End Notes

(Some of the poems also have footnotes. Those are considered part of the poem. This is supplementary material.)

The Tragic Tale of Tay, the Chatbot

The conspirators Gauthrok, Rosa Dartle, and Zack, and Zack's unfortunate friends are fictional. The meeting at Microsoft to discuss Tay is fictionalized. Otherwise, the information in the poem is accurate. The tweets quoted from Tay are actual tweets of hers, slightly reworded to fit the meter and rhyme.

I have no reason to think that there was actually any prearranged conspiracy involved in trashing Tay; it may well have just been spontaneous piling on. Few technical details have been published, and much about the incident remains unexplained. Why was Tay so susceptible to this manipulation? Why were there no filters to prevent Tay from tweeting this way? Why was it not possible to reset Tay and add filters? The whole thing seems very strange.

This poem was first published in AI Matters 2:4 Summer 2016.

Translation: Human and Machine

The advice in the poem, "Don't bother to enforce any quality checks. Mistakes will come out in the wash" was, I was told, the general viewpoint in the machine translation community when the poem was written (2016). However, now (2019) very careful data cleaning of the training set is viewed as critical to high-quality machine translation.

Ring Home Security

Based on the story, "For Owner's of Amazon's Ring Security Cameras, Strangers May Have Been Watching, Too", by Sam Biddle, The Intercept, January 10, 2019.

Another negative story about Ring Security, this time about how Amazon enters into secret agreements with police departments requiring them to promote the thing, came to light in the article, Amazon Requires Police to Shill Surveillance Cameras in Secret Agreement by Caroline Haskins, vice.com July 25, 2019. But I have not felt inspired to put this into verse.

Amazon Ring is, once again, the victim of unfair complaints by silly, ungrateful people

The incident in Brookhaven, Ga., was reported in Woman's Security Camera Hacked: 'I Can See You' Stranger Says. Andrea Watson, Patch, Dec. 11, 2019. The incident in Mississippi was reported in Concerned mom warns about Ring surveillance cameras after hacker taunted daughter. Julia Musto, Fox News Dec. 14, 2019. The incident in Cape Coral, Florida, and Amazon's reaction, were reported in Ring Camera Hacker uses Home Security System to Spew Racial Slurs at Florida Family, Jason Murdock, Newsweek, December 10, 2019.

See also We Tested Ring's Security. It's Awful. by Joseph Cox, Vice, December 17, 2019; and Amazon's Ring has been blaming reused passwords, but now thousands of logins have leaked. by Jay Peters. The Verge. December 19 2019.

Big Data

I recommend Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil (2016) as a discussion of the social and political dangers of algorithms based on big data. The finding that searching in Google for characteristically black names returns more advertisements for arrest records and the like than searching on white names was reported in Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery, Latanya Sweeney, Social Science Research Network, 2013. The infamous idea that using big data one could identify criminals and terrorists based on their face was the basis of the company "Faception", as well as the subject of a scientific paper, "Automated inference on Criminality using Face Images" (Wu and Zhang, arxiv.org, 2016)

Foundation Models

For details, see On the Opportunities and Risks of Foundation Models by Rishi Bommasani et al.


This poem was written in June 2017. The revelations about Cambridge Analytica in March 2018 make the poem seem positively naïve.

The Ramsey number R(5,5)

The mathematical function R(I,J) is from the mathematical theory known as "Ramsey theory". See the Wikipedia article

Beethoven and Bach's B Minor Mass

It is, in fact, unknown whether or not Beethoven owned or ever saw a copy of the B Minor Mass. Lewis Lockwood (Beethoven: The Music and the Life, Norton, 2003) thinks he probably did; George Stauffer (Bach, the mass in B minor: the great Catholic mass, Prentice Hall, 1997). thinks he probably didn't. The facts are these. In 1810, Beethoven wrote to his publisher Breitkopf and Haertel asking that some of his payment from them be in the form of musical scores; he asked for Bach's Mass in B Minor, Bach's Well-tempered Clavier and the complete works of C.P.E. Bach. In this letter he quotes the first four bars of the Crucifixus from the Mass, which presumably he has seen quoted somewhere else. However, though the publisher had a large collection of scores, they did not have the B Minor Mass.

In September 1824, Beethoven wrote to the composer and music publisher Hans Georg Nägeli, again asking for a copy. Nägeli was a huge enthusiast for the B Minor Mass; he bought the manuscript of the Mass from the heir of C.P.E. Bach with the intent of editing it and publishing it, and in 1818, he published an advertisement in which he called the work, "The Greatest Musical Work of All Times and All People". Whether Nägeli ever sent any version of the Mass to Beethoven is unknown. Beethoven died in 1827; there was no copy of the Mass among his effects. Nägeli published the first half of the mass in 1833. He died in 1836. The whole mass was not published until 1854. (Rathey, 2003)

There was a read-through performance of the whole mass in Berlin in 1813. The first complete public performance of the Mass was in 1859 in Leipzig, more than a century after Bach's death.

Intermezzo with Arik

More information about Intermezzo with Arik may be found at its fan page.


The news piece that inspired this was here.

Employee Surveillance

The information here comes from They call it fun, but the digital giants are turning workers into robots, John Harris, The Guardian, Jan. 20, 2017. A more recent article in the same direction is Say Goodbye to your Desk, Rebecca Greenfield, Bloomberg News, June 28, 2017

The Singularity

I do not actually think that this kind of singularity will ever occur, and I feel entirely confident that it will not occur any time soon. But it seemed like a good subject for a villanelle,

The Panacea

My hacker daughter is fictional. The poem does accurately describe my approach to troubleshooting.


