of the page.
Acknowledgements: Our reading-machine is custom-designed and custom-coded using Python, NLTK (Natural Language Tool Kit), OpenCV (Computer Vision), Tesseract (Optical Character Recognition) and the Google Image API. We would like to acknowledge all of these Open-source communities and their contributors.