[ISEA2008] David Bouchard & Pattie Maes – Embodied Emergence: Distributed Computing Manipulatives


This paper discusses how a system comprised of simple tangible blocks can enable playful and creative experimentation with the concept of emergent behavior.

Distributed systems and the emergent properties that can arise out of simple localized interactions have fascinated scientists and artists alike for the last century. They challenge the notions of control and creativity, producing outcomes that can be beautiful, engaging and surprising at the same time.

Emergence has been central to fields such as artificial life and its artistic derivatives. It implies something novel and unanticipated, and as such can be thought of as the reward which draws the artist to explore this bottom-up approach to creation. Furthermore, systems based on emergence carry the promise to allow the creation of complex behaviour from simple elements. The notion of using emergence as a strategy to manage this complexity is very attractive in an era where technology is becoming ever more complicated.

Related Work

The last few decades have given rise to a rich body of software-based works in fields like artifi cial life and generative art, such as Brian Knepp’s Healing Series and the Emergence Engine. Comparatively, their physically embodied counterparts are still in their infancy, in part due to the complexity of building and deploying such systems. Still, a number of artists have been exploring this conceptual space: for example, see Ken Rinaldo’s Autotelematic Spider Bots, Adam Brown and Andrew Fagg’s Bions or Ping Genius Loci by Aether Architecture.

Educational tools also come to mind when discussing emergence, going back to software environments like StarLogo to more recent, tangible interfaces such as Leah Buckley’s Boda Blocks or Vincent Leclerc’s Senspectra.

David Bouchard (Canada) Biography
Pattie Maes (Belgium/USA) Biography
MIT Media Laboratory

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