Tom Ray’s Hammer: Emergence and Excess in A-Life Art

Art using artificial life techniques is often founded on a desire for emergence, a desire to have novel, unexpected, or unpredictable results spring from a controlled, designed system. The author explores emergence, briefly tracing the history of debate around the term before using the work of Peter Cariani to discuss the problems involved in describing the results of computational processes as emergent. The relevance of these points to a-life art is illustrated through an imaginary software project in the form of an a-life “breeder”. Finally, the urge for emergence is considered in its most general sense as a desire that leads outside art and human design, one that might paradoxically be fulfilled by cultural and social systems themselves, rather than by the artifacts they produce.

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