Blog Week 18 — Ian Cheng’s Emissaries Trilogy
Artist Ian Cheng’s Emissaries project is a trilogy of simulations following the development of cognitive evolution. The trilogy focuses on three chronological but distant time periods in a fictional world. Each simulation features many procedurally generated characters or agents with a simulated consciousness. The agents react to each other and their surroundings, while trying to juggle short-term and long-term goals. While the characters make decisions and act based on simple rules, these systems create complex behaviors and indeterminacy that gives the sense of life to each of Cheng’s simulations.
Cheng describes the AI of the characters within the simulations as being “the central artistic and technical features of Emissaries”. He explores a hypothetical model of consciousness as multiple sub-consciousnesses competing for control, with each character’s AI being composed of multiple models of consciousness drawn from psychological research and simple AI models from video games.
Cheng explains that he developed this idea based on psychologist Julian Jaynes theories on the Bicameral mind — a hypothesis of a historical model of the mind which lacked self-awareness, and in which cognition was split into two parts, one which spoke (and was perceived as voices from gods), and one that followed. Jaynes suggested that human consciousness developed from this state.
Ian Cheng’s book, Emissaries Guide to Worlding, accounts his approach to creating the Emissaries trilogy. His described art-making approach reflects his hypothesis on the consciousness explored in the project — Cheng explains that he assigns different aspects of the project to different “masks” or roles, fighting for control over the direction of the work: the director, the cartoonist, the hacker, and the emissary.
The AIs are driven by the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) decision architecture developed by the military strategist John Boyd. One of Cheng’s Human AI feedback loop diagrams shows that stimuli in the external world are perceived, then the AI chooses to orient itself through either a projected desire planning script or an immediate limbic script, passing information to a decision engine, which then passes information on to the AI’s action queue. Cheng explains that the AI’s are also driven by a “slow limbic” or needs-based AI inspired by the AI of characters in the Sims videogames, where characters are driven by many needs such as hunger, rest, and desire for fun.
Ian Cheng (2015–2017) Emmisaries Trilogy: http://iancheng.com/emissaries
Ian Cheng (2018) Emissaries Guide to Worlding
Louisiana Channel (2017) Ian Cheng Interview: A Portal to Infinity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TO6Luilc4Bo&t=918s