AI-Enabled Teletype Live Streams Nearly Coherent Conversations

If you’ve got a working Model 33 Teletype, every project starts to look like an excuse to use it. While the hammering, whirring symphony of a teleprinter going full tilt brings to mind a simpler time of room-sized computers and 300 baud connections, it turns out that a Teletype makes a decent AI conversationalist, within the limits of AI, of course.

The Teletype machine that [Hugh Pyle] used for this interesting project, a Model 33 ASR with the paper tape reader, is a nostalgia piece that figures prominently in many of his projects. As such, [Hugh] has access to tons of Teletype documentation, so when OpenAI released their GPT-2 text generation language model, he decided to use the docs as a training set for the model, and then use the Teletype to print out text generated by the model. Initial results were about as weird as you’d expect for something trained on technical docs from the 1960s. The next step was obvious: make a chat-bot out of it and stream the results live. The teletype can be seen clattering away in the recorded stream below, using the chat history as a prompt for generating text responses, sometimes coherent, sometimes disturbing, and sometimes just plain weird.

Alas, the chat-bot and stream are only active a couple of times a week, so you’ll have to wait a bit to try it out. But it looks like a fun project, and we appreciate the mash-up of retro tech and AI. We’ve seen teleprinters revived for modern use before, both for texting and Tweeting, but this one almost has a mind of its own.

17 thoughts on “AI-Enabled Teletype Live Streams Nearly Coherent Conversations

  1. VERY cool indeed !!! I have an old Western Union Model 28KSR here, resurrected and operational for amateur radio use, very fine condition. I LOVE your mashup of current and retro TTY gear !!

      1. Agreed, it’s hard to get blank ones now :-) I do believe I have one somewhere in the attic, though…

        Back in the days of timesharing, I had a model 33 in my dorm room at University. I had coded the answerback drum with my username, a CR and my password. Auto-login! IIRC, you get 22 characters.

  2. Whoever restored that machine did a fabulous job on the print quality. That is just about as good as it gets. The 33 was not a heavy duty machine and went out of adjustment often when used for computer output duty. This has made OCR’ing (or even transcribing) source code printouts from the 70’s very challenging.

    1. Thanks Steve! First credit goes to Wayne Durkee, who did the hard parts of the restoration work. Second, it’s using a newish silk ribbon, which prints very crisply, unlike old-stock cotton ones. (New ribbons are easy to find, they’re standard typewriter-size).

  3. Great to see my old friend, the Model 33! It’s been quite a while. My school had one hooked up to an acoustic coupler. When you see ASCII 7 referred to in old tables as ‘BEL’, well, as you can hear, the Model 33 had an actual bell.

    1. Little known fact about the bell itself: it’s exactly the same size, and may actually be, a telephone bell.

      Because Teletype Corporation was a wholly owned subsidiary of Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of the Bell System.

  4. The school I went to threw several of these away. I scarfed 3 up, and got one going. I used it extensively, hooked up to a C64 via optoisolator on a current loop interface. I had several classes in NC programming with different languages, but the medium was all the same at that time: paper tape. Man, I was living. Using the C64 as a text editor, printing the text file out at 115bps, not having to wait in line at the lab to get to one of these to get my projects done….

    Just got rid of it about 5 yrs ago…

    1. I’d love to pick one up for my shop. No reason other than retro-cred, plus the smell. Oiled metal, old electronics, and the occasional whiff of ozone. Computing gear used to have soul.

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