Archive: February 28th, 2009

Joshua Epstein: Generative Social Science

[Readings] (02.28.09, 8:10 pm)

This book is meant as a successor to Epstein and Axtell’s Growing Artificial Societies. I was highly critical of Growing Artificial Societies due to what I found to be a lack of necessary attention and inquiry into the models used for the social simulation. In the context of this book, I think those shortcomings are meant to be seen as not the central focus, rather that different models could be plugged-in to a simulation and the simulation would do something. This book takes teh previous as a call to arms, and actually fleshes out the theory of social simulation with a large variety of examples. These are diverse and do work to serve as analytical tests of the rules that govern the simulation. In particular, there is substantial discussion of a model of the Anasazi collapse, which is compared with actual archaeological findings. A number of other simulations discuss diverse topics such as retirement, class emergence, social norms, and civil violence. A few of these suffer from the problems found in the original book, that they are abstract to a degree that they are self enclosed and cannot relate to the real world, but the several chapters that discuss the Anasazi serve to redeem this somewhat.

The use of social simulation can be seen as a way to discuss and analyze a model of social behavior. The slogan from Growing Artificial Societies suggested that “If you didn’t grow it, you didn’t explain it.” This does not mean that if you did grow it then you did explain it, but rather that the growing is necessary for explanation to be possible. The shift in focus of the book is primarily about the nature of scientific explanation, that a theory that comes from observations should be simulated to verify that theory. Computationally, this makes sense. Simulation is widely used in natural science and engineering, but rarely in social science because of the enormous complexity of human culture. The use of the computer in the simulation is not the goal, but rather the explanation is the goal (nonetheless, computation generally makes simulation easier).

The goal of these simulations is thus to test and show the emergence of certain structures via demonstration. This is similar to my work in the simulation of literary worlds, but my goal is different. My goal could be made more similar if my focus were primarily in the construction of an accurate model that reflects the author’s narrative world. As it stands, this is really a secondary goal, where my primary one is in the experience of the player. It is interesting to compare the purely emergent and generative project with the structures of drama management, where the role of a drama manager is to take control and exert influence over a simulation, while the agent based approach is about providing simple rules and letting the larger phenomena attend to themselves.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorEpstein, Joshua
TitleGenerative Social Science: Studies in Agent-Based Computational Modelling
Tagsai, simulation, social simulation, specials
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Mateas and Sengers: Narrative Intelligence

[Readings] (02.28.09, 5:53 pm)

Narrative Intelligence is a bridge between narrative and artificial intelligence. The book is a compilation of papers that touch on the theory of computation and narrative in various ways. The approach to AI is heavily influenced by Schank, particularly in the sense that to develop a computational model of something is to develop a theory of it. Working with narrative crosses many disciplinary boundaries, and borrows from several conventions of computer science. Additionally, the papers in the book borrow from many other disciplines, such as art, psychology, cultural studies, drama, and “humanistic AI”. The approaches and goals may be wildly different. Ultimately NI is many and not one, and the richness and diversity of narrative intelligence is consistent with the richness and diversity of narrative.

Jerome Bruner: The narrative construction of reality

The subject of this article is how reality is constructed. This originates as a philosophical question, namely: how does one achieve knowledge of the world? Dominan approaches to this are empirical and rationalist. Both of these assume an immutable world ready to be observed. This ties again to psychology and cognitive science. Bruner’s goals are to look at the cultural and personal dimension to constructing reality, which is very different. Bruner uses narrative as a framework for the construction of reality. To do so, he outlines ten features of narratives and outlines how they relate to this central theme:

