Techart Conference

| 2021 TechArt Conference |

Session 2: Algorithms and the Future of Visual Arts

Extended Imagination: AI and Collaborative Aesthetics

Finn, Ed (Arizona State University, US)


What does it mean to automate the artistic process, or to share our imagination with machine intelligence? This talk explores the consequences of creative collaboration between humans and computational systems by pursuing two features of artistic production.

The first is the central creative act of novelty or surprise, supported by chance operations, recombination, and intuition. Artists and writers have long relied on various methods to introduce randomness and unexpected juxtapositions into their work, from DaDa and Oulipo to John Cage’s chance operations. Algorithms and computational mediation produce their own forms of chance operations, such as random number generators and glitch aesthetics. But as we increasingly rely on data-driven computational models and algorithms, we confront the hard limits of potential novelty from systems that can only project into the future based on limited datasets about the past and the premise of effective computability, which embeds a form of determinism for computational systems.

The second is the fundamental cognitive faculty of imagination, which serves as the ignition system for creative work as well as anticipation, empathy, and resilience. As individuals, we expend tremendous energy imagining the world into being and reinscribing our own position in that world. But imagination only has an impact when it becomes a shared, social activity. We work together to imagine the meaning of art, and give power to abstract constructs like universities, governments, and social contracts. In the era of computation, our networks of imagination also include intelligent machines and complex algorithms. From basic scientific research to auto-complete text, we rely on computation to shape and prioritize the possibility space for human imagination.

The future of human activity will always include computation, and the great question before us is to define and improve practices of extended imagination that will allow us to collaborate and create with our machines.


Director, Center for Science and the Imagination, Arizona State University

Associate Professor, School of Arts, Media + Engineering

Associate Professor, Department of English

Affiliate Faculty: School for the Future of Innovation in Society; Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes; Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing; Human & Social Dimensions of Science & Technology; Honors College; Senior Sustainability Scholar, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; Center on the Future of War; Center for Nanotechnology and Society; Biosocial Complexity Initiative.