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“Computational Beings”

Multimedia Report for Computational Arts Research Module 2018-2019 
produced by: Theo Vlagkas

Actual Words: 2771

1. Intro

Machine Learning (ML), an application of Artificial Intelligence, is a recent field of study which allows computer systems to automatically learn, adapt and improve their functionality without being explicitly programmed. ML focuses on the development of computational systems that can access data and use it for learning themselves. The objective of this process is for the computer system to learn automatically how to ‘behave’ without the factor of human intervention in between. Hence, very successfully, ML has established itself in various applications and diverse fields such as healthcare, financial services, retail, art, energy, and several other ones. 

By adopting a philosophical approach and by taking ML practise into consideration, one can speculatively argue that the means of being a human is quite similar to that method. Theoretically, in a very simplistic breakdown, a person is born without a specific set of instructions and through training (family inclinations, life experiences, education, and more) adopts behaviours and skills in turn of becoming a fully sufficient being.  

What is though the meaning of being and what does it mean for one (a person, an idea, a science, or a thing) to be or to exist?

Ontology, a branch of the Metaphysics of Philosophy, deals with the nature of being and many of its subdivisions attempt to respond to the above question. In this report we will expand on Ontology and its branches, where a speculative approach will be implemented in the attempt of examining the fascinating practise of ML usage in contemporary computational audio and visual art. 

In order to analyse further the above, a novel and innovative term of autonomous “Computational Beings” is introduced which will be the main aspect of focus on this report where additional investigation will emerge and materialise.

2. Philosophy, Ontology & Branches

To begin with, and in order to understand the ideas that will be implemented, one must be accustomed with Philosophy and specifically Ontology and related-to-this-report branches of it.  

The roots of philosophy originated in ancient Greece where great minds such as Plato, Aristotle and Socrates established the foundations of this field of study. Philosophy derives from the words philos (friend) and sophia (wisdom), thus, philosophers widely considered to be the lovers of wisdom. Interestingly enough, in a nutshell, Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence. 

Conversely, nowadays, the main income of knowledge derives from sciences. Sciences are recognised as the golden standard for truth and knowledge and at a no so distant past the constitution of Church was the one providing the knowledge and the truth thru its teachings. Socrates used to say that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing; his approach embraces a very different tactic from physics or mathematics that seek to acquire knowledge. Taking that philosophical methodology into practise a philosopher must love wisdom, nevertheless he or she, not necessarily claims to have obtained it. 

Aristotle, one of the greatest intellectual protagonists of early philosophy, and the founding father of Metaphysics and consequently, Ontology, claimed that being can mean different things and that they are different ways of being. Therefore, while on one hand Ontology tries to determine the nature of being, on the other hand one of its primary goals is also to identify ways of being. 

In order for Ontologists to fully classify and categorise our reality, justify the unknown fabric that holds our cosmos together, and rationalise the purpose of existence and being they often accept the doctrine of the Ontological Argument which suggests that non-physical entities, although omnipotent, such as God exist. 

Nonetheless, by only accepting the Ontological Argument as solid knowledge and truth and by not investigating above and beyond, one would not be able to authenticate, rationalise, or explain what an autonomous being is. Hence, our focus will concentrate on two newer branches of Ontology; Metaontology and Objected-Oriented-Ontology. Having grasped the underpinning substance and elements of Ontology will be the basis of understanding its two subsequent divisions and therefore defining and constituting autonomous beings.

3. Meta-Ontological Entities

The term Metaontology has officially entered the realm of Philosophy very recently when Peter van Inwagen, a contemporary and pioneer ontologist, presented it as a tittle on one of his essays. Van Inwagen used the term to analyse Willard Van Orman Quine’s question “What is the correct methodology of Ontology?” where Berto and Plebani explain in their book “Ontology and Metaontology: A contemporary guide”: “If the key question for Ontology, as Quine told us, is ‘What is there?’, then the (twofold) key question for Metaontology is ‘What do we mean when we ask “What is there?”, and ‘What is the correct methodology of ontology?” [2015, p2].

Many ontologists and approaches suggest that the investigation of ‘being’ should concentrate on what is real or fundamental, and not simply on what is there. Surely, one can argues on that approach by taking a Quinean point of view which suggests that the answer to “What is there?”, simply ‘can be answered, moreover, in one word: “Everything” – and everyone will accept this answer as true’ [Quine, 1948].

While there are many ontological debates of the ‘entities’ that the list of beings should be consist of (referred and recognised by the field as the ontological catalogue), Quine has provided methodological rules to abide us by an ontological commitment using logical assumptions and arguments, that justifies the existence of all entities. Thus, quite inevitably, Quine’s solid analytical tools have contributed to ontology advocates efforts who have preserved and also perpetuating the Quinean metaontological tradition. By means of depleting these tools and while many Ontologists still debating if material objects should be included in our ontological catalogue or not, the ontological commitment that everything exists has prevailed over 21stcentury. Van Inwagen writes on the subject: “the metaphysics of material objects has come to be recognised as one of the most difficult parts of philosophy” [2001].

