New quotes from MLK/JFK: a computer-reconstructed mashup

Computers can combine the tone, style, and words of deceased leaders, sometimes producing genuine-sounding quotes.

Computers can combine the tone, style, and words of deceased leaders, sometimes producing genuine-sounding quotes.

Can artificial intelligence produce human wisdom?  It’s not often that my interests in rhetoric and computer science overlap, but this being MLK Day, I was curious to see how well a simple Markov algorithm could emulate Dr. King’s wisdom, given a collection of original MLK quotes as reference.  Then I thought, “Why stop at resurrecting just one great 1960s’ leader’s words?  Let’s throw JFK in there too and see what comes out!”  The two men lived in the same time, spoke on similar topics, and used similar syntax, making them excellent candidates for a mash-up.  Some of the results were silly (We must never succumb to the moon!”), but others were unexpectedly profound.

May I present the words of the Reverend President Dr. Martin Luther Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr., Version 1.0:

Injustice anywhere is a menace to our security.

A lie cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from his guilt.

War is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrows.

A lie cannot save the few who are rich.  (From MLK: “A lie cannot live” and JFK: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”  A statement like this would find traction with the Occupy movement.)

It’s always right to do the right thing.

Human progress is freedom’s road.  (The computer neglects to mention the road tends to wind and often double back.)

We must accept the longevity of one’s soul.

We must learn to live in a nation of true education.

History will have the final word.

Nonviolence is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process.

Domestic policy can kill us.  (JFK actually said “Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us,” but the the computer’s take can be read as a provocative statement on domestic inequality and healthcare policy in particular.)

Change is the law of liberty.

A genuine leader does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. (MLK’s rearranged words end up describing MLK.)

A genuine leader is not enough without illusions. (Computer-MLK has a cynical streak.)

Law and order [that] exist for the present are certain to miss the future.  (The statement’s wisdom is questionable, but the juxtaposition of contrasts is 100% MLK’s style.)

Once you say you’re going to settle for second, that’s pretty important.

Change does not roll in on the installment plan.  (From MLK’s original “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” and “A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.”)

Rarely do we find men who can dream of things that matter.

The ultimate measure of a man is not man.  (Sometimes the computer model’s penchant for nonsensical repetition actually produces some very succinct wisdom.)

We must never succumb to the moon. (JFK- space-age visionary, or secret werewolf?)

The goal of education is to teach one to think critically.

There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the stars.  (The computer model reconstructs JFK and MLK’s words to produce poetic language of its own.)

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence of our friends.

Forgive your enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.  (MLK’s original quote urges us to “Love our enemies – or else,” but the  change to forgiveness is a meaningful oneEven subtle shifts in wording can have significance.)

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