3. Revisiting Cybernetic Serendipity
The Sackler Colloquium “Creativity and Collaboration: Revisiting Cybernetic
Serendipity” was held at the building of the National Academy of Sciences in
Washington, DC onMarch 13–14, 2018. The Colloquium celebrated the 50th
anniversary of the famed art exhibit “Cybernetic Serendipity” by
reconsidering how disciplinary partnerships could more reliably produce
breakthrough discoveries and powerful innovation. There was a diverse set of
speakers representing fresh ways of thinking about the integration of art,
design, science, and engineering.
• Although there was much interest in applying the computer to various areas of the
visual arts, few real accomplishments have been recorded until 1968. Two of the
causes for this lack of progress are technical difficulty of processing two-
dimensional images and the complexity and expense of the equipment and the
software. The explosive growth in computer graphics and automatic picture
processing technology had effects in this area in the next years.
4. Serendipity, definition
Serendipity is the occurrence and development of events by chance in
a happy or beneficial way.
The term "serendipity" is often applied to inventions made by chance
rather than intent.
Serendipity in scientific research is a special type of observation. A
researcher who discovers this unexpected effect and is able to apply
his discernment in a spirit of discovery and innovation deliberately
changes the course of research.
• Serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. There was a legend
about three princes of Serendip (old name for Ceylon) who used to travel
throughout the world and whatever was their aim or whatever they
looked for, they always found something very much better. Walpole used
the term serendipity to describe the faculty of making happy chance
5. The computer and
The exhibition Cybernetic serendipity was held in 1968, this
event allowed rethinking what was happening in digital art at
that time and giving a creative impetus to the next
In the 60s, the pioneers of computer graphics, to whom
Michael Noll belonged, worked. Noll was the first to attempt
to formulate and test an algorithmic model for creative visual
• Art, in a sense, is a random process. Generative art, defined
as art created by an algorithm, can help create highly
accurate copies of works of art. Adding randomness to
generative works makes them more human. And therefore,
you can hardly find two identical works of art. Let's take a
look at how to use randomness as a tool when creating art.
6. The example of algorithmic art
“Gaussian-Quadratic” (Michael Noll) is an
example of algorithmic art. Coordinates
along the horizontal axis are chosen by a
pseudo-random Gaussian subroutine,
while coordinates along the vertical axis
are chosen by a quadratic equation.
When a coordinate reaches the top, it is
reduced modulo 1024 to begin to climb
vertically again. “Gaussian-Quadratic”
was created in 1962-63 as the
culmination of a series of such images in
which the parameters of the algorithms
were varied. It was exhibited at the
Howard Wise Gallery in 1965 – which
determined the copyright date. The
piece was registered at the U. S.
This image “Gaussian-Quadratic”
reminded Michael Noll of Picasso’s “Ma
Jolie” which he liked at the Museum of
7. MoMA, Floor 5, 503
In this composition, Picasso takes
apart a traditional subject - a woman
holding a guitar. He composed the
figure into different planes, angles,
lines, and shadings, completely
abstracting the face. Six strings in the
center of the picture allude to the
guitar, while the triangle on the right
appears to be the woman’s elbow.
“Ma Jolie” (my pretty one), inscribed
on the bottom of the painting, is also
the nickname of Picasso’s girlfriend,
Marcelle Humbert, and the refrain
from a popular French cabaret song.
The small treble clef next to the
lettering implies Picasso’s use of
symbols and text to tell a visually
1912. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 25 3/4" (100 x 64.5 cm)
8. Both images
1912. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 25 3/4" (100 x 64.5 cm)
Michael Noll. Gaussian-Qaudratic. 1965. 8
9. Computer composition with lines
Another painting, (Piet Mondrian, Composition with Lines, 1917), Noll
approached by attempting to quasi-randomly copy an abstract painting
on a computer. This black and white painting by Mondrian dates back
to the early period when he experimented with images of vertical and
horizontal lines. Noll, in his experiment, viewed the computer as a
possible creative object, or at least as a close collaborator of the artist.
The very same painting by Mondrian is in the Kröller-Müller Museum
in the Netherlands. The depiction in the painting is being used in
accordance with fair use for educational purposes and is labeled as
Abstract Art and Geometric Art.
Through his experiment, Noll combined the fields of artificial
intelligence, cognitive psychology and philosophy, an interdisciplinary
perspective that will ultimately define the expanded field of new
11. Two pictures
One of the pictures is of a photograph of a
painting by Piet Mondrian while the other is a
photograph of a drawing made by an IBM 7094
digital computer. Which of the two do you
think was done by a computer?
