The Social Network of Dante’s Inferno

“The first product coming out from this crazy idea was “The Social Network of Dante’s Inferno“, presented in the 2010 edition of the “Arts, Humanities and Complex Networks” symposium of NetSci and then published in a 2011 special issue of the Leonardo journal. In this work we were moved by the question: is a network of characters following some particular predictive patterns? If so: which ones?

“So we took a digital copy of Dante’s Inferno, where all interactions and characters were annotated with extra information (who the character was, if she was a historic or mythological figure, when she lived, …). We then considered each character as a node of the network. We created an edge between two characters if they had at least a direct exchange of words. Normal people would call this “a dialogue”.

“The double-focus point of the Commedia emerges quite naturally, as Dante and Virgilio are the so-called “hubs” of the system. It is a nice textbook example of the rich-get-richer effect, a classic network result. But contrary to what the title of the paper says, we went beyond that. There are not only “social” relationships. Each character is also connected to all the information we have about her. There is another layer, a semantic one, where we have nodes such as “Guelph” or “Middle Ages”. These nodes enable us to browse the Commedia as a network of concepts that Dante wanted to connect in one way or another. One can ask some questions like “are Ghibelline characters preferably connected to historic or mythological characters?” or “what’s the centrality of political characters in the Inferno as opposed to the Purgatorio?” and create one’s own interpretation of the Commedia.” […]    Michele Coscia, Michele Coscia, 12 December, 2013

What It Means to be Human and “A Working Theory of Love”

working-theory-of-love-scott-hutchins“You could argue that the fundamental question behind all literature is: ‘What does it mean to be human?’ Some people have even argued that storytelling itself is what makes us more than just monkeys with iPhones — that Homer created the modern consciousness, or that Shakespeare (as Harold Bloom has it) invented the human identity. In recent years, however, literature has lost a lot of ground on that score to evolutionary psychology, neurobiology and computer science, and particularly to the efforts of artificial intelligence researchers. So as we wait for the Singularity, when our iPhones will become sentient and Siri will start telling us what we can do for her, many of the savvier fiction writers have begun to come to grips with the fact that the tutelary spirit of the quest for the human may not be Dante or Emily Dickinson or Virginia Woolf, but Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped start the revolution in computing.
Turing may be best known for his version of the Victorian-era Imitation Game, in which a judge receives written responses to his questions from a man and a woman behind a screen and tries to guess from the answers which is the man and which the woman. In Turing’s version, the messages are from a human and a computer; it was his contention that when a judge couldn’t tell the difference any longer, then a machine could be said to think like a human being. The Turing test has since become, at least in the popular imagination, the holy grail of artificial intelligence developers, as well as a conceit in contemporary fiction, and that conceit is at the heart of Scott Hutchins’s clever, funny and very entertaining first novel, ‘A Working Theory of Love.'” [. . .]    –James Hynes, The New York Times, November 21, 2012