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Conversation and Computation

NYU ITP, Spring 2015

"And the question is when is the last time that you had a great conversation, a conversation which wasn’t just two intersecting monologues, which is what passes for conversation a lot in this culture. But when had you last a great conversation, in which you overheard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew. That you heard yourself receiving from somebody words that absolutely found places within you that you thought you had lost and a sense of an event of a conversation that brought the two of you on to a different plane. …a conversation that continued to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards?" - John O’Donohue


Technology is becoming a part of every conversation we have. What influence does it have, and how might it be further leveraged to create new possibilities? This class explores various ways conversation may be analyzed, generated, and affected by computation. Specifically, we will study methods of linguistic analysis (LIWC, LSM, sentiment analysis) and body language analysis (face tracking, expression detection, Kinect). We will experiment with conversation automation (markov chains, chatbots, email scripting, social media APIs), and building software apps (Google Hangout apps, browser extensions, Skype API, Twilio API, webRTC) and physical devices (Arduino, RPi) for augmenting and affecting conversation. Finally, we will look at more public interventions, involving performance and text displays. The class will be based around three month-long projects, complemented by readings and shorter research exercises. This will be further contextualized by conversation analysis ideas from sociology and psychology, performance studies, other artists working with these themes.


Grades will be determined according to the following breakdown:

  • Project 1 20%
  • Project 2 20%
  • Project 3 20%
  • Conversation log 15%
  • Participation and attendance 25%

Please see ITP's statement on Pass/Fail which states that a "Pass" is equivalent to an "A" or a "B" while anything less would be considered a "Fail".


This class is divided into three "parts" or general areas of inquiry. We will have three 3-4 week projects over the course of the semester, one for each part. You are expected to push your abilities both technically and conceptually to make original, thoughtful work.

For each project, you will need to check-in either with me in office hours or during class to briefly discuss your idea. The class check-in will happen the week before the project is due. If you haven't met with me in office hours by then, you will be expected to present your idea to the class for feedback.

Conversation log

As this class is about conversation, we will regularly engage in and push ourselves in conversation. So we are not just working theoretically. Each person will keep a "conversation log". As a class, we will generate prompts for conversations. Each week, we will choose one prompt as a class and you will have a conversation that you reflect on and respond to in a post in the conversation log.


Attendance is mandatory. Please inform me via email if you are going to miss a class. Habitually showing up late for class or an excessive number of absences will adversely affect your grade.

This class will be participatory, you are expected to participate in discussions and give feedback to other students both in class and participate with their projects. There will also be occasional assigned readings. This (along with attendance) is 40% of your grade.


Part 1: Language analysis and automation

Week 1 (1/28): Introduction

Week 2 (2/4): Linguistic analysis

Week 4 (2/18): Review

Part 2: Physical augmentation and alternatives

Week 5 (2/25): Physical augmentation

Week 6 (3/11): Physical analysis

  • Review project proposals

Week 7 (3/25): Physical alternatives

Week 8 (4/1): Review

Part 3: Public and performance

Week 10 (4/15): Public conversation

Week 11 (4/22): Walk-through

  • Review final presentations, feedback.
  • Finalize details.


ITP Conversation and Computation, Spring 2015






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