Christiane M. Herr’s Paper Proposal

Cellular Automata Between Speculation and Utility

The first Cellular Automata (CA) systems were developed by mathematicians Stanislav Ulam and John von Neumann as explorations of the spatio-temporal dynamics of simple rules executed in parallel within cellular assemblies. The discrete spatial and temporal model of CA presented a new type of platform to describe and model growth processes, which were difficult to accommodate by other mathematical means. From their initial conception as playful “mathematical games” by Ulam and Schrandt, the objectives of CA research however shifted to the more utilitarian purposes of describing, controlling and predicting within the frameworks of science and engineering. Contemporary CA may be characterized within two main lines of research, following on from early developments: In one line of research, CA are typically employed as tools with predictable output, whereas in the other line of research, CA are employed as platforms for exploration and speculation. The first approach is typically embraced within the sciences and engineering, where CA systems have for example been used to simulate and predict biological as well as physical processes. The second approach can be found in pure mathematics and in design-related fields, where intricate patterns generated by CA systems are appreciated for their spatial qualities.

In the proposed paper I link the two ways of conceiving CA systems briefly outlined above to different cybernetic models: The first, application-focused approach can be described with reference to first order cybernetics, while the second, exploration-focused approach can be characterized through second order cybernetics. The proposed paper traces cybernetic aspects in both lines of CA research, including linear and circular causality, the role of the observer, and recursion or feedback. The paper in particular presents more recent CA research within design related fields and seeks to show the potential of second order cybernetics to inform design-based speculative CA research.

The paper relates to Traditions of Cybernetics 3, 1 and 7 and could be presented in either paper session.

Cybernetic traditions:

  • 1) Computer science; AI; robotics
  • 3) Experimental epistemology; constructivism; philosophy of science

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