upcoming seminars: Gessler and Hayles

This coming week there will be two HUMlab seminars. Both seminars will be live streamed, archived and made available as mp3 files. Should be very interesting. Also, Katherine Hayles is the first seminar speaker to do two seminars in HUMlab. Last time she was here was May 24, 2002. The stream from her 2002 talk “Computing the Human” is available here. We are happy to have her visit HUMlab again! And of course, we are looking forward to hearing Nicholas Gessler talk about artificial life and culture.

September 20, 1.15 pm CET
ALiCE – Artificial Life, Culture and Evolution
Nicholas Gessler, University of California at Los Angeles

The virtual realities of artificial life, artificial culture and evolutionary computation are changing what it means to describe, explain and understand the complex world we live in. The computer on our desktops is emblematic of a much deeper intellectual discovery: the realization that the driving force in nature, from the origin of matter to great cultural accomplishments of science and art, is computational at its core.

According to this view the world evolved from the bottom-up through the process of emergence: the assembly of increasing dynamical hierarchies of self-organization from a multitude of agents adhering to local rules who interact in complex ways to form global patterns of behavior. Simulation is the process of constructing artificial worlds. We simulate in order to imagine how things could be and to reconsider how things really are. Thus simulation can both entertain and educate. In simulation, we can transcend our own individual limited perceptions of our social and physical environments.

We take a look at the epistemology and practice behind these new sciences of complexity through small programming applications written in C++ for Windows PCs. Through this portal we gain a critical and informed perspective on the impact of computation in culture, both popular and academic, scientific and political, artistic and literary.

September 21, 1.15 pm CET
My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts
Katherine Hayles, University of California at Los Angeles

Mathematician Stephan Wolfram has recently proposed that many different kinds of complex systems, including human thought and action, can be modeled using cellular automata. These very simple computational systems have demonstrated that they are capable of generating complex patterns using simple rules. According to physicist Ed Fredkin, cellular automata underlie physical reality on a subatomic level; in his view, nature itself is software running on a Universal Computer. This presentation will look critically at these claims, asking whether we should consider them as physical models or as over-determined metaphors that would inevitably emerge in a historical period when computation is pervasive. This issue, and its proliferating implications, will be explored through Greg Egan’s print novel Permutation City, which imagines a world in which it is possible to simulate a person’s consciousness inside a computer, creating a Copy that has all the personality and memories of the original.