Because the computer had simulated Mondrian’s schema so successfully, something he
had foreseen two years earlier, Noll felt an experiment that compared and contrasted the
two would reveal some interesting findings. The experiment that Noll was to emulate was
the famed Turing Test, an experiment that provided an early benchmark for the emerging
field of artificial intelligence.
Invented in 1950 by the father of modern computing, Alan Turing, the test objectively
verified the intelligence of a system, machine or otherwise. In the spirit of post-war
behavioral psychology, the test measured success by the number of human subjects fooled
by his machine. If a questioner could not distinguish between the human or machine
response, the machine was said to possess intelligence.
Noll’s experiment worked on the same premise, albeit to simulate or actuate human
creativity. Noll’s test involved taking xerographic copies of the two artworks and presenting
them to one hundred subjects, all who worked at the Bell Labs in a technical or non-
technical capacity. The sample taken was representative of a scientific research laboratory,
although the subjects had educational backgrounds that ranged from high school to post-
doctoral. Mimicking the Turing Test, the subjects were to identify which picture they
thought was human made and which was computer-generated. As an added dimension,
which placed the experiment somewhere between applied visual psychology and
experimental aesthetics, the questioner asked which picture they preferred.
The results showed that 59% of the subjects preferred the computer-generated image and
only 28% were able to identify correctly the picture produced by Mondrian.
13. Homage à Paul Klee
Paul Klee, Main path and byways, 1929
Frieder Nake: 13/9/65 Nr. 2. Also called “Homage à Paul Klee”. 1965
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
14. Flower Garden
MANOLO GAMBOA NAON (Argentina).
from 8,500.00 cllm, 2020 processing
Hahnemühle Photo Rag Fine Art Print
Sizes available: 50 x 50 cm or 70 x 70 cm
Gustav Klimt 1862 - 1918 BAUERNGARTEN (BLUMENGARTEN)
signed Gustav Klimt (lower right) oil on canvas 110 by 110cm.
43 1/4 by 43 1/4 in. Painted in 1907.
15. Emergence in generative art
“The game of Life. Emergence in generative art. Complex worlds from simple
• This online exhibition (Zurich, June 2020 - April 2021 ) was a tribute to the
mathematician John Horton Conway whose many gifts to the world was
his famous “Game of Life” theory popularized in a 1970 article in Scientific
American. The exibition curators included works of four generative artists:
Jared Tarbell, Alexander Reben, Kjetil Golid, and Manolo Gamboa Naon.
18. I spent a month in the jungles of Peru.
I awoke in the tent to discover this mysterious.
More of these things were found.
One ever was found in Florida in the USA.
Eventually somebody with enough patience sat and watched with.
But yeah very mysterious but the mystery was solved eventually of course.
This structure so why am I telling you a story about spiders. 18
19. Happy Place
Friends are initially placed around the
perimeter of a circle. Immediately after the
connected system is started, a rudimentary
best-fit structure takes form. Nervously, it re-
arranges its configuration as a result of the
individual desires of the nodes it is composed
The nodes are represented as squares.
Connections between nodes are shown with a
20. Jared Tarbell, Happy Place
Jared Tarbell. Happy Place. March, 2004
Happy Place renders the resulting
configuration of a system of
friendly nodes. They are
connected at random with
preferences to nodes closer.
Connections between nodes are
Nodes position themselves with
only two goals in mind:
A. Move close to friends but no
closer than some minimum
B. Distance self from non-friends
as reasonably as possible.
21. Our activity
Serendipity is a design principle for online activity that would present viewpoints that
diverge from those participants already hold.
Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein argues that such an "architecture of serendipity"
would promote a healthier democracy. Like a great city or university, "a well-
functioning information market" provides exposure to new ideas, people, and ways of
life, "Serendipity is crucial because it expands your horizons. You need that if you want
to be free."
The idea has potential application in the design of social media, information searches,
and web browsing.
• Products of art and design, such as paintings, sculpture, music, or film can directly
inspire scientists and engineers. Innovative visions of artists and designers put
demands on scientists and engineers. Playful, exploratory, iterative, and divergent
methods of art and design expand the range of their thinking. Divergent thinking
consists in finding many solutions to the same problem.
• Reichart, J. (1968). Cybernetic Serendipity: the Computer and the Arts. Studio
International, Special Issue, London. [Electronic resource] // The access mode:
• Jasia Reichart. Compart. Center of excellence digital data. http://dada.compart-
• Shneiderman B. Creativity and collaboration: Revisiting cybernetic serendipity.
PNAS February 5, 2019 116 (6) 1837-1843; first published February 4, 2019
• M. Noll. Examples of computer art. 2014.
• M.Noll. First-Hand:Early Digital Art At Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. 2017.