One of the most famous Quine’s mottos says: ‘No entity without identity’ and Berto and Plebani also write: “The agenda does not end here. Other entries considered by ontologists include works of art, or social objects, just to mention a few items” [2015, p11].

Hence, by using Quine’s methodology and criteria of identifying ‘What is there’ allows us to take a theoretical perspective, that ‘Everything’ exists, as a supreme proclamation, hence, assisting the research purposes of this report. Separating what is concrete and what is abstract seems to be impossible and by utilising the Quinean methods we MUST include everything and anything in the ontological catalogue as ALL exists. Therefore, by deploying the meta-ontological theory framework we consider all entities to exist and to be, thus, our catalogue, now includes beings such as numbers, ideas, experiments, colours, material objects and furthermore, in particular favourable for our examination, art, artefacts,  and computational systems and programs that are absolutely vital and necessary for the putative birth of computational entities.

4. OOO & Autonomous Agents

Object Oriented Ontology is a relative new branch of Ontology (referred to as OOO and pronounced ‘Triple O’), and is one of the key research areas that allows this intuitive and contemporary thinking in relation to material objects and more specifically art. While Meta-Ontology is the crucial key for the presence of Computational Entities in our ontological catalogue, OOO practise is the one that will allow them to qualify as autonomous agents and henceforward manifest their existence as Computational Beings. 

OOO, while still ‘fresh & different’, engage with many new concepts & ideas and has established its fundamental principles. Following the Meta-Ontology ideology and integrating it in an OOO ecosystem of thought, the Ontological Catalogue still includes everything and the term ‘object’ emerges since OOO’s main doctrine suggests  that all ‘objects’ (equivalent term for entities) must be given equal attention whether are human, non-human, natural, cultural, real or fictional. OOO divides objects in between two categories: real & sensual and advocates that (1) real objects exist albeit of if they currently affect anything else (another object), (2) sensual objects only exist in relation to some real object, (3) real objects require the presence of a sensual object in order to relate to another real object as there is no direct way of connecting or relating, and (4) it also suggests that the properties of these objects are either real or sensual. Lastly, OOO’s conception, approach and connection is closer towards aesthetics than sciences like physics, mathematics and natural sciences, thus, making it a perfect mediator of generating our autonomous program agents. 

Martin Heidegger is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential and important philosophers of the 20thcentury. Heidegger is also considered to be one of the OOO notion forefathers as through his unfinished work “Being and Time” [1927], he has succeeded in providing unique approaches to ontological questions regarding ‘Being’ and of what actually means for something to be. Graham Harman writes in his book “Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything”: “OOO defends the idea that objects – whether real, fictional, natural, artificial, human or non-human – are mutually autonomous and enter into relation only in special cases that need to be explained rather than assumed. The technical way of making this point is to say that all objects are mutually ‘withdrawn’, a term taken from Heidegger. Against the assumptions of common sense, objects cannot make direct contact with each other, but require a third term or mediator for such contact to occur” [2018, p11].

OOO is categorically not a form of materialism as it has no interest in matter; consequently and inevitably, the only distinction between a human-being, an animal, an idea, a number, a unicorn or in our field of practise and research, Computational Arts, is that the former two essential exist, nevertheless bounded, in the material world and inhere in matter, while the latter four do not. OOO consists of great theoretical ideas that have been adopted and accepted in this report and one of its main concepts indicates that all ‘objects’ real or sensual act as autonomous agents. Harman writes: (1) “While real objects exist regardless of whether we perceive or think of them, sensual objects exist only as the correlate of our acts of consciousness”[2018, p157] & (2) “Objects act because they exist, rather than existing because they act” [2018, p266].

 5. Computational Beings

Having grasped the Meta-Ontology and OOO theoretical frameworks views, one can now merge these philosophical aspects with technology, artificial intelligence, and essentially, with the origins of this examination and exploration, Machine Learning for Creative & Artistic purposes & Generative Computational Art where irrevocably, our Computational Beings are now alive, in particular owing their existence to the closing statement of the last chapter: “Objects act because they exist, rather than existing because they act”. 

Rebecca Fiebrink, a pioneer of ML artistic usage, speaks about “Computational Creativity” at one of her online lectures where she states: “I am referring to work in which ML is used to make computer systems that are capable of autonomously generating new works of music or art.” By taking this into account, computational artists who program machines to freely ‘exist’ and generate new piece of work are effectively, giving birth to Computational Beings.  

 In order to position the ideas presented in a more quantifiable manner some artistic paradigms must be presented. 

(1) Robert Henke one of the co-creators of Ableton Live,  is a German computer music artist working in the fields of audio-visual installations, music and performance; Henke says about one his latest ‘creations’, Lumière No 6 Excerpt II: “The software also generates the control signals to drive equally abstract and powerful sonic events, a multi sensorial experience of audio-visual rhythm, at times fragile and quiet, at others massive and overwhelming. Each Lumière performance is a unique and site specific real time exploration of synchronicity and divergence, of light and darkness at the limits of perception” [2014] & excerpt of his ‘creation’ can be seen on the link below:


(2) Max Cooper a prominent and prolific UK audio visual artist and live-performer says about his work: “Emergence is the story of natural laws and processes, their inherent beauty, and their action to yield the universe, us and the world we live in” [2015] & extract can be found below:



Where Mixmag magazine has commented: "One of the most striking live experiences out there." 

