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Art and Artificial Life – a Primer

Abstract

It was not until the late 1980s that the term ‘Artificial Life’ arose as a descriptor of a range of (mostly) computer based research practices which sought alternatives to conventional Artificial Intelligence methods as a source of (quasi-) intelligent behavior in technological systems and artifacts. These practices included reactive and bottom-up robotics, computational systems which simulated evolutionary and genetic processes, and are range of other activities informed by biology and complexity theory. A general desire was to capture, harness or simulate the generative and ‘emergent’ qualities of ‘nature’ - of evolution, co-evolution and adaptation. ‘Emergence’ was a keyword in the discourse. Two decades later, the discourses of Artificial Life continues to have intellectual force, mystique and generative quality within the ‘computers and art’ community. This essay is an attempt to contextualise Artificial Life Art by providing an historical overview, and by providing background in the ideas which helped to form the Artificial Life movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This essay is prompted by the exhibition Emergence –Art and Artificial Life (Beall Center for Art and Technology, UCI, December 2009) which is a testament to the enduring and inspirational intellectual significance of ideas associated with Artificial Life.

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