  1. Diachronicity: Multiplicity of dimensions of time.
  2. Particularity: Narrative is about the specific and not the general. Lessons may be gained from it, but not general schemas or rules for knowledge generalization.
  3. Intention: The reader of a narrative is interested in the intentions and motivations behind the characters: reasons rather than causes.
  4. Hermeneutic composability: There is an interdependence between the whole of the story and its parts. The structure is not organized in a clear context-free tree structure.
  5. Canonicality and breach: Narratives tend to focus on breaches of canonical behavior and circumstances.
  6. Referentiality: Narrative creates an independent and internal world, where truth is defined by verisimilitude, rather than verifiability. Logic is about internal consistency, not factuality.
  7. Genericness: Narratives frequently fall into genres, which structure human plights and circumstances, and present a formula for interpreting the meanings of events and circumstances, as though they were within the genre’s model.
  8. Normativeness: Narrative is concerned with conflicts and breaches, but ultimately these result in a return to a normative state. Narrative shapes cultural legitimacy. While it may not resolve real world problems, it may articulate plights (Kermode’s “consolation of narrative”), which does not provide comfort of happy ending, it may make a plight bearable by being made understandable.
  9. Context sensitivity and negotiability: Narrative is dependent on context and its interpretation is negotiable, not absolute.
  10. Narrative accrual: Stories are put together to shape whole worlds.

Brenda Laurel: Vital narratives

Laurel’s paper is on the types of narratives found in culture and how they affect individuals’ understanding of the world. These are understood with respect to three axes: Personal relevance, strategies and outcomes, and epistemologically. Laurel reviews several kinds of narratives that are culturally present and shape the listener’s relationship to the world outside the story. There are a variety of these: religious, folk and spiritual, scientific, historical, journalistic, political and geopolitical. She challenges the tendency of many of these to generalize and provide a narrowing of ways of looking at the world, which are made more prevalent by the pervasiveness of these kinds of stories.

Steffi Domike, Michael Mateas, and Paul Vanouse: The recombinant history apparatus presents Terminal Time

This gives a general description of both the architecture of Terminal Time and its motivations. The project adopts and parodies the “cookie-cutter documentary” format, which uses presentation of historical narratives to convey presentational assertions as facts. These documentaries make use of filmic conventions of juxtaposition, the “Kuleshov effect”, to convey biases with authority. This is emphasized with an example of two documentaries, “The River Ran Red”, and “The Richest Man in the World”, which presented very different perspectives of Andrew Carnegie’s influence on the steel industry in Pittsburgh, though they used much of the same footage.

Because Terminal Time makes use of the generation of these narrative segments, it arguably lacks a preexisting bias in terms of its narrative construction. Additionally, the means for engaging with it is participatory and forum-like format, inviting interaction and then discussion. This is very different from the generally passive format of documentaries, where the viewers are not invited to be critical of the conclusions being drawn by the documentary itself. While Terminal Time does not take inherent positions on the material out of which it composes documentaries, it can be said to have a meta-intention as a critique and deconstruction of the documentary format.

The architecture of Terminal Time is quintessentially recombinant, it is not at all a simulation of a world or story, but a reordering and a presentation of one. It could perhaps be argued that it simulates a documentary alone. It uses rules of telling, but not rules of the ideological content. Instead, history is presented as content, as evidence of an ideology. History is presented as though it were the result of a systemic simulation, where the visible material was the result of a whole self-contained simulation. This format is different from simulation where, having adopted an ideology, a new history would need to be written that is the product of that model.

Chris Crawford: Assumptions underlying the Erasmatron storytelling system

An interesting observation in this essay is that the format of choice and interactivity implies a certain kind of agency within a story, and requires an action-oriented story structure. It is possible to compare Crawford’s valuing of player choice (as verbs), with other narrative domains, for instance Pride and Prejudice, where much of what a player might do is dependent on emotional responses. The role of emotional responses does not seem to be as sturdily supported as other means of interactions.

R. Raymond Lang: Story Grammars

This section describes a story generation system via grammars. The format of this consists of a world model and a story grammar. The execution of this model is through “rational intention”, which has a structure of arranging episodes. The system is still problematic because of its uninteresting world and the general vapidness of the stories. This uses emotions, but as tokens. Emotional responses need to be deeper as having an affect on characters, more than being mere justifications for behavior.

The use of story grammars also needs to address the question of human relevance. Why tell stories in the first place? Stories must have some value to somebody. Turner addresses this, but through moralizing, which is fine for what it is. Many story worlds have value and meaning in them already, and may be conveyed ironically or genuinely to convey authorial intent.

