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The Birth of Digital Poetry

An English professor rediscovered how some of the best poets in the world were coding poetry algorithms in the 1960s

3 min read
photo of J.M. Coetzee
Photo: Micheline Pelletier Decaux/Getty Images

photo of J.M. Coetzee Programmer Poet: Acclaimed author J.M. Coetzee developed software for composing verse on an early British supercomputer. Photo: Micheline Pelletier Decaux/Getty Images

When we think of people who probe the historical uses of technology, English professors don’t usually spring to mind. But Rebecca Roach, a postdoctoral researcher in modern literature at Kings College London, did just that when she came across a box of “incomprehensible material” last year while diving into the archives of the Nobel Prize–winning poet and novelist J.M. Coetzee at the Harry Ransom Center, at the University of Texas at Austin.

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The Lies that Powered the Invention of Pong

A fake contract masked a design exercise–and started an industry

4 min read
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Pong arcade game in yellow cabinet containing black and white TV display, two knobs are labeled Player 1 and Player 2, Atari logo visible.
Roger Garfield/Alamy

In 1971 video games were played in computer science laboratories when the professors were not looking—and in very few other places. In 1973 millions of people in the United States and millions of others around the world had seen at least one video game in action. That game was Pong.

Two electrical engineers were responsible for putting this game in the hands of the public—Nolan Bushnell and Allan Alcorn, both of whom, with Ted Dabney, started Atari Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. Mr. Bushnell told Mr. Alcorn that Atari had a contract from General Electric Co. to design a consumer product. Mr. Bushnell suggested a Ping-Pong game with a ball, two paddles, and a score, that could be played on a television.

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