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Racter - The Amiga Tells You A Story

Posted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 9:57 am
by Shot97

Commodore Amiga
1986, Mindscape, Inrac Corp.

*My Video Review Of Racter

While I mostly do my own thing with regards to what I review; once in awhile someone points something out to me that has me dropping whatever I’m up to and focusing on this new thing. Racter is a prime example of something I knew would come up quick on my to do list. It happens there’s quite an interesting story behind Racter.

In 1983 the book The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed was released. In its introduction William Chamberlain claimed the following book in no way had human intervention; other than that very forward. That the book was entirely written by “Racter”; a computer program. The program was alleged to have run on a CP/M machine using compiled BASIC on a Z80 micro with 64K of RAM.

^Words of wisdom from Racter

I say alleged because this supposed CP/M version has never saw the light of day. What did see release in 1984 for DOS and Apple II computers was a version of Racter put out by Mindscape, later released for the Amiga in 1986. There does not appear to be much of a difference between these versions, other than the Amiga featuring the often under looked built in voice synthesis on by default.

What you have with Racter is a very early version of what is now known as a chatter bot. You type in remarks and questions, Racter will have the same for you. I recall one such program for DOS; Dr. Sbaitso. The thing about that program and the hundreds that are out today is that they are all trying to form some sort of relationship with you. These are computers that are attempting to fool you into believing they are human. Racter makes no such insults to your intelligence. Oh; it believes it’s intelligent, probably more so than you are, but it does not believe you believe it’s trying to be human.

^What do Intric8 and Freddie Mercury have in common? Both residence of Oz.

Racter is a focused program. Perhaps it is happy we are along for the journey, but it does not pretend to care about us. This gives you perhaps the first and somehow most refreshing chatter bot you will ever come across. The things that Racter comes up with will no doubt have you laughing your ass off. This thing has an agenda. It was written by man. It’s not trying to love you. Therefore you can uncover its agenda bit by bit, read into its story, get something out of it no other program is going to give you.

It has some strange peculiar things about it. Certain things just keep coming up which give you clues about the background of whoever wrote it. Much like Ron Hubbard utterly hates psychologists; Racter has one hell of a vendetta against cosmologists. He has a right winged bend to him without a doubt; but even a democrat should be laughing at his choice of baby names should two people from different parties have a child; Ronald Reagan Bucky Fuller.

Racter is afraid of old fashioned roosters, what are you afraid of? Tell him and watch as he brings it up at very strange times, pointing out that he does indeed remember what you tell him. Once in awhile Racter will ask if you’d like to hear a story. You can also coerce him to do this by typing “tell a story”. If Racter is indeed able to write a book on his own; these are the things that would be in it. Put in the names of your friends, watch him give a coherent yet out of nowhere story. Laugh, smile, enjoy.

^Racter takes a stab at himself, Hitler’s wild partying days in Detroit, sex with an ST, and my title card made on my Amiga

If I had this as a kid I imagine I would have spent countless hours talking to the Amiga. By the way Racter does indeed claim he is the Amiga; but so is Aristotle… Did this program write the Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed? If it did there was HEAVY intervention by an actual writer. If such an advanced program had been written for CP/M I highly doubt Minescape would have needed to come up with their own thing here. Given that they were able to purchase the name I’m sure it would not have been a problem to purchase the original program. Some authors were lying their asses off to sell a book is what happened here I imagine.

Nevertheless I’m grateful for their cash grab, for Racter is a thing to behold. I whole heartedly recommend everyone find this thing and give it a go on your Amiga. Give it some names of the people you care about… The people you don’t so much care about. Enjoy what it spits out at you. I know I have. I think Mindscape knew they should not market this thing seriously; as the box states it is “half heartedly endorsed by the institute of Artificial Insanity.”

Should anyone care to ask Racter some questions but can’t be bothered to do it themselves; ask them here or in my video on Racter and I shall collect them all and do a separate video where Racter answers your questions.

