[-empyre-] Re: Artificial Societies

A question for Mauro and Ken. One of the most striking things about
your works is this notion of "artificial societies." This is explicit
in Mauro's work and writing, and more implicit in Ken's, but still
present in complex / multiple agencies such as Autopoiesis. These works
(and others like them) involve interacting, and increasingly,
"communicating" agents, and take an interest in the global or emergent
properties of large groups of these agents.

But how, exactly, are these systems "societies"? If we call them that,
what does that imply for both how we view these systems, and how we
understand the societies (or whatever) we live in?

One of the strong critiques of a-life science from cultural /
anthropological scholars like Stefan Helmreich, is that in creating
"model agents," a-life science is (deliberately or not) propagating a
certain set of ideologies and values about the nature of agency (most
often, a-life agents resemble the autonomous, "free will" type subject
of liberal humanism and lassez-faire capitalism).

What are the implications of this critique for your "artificial
societies"? Can these systems be platforms for experimenting with
prospective societies (..."as it could be") or are they stuck with
reproducing society and subjectivity "as we know it?"



The term I am using, "artificial societies", is intended to describe something of different by human/animal societies. My interest is not in the ambiguity between real and artificial and I don't intend to confuse these two levels. The focus of attention is in the exploration of the RELATIONS (or reflections) that can emerge or evolve between these two worlds. Therefore I cannot claim to speak about "life as we know it".

Furthermore, when I create an a-life installation I don't pretend to elaborate a "scientific model" as the "alifers" scientists do. I try to generate a dynamic scene, or a scene frozen in its development, where I try to express an emotion of the "life in building", the "society in building". I prefer to think more about a sort of "theatre representation" instead of a pseudo-scientific modelling. One time in some paper I wrote "the art of life as it could be". I don't want to renounce my freedom of expression that I find only in the art domain. The freedom to expose scientific incoherence, imaginary, impossible and provocative worlds.

Where are the artificial societies ? Basically I would to stress the idea that the aesthetical quality of these works are grounded over the result of the composed interaction of many "individuals" and progression trough genetic evolution or cultural dynamic. In the images of "Artificial Societies" and in "Relazioni Emergenti", the accent is on the genetic mutation and emergent selection, at the contrary in "E-Sparks" the accent is the social communication using a partial behaviour emulation modelling. In all the cases any significant quality of the artwork (both aesthetical patterns either complexity of relations/reflections) are derived by social interaction between the agents and their relation with the humans. Probably in "E-Sparks" the "social architecture is more developed" and it can give a more complete answer to your question. In example in the backstage experiment described in www.plancton.com/papers/evolang.pdf it is interesting the formation of cluster of individuals which develop a dialect in respect to the main language developed by the whole society.

Likely I am not a profeet, so you cannot take these "theatre" to image new perspective for the future society. But what I try to do is to arise questions, doubts, reflections about our future and our roots. I cannot give answers, I expect each one visit my installations will find own answer to the questions I try to arise.

Finally about "liberal humanism and lassez-faire capitalism". For me it was a problem at the beginning. Studying and experimenting with alife I changed idea. In fact the idea of the evolution as "survival of the strongest" is now quite obsolete. The winning societies are that ones show ability to develop cooperation and many researchers on this field are concentrated of the emergence of cooperation. Typically this appears much more like the ability of the society to "protect the young weak" at least to give him the chance to express his innovation potential (like in the case of children care).

I work also in scientific field using alife as an optimisation tool. All researchers working in this field know that you should be able to let emerge niches of evolution in order to reach a higher level of optimisation. Typically, the emergence of niches of evolution, require some form of partial islanding which appears still again a form of protection of the weak at least for a while.

Finally an alternative way to think about evolution is consider the importance of selection induced by self-organization (i.e. Stuart Kaufman) . In this framework, an individual has success if he is functional to the self-sustenance of the ecosystem where the individual is immerged.

My conclusion is that the idea that the a-life environments are connected to a sort of "far west" village under the "survival of the strongest" law, is related to a scientific simplification applied to the evolution mechanisms. Evolution is not more the "old-fashioned Darwinism", neither the Hitlerian experiments, neither the capitalism theoretical base.

Evolution is evolution, a very complex thing. A-life studies evolution and social structures. Generally it is able to demonstrate the impossibility to control the effect of manipulation of natural genetic patrimony of our ecosystem. At least in the idea of their founders, a-life is a science of the ecology. Never I saw used a-life to demonstrate that the economic "far west" is the best.

Any case not me.


Mauro Annunziato
Plancton Art Studio

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