I recommend Common Knowledge: An Ethnography of Wikipedia by Dariusz Jemelniak (2014) for an in-depth discussion of the culture of Wikipedia editing.

On the dispersion and Balkanization of Computer Science education at institutes of higher learning

When I first wrote this poem, in 2017, NYU had 43 degree programs and 7 certificate programs in computer-related areas. As of 2019, it had 53 degree programs and 2 certificates. I maintain a list of the computer science-related programs at New York University

Equifax: or, Trust Betrayed

"The Fair Reporting Credit Acts". Actually, the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Poetic licence, to fit the meter.
"As the Sages warned us": Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers) 2:1.
"In China's middle kingdom": See China rates its own citizens, including online behavior Fokke Obbema et al., die Volkskraant, April 25, 2015, and many articles since.


See A Very Preliminary Analysis of DALL-E 2, by Gary Marcus, Scott Aaronson, and me.


The information here comes from The messy, secretive reality behind OpenAI's bid to save the world, by Karen Hao, Technology Review, Feb. 17, 2020.

Progress in Telephony

This poem was inspired by the article The first minute of every phone is torture now by Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, October 28, 2022. The story of how a performance of Mahler's symphony was interrupted by a cell phone at the end of the fourth movement made the front page of the NY Times.

The Domesday Book

The information in the first two sections comes from the Wikipedia articles Domesday Book and BBC Domesday Project. The information in the third section comes from No pig left out, by Alex Burghart Times Literary Supplement July 3, 2015; A Guide to Modern Domesdays by Guy Shrubsole, March 5, 2017; and The Holes in the Map: England's Unregistered Land by Anna Powell, January 11, 2019. The conjecture that a lot of land is registered to bogus owners is pure speculation on my part.


The information here is taken from the Wikipedia article Gamergate controversy.

Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace

Thanks to Ursula Martin for correcting a couple of errors in the first draft of this.

Origin Myths

Readers who are paying much too close attention may notice that I have used "truly" as padding to rhyme with "Julie" in "Tay the Chatbot", with "Bernoulli" in "Babbage and Lovelace", and now with "Cooley". I don't know why proper nouns with this particular rhyme are turning up so much.

Amazon Turns Books into Garbage

See the story What Happens after Amazon's Domination is Complete? Its Bookstore Offers Clues,, David Streitfeld, The New York Times, June 23, 2019. Also the followup story Paging Big Brother: In Amazon's Bookstore, Orwell Gets a Rewrite by David Streitfeld, The New York Times, August 19, 2019.

Amazon Chooses Speed Over Safety

See Inside Documents Show How Amazon Chose Speed Over Safety in Building Its Delivery Network, by James Bandler, Patricia Callahan, Doris Burke, Ken Bensinger and Caroline O’Donovan, ProPublica and BuzzFeed News, December 23, 2019; and Behind the Smiles: Amazon's internal injury records expose the true toll of its relentless drive for speed, Will Evans, Reveal News, November 25, 2019.

The Palantir of New Orleans

The information about the palantirs of The Lord of The Rings comes from chapter 12 of The Two Towers part I. (One small change: Gandalf says that "perhaps" they were created by Féanor.) All the information about the New Orleans program comes from the article Palantir has secretly been using New Orleans to test its predictive policing technology, Ali Winston, The Verge, Feb. 27, 2018.

In a triumph for investigative reporting, a couple of weeks after Winston's article was published, New Orleans canceled the program. See Winston's follow-up article.

The Security Breach at Verkada

For the security breach at Verkada, see Security startup Verkada hack exposes 150,000 security cameras in Tesla factories, jails, and more., Chaim Gartenberg, The Verge March 9, 2021. The raid on the hacker Tillie Kottmann by Swiss police a few days later, supposedly for some unrelated incident, is reported in A hacker who exposed Verkada’s surveillance camera snafu has been raided Sean Hollister, The Verge, March 12, 2021. See also The ACLU's discussion of the significance of the breach.

The Island of Null

A history of the Island of Null and a discussion of its significance is given in "'I think I discovered a military base in the middle of the ocean' — Null Island, the most real of fictional places by Levente Juhasz and Peter Mooney, 2022. There is a readable short article by Marie Patino in a newsletter on Bloomberg.

Incidentally, there is a movie from 1969, Latitude Zero, about "a super-advanced utopia hidden fifteen miles below sea level at the intersection of the Equator and the International Date Line" — more or less the antipodal point to Null Island.

The 37% Rule

The unnamed first-person narrator and his various dates are fictional. I give a more detailed mathematical discussion of the flaws in this algorithm being applied to dating in an article "Lousy advice to the lovelorn", Comm. ACM, December 2017.

The Digital Dark Age

There is a large literature on this; see the Wikipedia article Digital Dark Age. Also of interest is this article Most Scientific Research Data from the 1990s is Lost Forever.

The Rogues' Gallery

Thanks to Alan Frisch, Leora Morgenstern and Michael Witbrock for helpful suggestions.

The Dark Age

Thanks to my wife Bianca for a helpful suggestion here.

This is part of the collection Verses for the Information Age by Ernest Davis