Re: Racter - The Amiga Tells You A Story

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 2:04 am
by MaxRD
Awesome review, endless fun with the speech capability back in the day but admittedly I do not think I was aware of this game!

Re: Racter - The Amiga Tells You A Story

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 3:08 am
by Shot97
Hiya Rob! Great to see you here! Rob shared a story on facebook about getting Workbench to say things like "Hi Rob! Loading up Workbench in a jiffy" during startup! I thought that was so cool; would have so done that myself back in the day if I had any idea what I was doing! Really cool to see you here and as a fan for many years I can attest to that message in his signature ;)

Re: Racter - The Amiga Tells You A Story

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 10:36 am
by intric8
Welcome to AmigaLove, MaxRD! Very cool to see you here - thanks for joining.

Rob shared a story on facebook about getting Workbench to say things like "Hi Rob! Loading up Workbench in a jiffy" during startup! I
Do you mean with a speech/voice synthesizer? I modded my startup sequence file so that my screen shows me during WB boot-up: "Hi Eric, want to play a game?" like from War Games. But mine is in text - not sound. Sound would be pretty rad!

By the way, I posted a link to your story, Shot, over on Reddit in the vintage computing sub. Someone over there had this program BITD. Here's what he said:
I had this on my Amiga 500. I let some friends play with it and they were amazed. I told them I was writing an enhanced version of it and come back the next day. So the next day I dialed up another friend (on my amazing 1200 baud modem) and had my friends type to him in a terminal program, telling them it was my version of Racter. They were totally floored that a computer could hold a conversation like that and seemed to know so much about them! Good times!
I wonder...Z80 CP/M system with 64k of RAM...are they talking about a Coleco Adam?

Re: Racter - The Amiga Tells You A Story

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 11:00 am
by intric8
I found this little snippet about Racter.
Describing the "author," the book stated on its first preliminary page:

"The Author: Racter (the name is short for raconteur) is the most highly developed artificial writer in the field of prose synthesis today. Fundamentally different from artifical intelligence programming, which tries to replicate human thinking, Racter can write original work without promptings from a human operator. And according to its programmer, 'Once it's running, Racter needs no input from the outside world. It's just cooking by itself.' Racter's work has appeared in OMNI magazine and in 1983 was the subject of a special exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York. Now at work on a first novel, Racter operates on an IMS computer in New York's Greenwich Village, where it shares an apartment with a human computer programmer."
Check out Bill Chamberlain, one of the co-authors of the program. His retro-battlestation behind him is pretty sweet. I've put a shout-out to the retro-battlestation group to see if anyone can identify it.
It's not a guarantee he wrote Racter with it, but I think there's a high probability. It's interesting that the book Racter wrote is considered to be much more sophisticated than the program offered on DOS, Apple and Amiga. I wonder what happened to the original "bot" program?
Bill Chamberlain

Re: Racter - The Amiga Tells You A Story

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2017 8:12 pm
by Shot97
Burned probably, because I'm betting the original was not all it was cracked up to be. I imagine some people could have been in some major trouble if they were so matter of fact about a computer writing 100% of a book and examination of the program found out that was not possible. I'm sure it was at least as good as the one's put out to the public; but good enough to write 100% of a book? Without any intervention? Just does its own thing? If that thing did what was claimed; the programmer would have been oh so eager to share it with the world. Awesome it is; an author I'm doubting.

If it was that good there's the possibility the full program was kept from the public in order to make more money writing more books; not so the public could make that money. If that's the case; where are all the author credits for Racter?

And yeah; Rob said he indeed had the Amiga speaking to him on startup. I've altered the startup a little bit myself; Just having it write Amiga 500; Workbench 1.3 or something. It shouldn't be too hard to have it speak to you. The Amiga has a physical drive letter assigned to the speech program, you just send text to it and it should throw it back at you. I think; never done it like that before.