Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

History of the Dialector Program


Last Updated on January 16, 2021 by bricoleur

Chouette Dialector 6 Chris Marker

Dialector is now online at
The text below is reproduced from that page. French version available there as well…

HISTORY OF THE DIALECTOR PROGRAM by Agnès de Cayeux, Andrès Lozano, Annick Rivoire

Sergei Murasaki, Kosinki, Stalker Sandor, Iterovich… No matter which pseudonym we use to refer to him, Chris Marker was the first‚ the first geek, the first programmer, the one who dove into computers, graphics cards, PEEKs and POKEs, who took a bite out of the apples of Alan (Turing) and Steve (Jobs and Wozniak). Marker programmed in 64k, 128k and 256k, wielding 5.25 floppies, poetry and invention. He wrote lines and lines of Basic code on his Apple // e, c and GS, those marvelous machines of the 1980s. Marker was a genius of computer thinking, inversing algorithmic logic, dodging digital syntax and refusing the label of visionary artist : “Let’s leave that to Steve Jobs”, he wrote.

It’s 2010. Marker recalls “the good old days when you could program quickly in Applesoft Basic.” He writes about his artificial intelligence (AI) dialogue program : “DIALECTOR was the sketch of a program that was interrupted when Apple decided that programming should be reserved for professionals. What remains are a few, probably incomprehensible, fragments and a dialogue sample. The original is stored somewhere on 5.25 floppy disks that are unreadable today. I’m sure that if I had been able to continue working on it at a pace of a few lines a day, the program would have had a much richer reserve of conversation, but that’s the way it is (and if CD-ROMs… and if… and if… wrong way of thinking).”

So, more than two decades after the slow-paced writing of DIALECTOR (from 1985 to 1988, time spent on inventing the possibility of a double, an ode to immortality), Chris Marker shares his thoughts : “Translating Applesoft Basic into contemporary code is probably unimaginable‚ this could have been one of my specialties: creating within the realm of the unattainable.”

This is the story of a man, his screens, his machines and his languages. It is also our story, that of computers and of thought : Do machines think ? And the story of an unrealized dream from the 1980s, a utopia developed out of AI.

It’s 2011. Marker e-mails us a few old annotated pages of the DIALECTOR program, as well as a dialogue sample. Then he finds the infamous 5.25 floppy and sends it over. It’s version 6 of the program. Time passes.

It’s 2012. We manage to track down an Apple // machine and its person. Together we set off on this journey into the history of computer programming. The floppy is readable. Version 6 of DIALECTOR, however, won’t execute and stops at the third command line, on the image of an owl. We extract the contents of the disk and discover that all the DIALECTOR files and version 6 of the program are intact, more than 20 years after they were saved‚ a miracle in the merciless world of programmed digital obsolescence. We convert them to text format and return them to Marker the same day, as requested.

It’s 2015. We have analyzed Marker’s lines of code and translated the program originally written in Applesoft Basic into a contemporary programming language. DIALECTOR runs on our computers. History is now imaginable. We converse with the program’s protagonist, whose name is COMPUTER. We spend hours in front of the computer screen, our machines and our apples. DIALECTOR is inexhaustible, with the humor of an English-speaking cat, a New York owl and a passing face.

It’s 1988. DIALECTOR suggests the futuristic and a-mortal vision of an anachronistic computer science dedicated entirely to poetic thought. In his stab at programming, Marker wrote the future face of machines: not very spectacular and, in a way, much more terrifying. He (perhaps unintentionally) predated a model of modernist fantasy that elevates the computer network to a possible matrix world, whose elements are already in place. The static, rudimentary art of reading on screen is now devoted to the irresistible ascension of the owl‚ eternal muse of the world according to Chris.

DIALECTOR is a computer program developed by Chris Marker in Applesoft Basic on an Apple //
The version that Chris Marker sent us is version 6 of the program, written in 1988.
DIALECTOR 6 is a conversational program that also contains visual and audio elements.
The program was originally saved on a 5.25-inch floppy disk.
According to Marker’s friend and engineer Paul Lafonta, previous versions were clearly geared toward multimedia development (touch screen, interactivity, etc).

Agnès de Cayeux, Andrès Lozano, Annick Rivoire

Apple II

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Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory
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