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Mimicry for Post-digital Literacy

Mimicry for Post-digital Literacy is the tentative title for Malthe Stavning Erslev’s PhD project at the Dept. of Digital Design and Information Studies, Aarhus University. The project centers around the concept of bot-mimicry - the practice of imitating a (ro)bot imitating a human. It explores our culturally shared conceptions of AI as solidified in auto-pedagogic encounters with tech imaginaries in and through electronic literature and digital art. Specifically, the project inquires into the mimetic dance of humans imitating (ro)bots imitating humans (i.e. bot-mimiry) - and the pedagogic potential of harnessing this phenomenon as an aesthetic-mimetic approach to teaching computation(al thinking) in K-12, in collaboration with public libraries.

As a research project, Mimicry for Post-digital Literacy works through theoretical as well as practice-based methods of inquiry. That is to say, the project's research methods are as practice-based as they are traditionally academic, and the project's research outputs are as much reflected in practice projects as they are in traditionally academic (text-based) dissemination.




Project initiated in collaboration with Christian Hagelskjær From and Anders Visti.

A collaborative investiation of the dynamics of mimicry between humans, AIs, and everything in between. On August 29th, 2020, the workshop series "Mob Programming for Bot-mimicry" initiated, setting the code&share[ ] collective on a course to design and develop a platform for curious experimentation with bot-mimicry, be it a conversational game or a performative setting. We ended up hosting three sessions which led to further development in a smaller group.

Taking collaboration to the next level, the MOBBOT project approaches both design and development of the platform through the practice of mob programming - the practice of programming collectively in a group (or mob), taking turns operating the mob's single keyboard.

The platform being developed is both a feature in MSE's practice-based approach to knowledge development and an effort to create a constructive intervention, gathering design considerations for sustaining post-digital literacy through design and literature.

Literature in Digital Transformation

Literature in Digital Transformation was a project collaboration between Roskilde Libraries, Herning Libraries, Helsingør Libraries, Aarhus Municipality's Libraries, and Litteratursiden.dk.

As part of the project, MSE interned for three months, taking part in the the development of a new iteration of the Poetry Machines, and furthermore partaking in the development of a new teaching platform for digital literature. The teaching platform is the first widely available of its kind, and was based directly on previous research-based experience as well as Erslev's ongoing research into the potentials of digital literature to sustain the development of post-digital literacy in K-12.

Featured in publications


Collaboration with Mitra Azar

"DoppelGANger.agency believes that every human on Earth needs to find their algorithmic double – a first step towards a new idea of privacy concerning facial recognition and biometric technologies at large." (from project website).

The project points at raising the question of humanity’s aesthetic and emotional extinction, attempting at finding the humans in the midst of the latest technological disruption. The project is a radical and ironic gesture which mixes algorithmic art and street art, questioning the relation between online and offline world, the human and the technological.

MSE partook in early concept development, and produced the initial iterations of the project, including the iteration that was exhibited at the 2019 Havana Biennial, as part of !!!Sección A R T E (cf. http://www.nestorsire.com/act-no-22_12-04-2019/).

The Oracle from Selphie

Collaboration with Søren Pold and Jakob Fredslund, co-produced by CAVI

The Oracle from Selphie is a new layout for the Poetry Machine. The Oracle instantiates a close resemblance between ancient oracles, horoscopes, machine learning, and social media. The Oracle from Selphie lets the reader create new and unique texts from a corpus of available sentences, all of which parody the style and content of horoscopes; some sentences give statements about the reader’s current mood and thoughts, while others predict future events.

With the graphic design resembling a kitsch-like version of a social media feed, and an introductory text referencing machine learning and computational statistics, these horoscopes are put into a post-digital context. Here, it becomes evident that most of the texts we read, write, share, etc. online are highly pre-defined. The connection to ancient oracles highlights how these strange predictions often require interpretation and specific action from the recipient – the question of whether social media is mainly documentation of or template for our lives becomes evident.

MSE's interest has mainly been on the practice of invoking references to machine learning in a piece which is in no way based on machine learning techniques. In particular, MSE am interested in the way we attribute functionality to the system based on shared cultural conceptions, as embedded in tech narratives around machine learning.

Featured in publications


f-ah-n-eh-t-ih-k_m-ih-r-er [Phonetic Mirror]

f-ah-n-eh-t-ih-k_m-ih-r-er [Phonetic Mirror] is an experiment into natural language processing (NLP). It investigates the relation between corpus text and output, and it troubles notions about ‘learning’ present in machine learning discourse. Phonetic Mirror lets you build a corpus by talking to your computer – the computer only ‘knows’ the words you say to it. In addition, the Phonetic Mirror only ‘learns’ the words based on their phonetic structure – the structure individual syllables present in each word you say.

Phonetic Mirror then talks back to you, creating words (or sound poetry) based on the learned relations between phonemes. As such, Phonetic Mirror operates closer to an extracted sound-similarity than to any grammar when creating new words based on you input.

Phonetic Mirror is an investigation into the mirrored relation between person and interface: who mimics whom in this phonetic dance? To what extend are we inclined to label the program ‘natural language processing’, given that what it produce is quite far from anything we would usually consider to be NLP. The output seems to make close to no sense – though the algorithm is based on NLP-processes and ‘learns’ in a way which seems closer to that of human language acquisition: by listening to and copying the phonetics, not the grammar, of language.

*** Based on and inspired by code by Daniel Shiffman, Daniel Howe (the RiTa library for p5.js), and R. Luke DuBois (the p5.speech library).




  • A three-session workshop series at the code&share[ ] collective. See MOBBOT below.
  • A research-based one-session curriculum in digital literature. See Literature in Digital Transformation below.
  • Appearance at the 2019 Havana Biennial with the second iteration of the research-based project DoppelGANger (collaboration with Mitra Azar). See DoppelGANger below.
  • A range of scholarly publications (see Publications).