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  • Writer's pictureTansy Xiao

Circumlocution Machine

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

——a networked anti-communication tool

The genesis of this project was the Circumlocution Machine, a basic web-based program that automatically replaces all the nouns in user-input content with the dictionary definitions of the nouns then uttering it back out. It uses a natural language processing (NLP) algorithm to analyze a user's input sentence, then "translates" it to redundant nonsense, creating a convoluted and nonsensical version that satirizes the use of evasive language. Here is a sketch of the original single-user version written in Python.

Then it evolved into the Circumlocution Chamber—a networked chatroom version of the program that actively invites the viewers to engage in real-time conversations via the algorithm. Similar to its predecessor, this interactive program substitutes nouns in user input sentences with their dictionary definitions and then reads them aloud using randomly assigned synthetic voices, as a means to deliberately obscuring the identities of individual users and centering the language itself. Moreover, specific keywords within these sentences trigger sonic visual events within the virtual space. As a consequence, viewers collaboratively construct a non-linear virtual theater experience.

As an anti-communication tool, this virtual space exposes the linguistic strategies employed by politicians and authority figures to evade addressing the core subject matter. The floating objects in the space include a totalitarian monument, a space structure, a royal seat, a military vehicle, and numerous seeds of the rubber tree, a vegetation that played a significant role in the global colonialism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to economic exploitation, land appropriation and forced labor. Whenever the objects of power collide, they emit shushing sounds, compelling the participants to silence themselves. By clicking the "Control" key, the viewer gains temporary control over the floating objects for a span of 15 seconds while generating more rubber tree seeds. Certain keywords will trigger an eruption that unveils a cluster of rocks known as the conflict minerals, denoting minerals that are mined in areas affected by armed conflict and human rights abuses in Central Africa. These minerals are widely used in manufacturing the electronic devices that we use today.

**It is recommended to use it to converse with a friend or an alter ego.


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