Andrew Stern: Virutal Babyz

Stern’s discussion presents Petz and Babyz as narrative systems, but I do not think that is accurate as a general structure (nor should it be). Rather, it is a simulation system, composed of many pieces, which may then emerge into narratives. They contain a degree of flexibility, ambiguity and cartoon referentiality that helps scaffold narrative emergence. Dimensions of emergence can come from long and short term behaviors, but primarily live in the head of the user. This raises the question of how a simulation system needs to be “pre-loaded” with a narrative basis.

Pheobe Sengers: Schizophrenia and narrative in artificial agents

Sengers presents the problems of agents as that they miss a narrative dimension to their interactions. This problem is similar to the handling of schizophrenics by psychiatrists. Schizophrenics suffer from a certain lack of narrative consistency in their behavior, they see themselves as machine-like, composed of many pieces that do not quite work together, often very painfully so. However the psychiatric institution seeks to mechanize the treatment for them, looking at their symptoms individually as separate problems to be diagnosed. The state of the schizophrenic is one of dissociation, mechanization, and a lack of interrelation between behaviors.

Sengers argues that the problems suffered by schizophrenics are eerily similar to the problems experienced by AI controlled agents. They are jumbles of behaviors and systems, that often do not quite come together. An agent’s plans might shift when one goals is dropped in favor of another. To seek a resolution to this problem, she turns to look at the anti-psychiatric movement which suggested a change in treatment for schizophrenics. This movement sought to instead of looking at patients as being composed of symptoms, to look at them as phenomenological wholes, and constructed narratives in the process of working through problems. Sengers uses this as a rationalization to look at agents narratively.

To compose agents narratively, Sengers observes: “if humans understand intentional behavior by organizing it into narrative, then our agents will be more ‘intentionally comprehensible’ if they provide narrative cues.” (p. 266) Sengers identifies three main principles for a narrative agent architecture, which is strongly supportive of the work I have done so far:

  • Context-sensitivity and negotiability: Meaning of events is dependent on context, and is subject to interpretation on the part of the observer.
  • Intentional state entailment: In addition to seeing what is being done, it is important to see why it is being done.
  • Diachronicity: Events and behaviors take place over time, an agent cannot change its behaviors quickly according to what is optimal.

Another interesting observation is that behaviors should be as simple as possible, with minimal cues. The observer should be assumed to do most of the interpretation. The implementation of this system involves a system of signifiers and transitions, rather than plans.

Philip E. Agre: Writing and Representation

Agre is looking to expand and establish the relationship between writing and representation as problematic. A lot of this is oriented toward understanding the contextual dependence of writing, and challenging the idea of world models. He explains that people make symbolic representations as a process of interpretation, and the interpretation of a text is dependent on setting, it is never simply transplanted.

For the most part, the given texts are instructions: recipes, directions, toner loading procedures, and instructions of how to observe a performance. These are not understood properly until given the right contextualization. The problem and content of a text does not lie within the text itself, but rather in identifying the situation, and determining how to connect the situation to the text in the correct way. While Agre is opposed to world models, I have to raise the question of what is the heart of situational understanding? How does one relate a situation to a narrative? I think that model theory is sufficient to handle these circumstances, by abstracting situational cues and elements. The text requires a situational model to be understood.

It is best to see a model as a lens, and not as a miniature.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorMateas, Michael and Sengers, Pheobe
TitleNarrative Intelligence
Tagsspecials, digital media, ai, narrative
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Michel Foucault: Archaeology of Knowledge

[Readings] (02.28.09, 4:30 pm)

It is difficult to summarize Foucault, and I shall do my best here. Archaeology of Knowledge can be thought of as Foucault’s take on epistemology. This is important because he makes several observations and comes to several conclusions that are particularly relevant for the interpretation and adaptation of texts. His interest is focused primarily in the history of sciences, especially medicine, and how history may be understood in a manner that is detached from structuralism.


