Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, an unidentified serial killer in Northern California shot or stabbed five known victims and has claimed to be responsible for dozens of more killings. The killer called himself “The Zodiac Killer” in a series of cryptic notes written to Bay Area news outlets which taunted local police forces and threatened more killings if his letters weren’t published. The most mysterious feature of the letters were four cryptograms written in a unique cipher, only one of which has been decoded to date.
While professional and amateur cryptologists have spent decades attempting to crack the Zodiac Killer’s code, a powerful new tool has recently been employed in an attempt to solve the Zodiac mystery: artificial intelligence. Researchers from the University of California's Information Science Institute have developed a code-breaking algorithm they call “CARMEL” which is claimed to be capable of cracking some of the most difficult ciphers. In 2011, CARMEL was able to decode parts of the Copiale Cipher, a handwritten 18th century manuscript which was discovered to contain instructions for rituals of a German secret society known as the Oculists.
Now, CARMEL is hard at work deciphering the Zodiac Killer’s cryptograms - but that’s not all it can do. In it’s spare time, CARMEL has taken to writing its own poetry. Seriously creepy poetry. Here’s a sample from a poem CARMEL calls “Girlfriend:”
Another party started getting heavy.
And never had a little bit of Bobby,
Or something going by the name of Eddie,
And got a finger on the trigger sloppy.
Hmm. Maybe CARMEL has spent too much time thinking about serial killers. Since CARMEL is designed to interpret complicated or encoded natural human languages like the Zodiac letters, the system can work almost “in reverse” and churn out its own creepy productions. Here’s another one of CARMEL’s gems:
Snap my finger on a dinosaurs,
Catch a bullet from a lower jaw!
And when I hear the sound of thunder roars,
Fear of being blinded by the claw.
If you’re into nightmare poetry, CARMEL’s creators have set up a website where you can actually task CARMEL to create poems on demand for you within a chosen set of parameters or seed words. Here’s one based on the word “life:”
A little happy daughter Jennifer!
The children die without a fear of dying,
Never ever gonna live forever,
On the wings of love and soul undying.
While CARMEL’s poetry is a fascinating glimpse inside the mind of an artificial intelligence system, the possibility of unlocking the Zodiac Killer’s letters and discovering his identity is a much more exciting prospect.