Since time immemorial, people have turned to psychics, crystal balls, the Tarot, and prophetic octopi in hopes of predicting the future. With his new app, #fortune, New York-based conceptual artist/seer Zach Gage updates the art of divination for the digital age: It’s powered by a bot that turns strangers’ public tweets into prophecies. Click a button and a little white slip of paper, like the sort you’ll find in Chinese fortune cookies, rolls out onto your smartphone screen, printed with a prediction of your future.
Gage is a little cagey about the specifics of how #fortune works, but the basics are that it’s a bot that sources strangers’ public tweets and reconstitutes them as fortunes for you. You can then post the fortunes on your own Twitter, should you feel so moved. #fortune is only the latest in a series of conceptual Twitter bots Gage has built, which began in 2009 with Best Day Ever. This bot searches Twitter daily for tweets containing the phrase “best day ever,” then retweets its favorite as its own, making for a persistently perky feed.
First developed in 2013 as a physical installation piece for a black magic-themed gallery show, Gage developed an attachment over the years to his #fortune machine. “When it’s not exhibiting, I keep it hooked up in my living-room, and every day I wake up and get my fortune. When they are funny or meaningful I post them to Twitter,” he says. This year, he decided to turn the machine into an app to make these fortunes accessible to everyone.
I asked Gage how accurate the app’s fortunes are. Has he gotten any that have come true? “Once I got one that said, ‘You will go to the bathroom and WILL come back.’ And I came back,” Gage says. “Actually, they come true all the time: ‘You will go hug a white person,’ ‘In your future I see a tumblr post that genuinely pisses you off,’ ‘You will make this statement.’ My friend recently got ‘In your future I see a couple walking a pig today’ and then it happened.”
I tried #fortune to assess Gage’s claim that the fortunes “come true all the time.” Here are five fortunes the app produced, with assessments of their accuracy.
1. “In your future I see a imbilical [sic] cords feet,” read the first unsettling prophecy. When I Googled “imbilical cords feet” and saw an image of an infant with both an umbilical cord and feet, I realized the prophecy had self-fulfilled.
2. “You will not be held responsible for the shit fit you are about to throw if these people don’t stop talking in the library.” I took this as a cue to throw a shit fit, assuming somewhere, in some library in the world, people were refusing to shut up. I was working alone in my apartment, so no one held me responsible for the shit fit I threw.
3. “You will find something better to do.” This came true when I went and ate a burrito for lunch.
4. “You will know you’re the better person for trying.” I began to “try,” and knew, instantly, that I am “the better person.”
5. “In your future I see a PUG TODAY AND you get to pet it!!!” If by “PUG” the app meant “CAT,” then this, too, came true! I pet my roommate’s cat, Admiral Ackbar, and it scratched me. But I am still waiting for the pug today.
According to my experiment, #fortune is about 80% accurate.
#fortune is now available for iOS. Download it for free (less expensive than a storefront psychic) from the iTunes store.