The opening of the Archaeology of Knowledge is on the pattern of the study of history. This is composed of both seeing things as unified and discontinuous. Ordinary approaches to history both have ways of viewing history as being discontinuous, separated into ostensible and coherent units, broken by periods of changes. For example: wars, successions of rulers, emergence of technologies, and so on. However, these serve to establish a kind of continuity and regularity in the structures that provide for the divisions. Looking at history broken up according to who is the ruler of a country fragments time, but also underscores a regularity in the discourse of rulership.

A common theme in historical study is “the questioning of the document.” History works to turn monuments into documents, and makes monuments out of documents. This terminology is especially evocative and sets the current for Foucault’s spatial metaphors. A monument is a permanant formation that has a geographic and temporal presence, and it also has a boundary and territory. Within the spaces of knowledge, many monuments may be seen. The document analogy is interesting in comparison to works of fiction, especially under the lens of adaptation, because it gives these adaptations (and reproductions) a quality like relics, where a piece of the monument is picked up and moved, brought to a new terrain, and disseminated.

The Unities of Discourse

The initial goal here is to do away with conceptions that impose artificial notions or continuities that are seen in history. These sorts of ideas are things such as the influence of a work, or its means of propagation. For example, common organizations and groupings are an oeuvre, a notion, a theory. Another pervasive idea is the “spirit” of a work or works, which is especially insubstantial. Foucault suggests that we should let go of these notions, to be able to let go of artificial continuities. These could also be seen as structures or models. Foucault is splitting them up, but to what degree?

The category of the oeuvre is ambiguous and non-homogeneous. Even the boundaries of a single book become ill-defined. Foucault seems to take the direction of resolving this by treating a text as a node in a network, though, that idea of a node still implies some identity. This seems to suggest a sort of Deleuzian connectionism. I suggest that rather than seeing a text or work as a unitary node, we might see it as a constellation that intersects with other networks.

Foucault moves toward a linguistic direction, to approach knowledge, we must adopt a discourse oriented model of thinking. Larger structures are made out of coherent units, which are statements. I think this is problematic in that statements are meaningless outside of a systemic context. Foucault does address the issue of context, and establish it as an important dimension to what is being studied, but the focus on the statement is still intrinsically problematic.

Discursive Formations

The subject here appears to be the contextualization of the meaning of statements within larger systems or discourses. Foucault asks how these discourses are characterized. He lays out four theories of how to group statements, explaining that each of them are intrinsically flawed:

  1. Object. Statements are grouped according to the common objects they discuss.
  2. Style. Statements are common if they are described in the same way.
  3. Hypothesis. Statements are similar when they share common concepts and assumptions.
  4. Theme.

The contrary approach which is developed uses systems of division and dispersion, given by conditions of existence and rules of formation.

The Formation of Objects

This section describes that objects are formed on three layers: surfaces of emergence, authorities of delineation, and grids of specification. The metaphor is very spatial, but has the characteristic of a mathematical manifold. Over time, the texture and slope of the landscape is changing. Objects are bound by relations (discursive relations). The character of objects is not in their form, but in “rules immanent in a practice,” a combination of terms that interestingly combines concepts from Deleuze and model theory.

The Formation of Enunciative Modalities

The understanding of discourse is changed to the understanding of speech. In the context of a statement, the statement has a single speaker, who might exist within or be speaking from an institutional site. The purpose of this analysis is to look at conventional and established discourses and institutions, such as medicine.

The Formation of Concepts

Foucault is critical of traditional means of structuring and organizing concepts and knowledge. These are characterized by several observations. The traditional approach to concepts is given by succession; fields of presence, concomitance, and memory; and procedures of intervention. He asserts that with a more general approach, the structure is less clear.

Foucault wishes to stand back and understand the format of a discourse in terms of its laws and rules at a preconceptual level. Model theory is clearly a preconceptual level, in that it has assumptions and rules, not for conducting the modeling, but for seeing things as being able to be modeled.

Remarks and Consequences

The relations and structures of a discourse reside within the system of the discourse itself. This is interesting to compare with mathematical axioms and completeness. The discourse is self feeding and reinforcing in a way that that can be inescapable. To participate in a discourse is thus to propagate it.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorFoucault, Michel
TitleArchaeology of Knowledge
Tagsspecials, media theory, linguistics, philosophy
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