How A Digital Ecosytem Relates To OUR Umwelt
Following on from my earlier post concerning how we might consider digital interactions with an ecosophical mindset I figured I would turn my attention to some projects which resonate with this conception.
One of the most relevant is the Augmented Reality Artificial Life event which featured in Tokyo Planetart New Media Festival earlier this year.
The outbreak of virtual life is the result of the launch of an augmented reality (AR) version of the classic “Game of Life” principle, originally developed in 1970 by British mathematician John Horton Conway. For decades, virtual organisms have been living an ‘artificial life’ in 2D grids on computers worldwide. Their movements and evolution based on a number of mathematical rules and a set of initial inputs.
Through mobile augmented reality technology (Layar) this ‘artificial life form’ now enters the physical space, thereby becoming a lot less ‘artificial’. Walking amid the artificial life forms you create is possible using an iPhone or Android phone, which provides access to the parallel universe of locative virtual space. New experimental creations can be launched in public space and the geographical distribution and evolution of life forms created can be closely monitored, as well as the dynamics and confrontations within this multi-user 3D version of Conway’s game.
I like this one because it actually speaks of the dissonance between our complex interactions and those that govern the ecology of cellular automata: we are trying to map a simple set of rules over a terrain which is exceedinly more complex than those rules. And of course the inverse could be said of our considerations of digital technology, a key press, a touch screen swipe, our simple interactions bely a host of complex events underneath. This harks back to what I mentioned previously about “there being no single world in which all living beings are situated”. However the caveat with considering the digital technology in a parallel manner is that it elides how the average interface interaction are hierarchical in origin, not emergent like CA (and presumably the social milieux which we inhabit).
I believe ruminating on these matters in important to what shape the final installation of this project will take. We will ultimately be designing a space wherein machines as agents respond to human agents per a range of rules we stipulate. Were we to aspire for an instantiation that allowed the scope for generative randomness which can be exhibited even within Conways game of life we could have a very interesting exhibition space from our perspective, but one which might be meaningless for the audience attending the exhibit. For me this is the conundrum of interactive media art: the anticipted immediacy on the part of the audience.
I feel like something of that tension is well illustrated by Evan Merz’s Black Allegheny, one of the first albums made up entirely of swarm generated music:
The software assembles music using concepts from the AI subfield of swarm intelligence. I place a number of agents on the graph and, rather than dictating their motions from a top-down rule-based approach, the music grows in a bottom-up fashion based on local decisions made by each agent. Each agent has preferences that determine their movement around the graph. These values dictate how likely the agent is to move toward food, how likely the agent is to move toward the swarm, and how likely the performer is to avoid the predator.
There is indeed a bottom up development of sound herein but there is also elements of top down conceptions which make this music meaningful. There is scant detail about this project available but I would imagine that constraints were placed on what triggered a note (likely indicated by those blue rectangles moving about the grid). This skirts quite close to areas sketched by Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova in their account of simulation via ALife programs in Heat-Death: Emergence And Control In Genetic Engineering And Artificial Life, something I hope to elaborate on in due course.