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Computer Seeks Public Response To Constitutional Questions

July 1, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Second-guessing the writers of the Constitution has been going on since the document was created 200 years ago. Starting Wednesday, the public will get a chance to tell a computer how they would answer some of the key questions faced by delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

Visitors to the National Archives will be asked questions such as, ″Should the Constitution prohibit slavery?″ and ″Should the president be elected directly by the people?″ The computer will respond with an image of an 18th- century journal entry, which explores the issue in greater detail.

The last question visitors will be asked is: ″Would you have signed the Constitution?″ The computer will keep a tally of ″yes″ and ″no″ answers.

Jill Brett, a spokeswoman for the archives, said the goal of the exhibit is to ″offer people the same dilemmas and issues faced by participants in the Constitutional Convention so they will get more of a sense of the drama. And maybe they’ll get the sense we almost didn’t have this document.″

″It’s supposed to both invoke thought and serve as a guide to what went on 200 years ago,″ she added.

The computer exhibit, a joint project of Apple Computer Inc. and Scholastic Inc., will be in the rotunda of the archives building through the end of the year.

Ms. Brett said the question-posing computer will complement two other bicentennial exhibits.

One shows the paths that led up to the writing of the Constitution. The other highlights three contemporary constitutional issues - the right to vote, the president’s war powers and the roles of the state and federal governments in school desegregation.

The archives also plans an 87-hour celebration, beginning at 6 p.m. on Sept. 13 and ending at 9 a.m. on Sept. 17, to mark the signing of the Constitution 200 years earlier. During those 87 hours, all four pages of the document will be on display. Normally, only the first and last pages of the Constitution are exhibited.

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