(3) Lastly, a very innovative artist called Actress aka Darren Cunningham has recently announced his latest project Young Paint where The Wire magazine writes: “Young Paint is described by Vinyl Factory as a “learning programme” that has used AI technology to capture and imitate the last decade of Cunningham’s output, from Hazyville (Werkdiscs, 2008) through to today. “For the first time since dialogue scripts were written or philosophised,” says the Vinyl Factory statement, “Young Paint has been captured entirely for consumer listening and testing” [2018] and work can be seen below:



Transmediale also writes on the artist for his 2019 CTM performance: “Over the course of 2018, the AI-based character has spent time programming and arranging Cunningham’s sonic palette, learning not only how to react to his work, but also to take the lead with the occasional solo” [2019]. 

Inevitably, this connection of man and machine has given life to programs and allows them to ‘exist’, to be included in our ontological catalogue, and lastly to qualify as ‘beings’; hence, ultimately acknowledging them as “Computational Beings”, in turn justifying this report’s declarations.   

6. Outro

While there are also many other philosophical branches and theoretical frameworks that have been evolved and developed recently in order to identify and bring into life ‘things’ like Alien Phenomenology & Epistemology, this report is only based in Ontology and its relevant branches. Thus, in order to conclude, one has to understand that philosophical views are not solid knowledge like maths or physics but mostly individual beliefs that arise through love for wisdom rather than the possession of it; one could speculate that because of the different human perceptions, each individual shaping their own opinions and dogmas, hence, the same applies to the ideas presented. 

Therefore, as part of the closing statement I want to freely express some ideas that cannot be accepted as valid in the means of the scientific world or as knowledge but as a personal perspective and points of view where the reader can reflect upon and make their own conclusions.

To allow the reader to ponder further I am concluding on the below three statements:

(1)   One could follow the simplistic idea of atomism that suggest All that exits, is just atoms merged in different combinations thus creating our Cosmos including all the ontological catalogue. However, that belief counteracts the ideas that have been presented to this study and it is also in contradiction of the Ontology and Metaphysics studies; therefore, while its viewpoints are mentioned, they cannot be sanctioned in this report. 

(2)   There is of course the view that has been adopted at this research, that ‘everything exists’, where it has legitimatized this report’s validity by deploying specific theoretical frameworks related to Ontology.

(3)   However, I would lastly want to address the great rivalry party of Meta-Ontology and OOO which includes all the Ontological views that embrace omnipotent entities like god, and higher powers/beings in general, by raising some philosophical queries for debate: 

(3.1) Assuming that after a person creates a ML algorithm that produces generative art, he/she then smashes their computer to the wall thus, killing the program; wouldn’t that action be similar to a ‘higher-power’ earthquake strike that demolishes buildings and brings death? 

(3.2) Another belief that ‘Fate’ exists and our lives, routes, decisions, and outcomes are corresponding to its ‘Will’ is widely accepted in many religions; the same assumption can be developed and deployed to a human-machine relationship. A “Computational Being” exists despite the fact that its Human creator could shut it down or delete it and erase it from existence at any time, similarly to what ‘Fate’s’ role is believed to play in human-beings existence.

(3.3) Most importantly, an extract from Bible, Genesis 1:27, states: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”. 

Couldn’t one claim the below for their artistic creation: ‘So Human created a Computational Being in their own image; in the image of their thoughts they created AI; ML and Art he/she created them’?

All in all, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes down to any philosophical argument where frequently, debates propagate the birth of more enquiries than the ones truly responded.

7.1 Bibliography

7.1  Annotated Bibliography

1.    Francesco Berto & Matteo Plebani. “Ontology and Metaontology: A Contemporary Guide.” Bloomsbury Academic (March 26, 2015).

Divided into parts, the first half characterizes metaontology: the discourse on the methodology of ontological inquiry, covering the main concepts, tools, and methods of the discipline, exploring the notions of being and existence, ontological commitment, paraphrase strategies, fictionalist strategies, and other metaontological questions. The second half considers a series of case studies, introducing and familiarizing the reader with concrete examples of the latest research in the field. The basic sub-fields of ontology are covered here via an accessible and captivating exposition: events, properties, universals, abstract objects, possible worlds, material beings, mereology, fictional objects. The guide's modular structure allows for a flexible approach to the subject, making it suitable for both undergraduates and postgraduates looking to better understand and apply the exciting developments and debates taking place in ontology today.

2.     Graham Harman. “Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything.” Penguin UK (June 1, 2018).

We humans tend to believe that things are only real in as much as we perceive them, an idea reinforced by modern philosophy, which privileges us as special, radically different in kind from all other objects. But as Graham Harman, one of the theory's leading exponents, shows, Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) rejects the idea of human specialness: the world, he states, is clearly not the world as manifest to humans. "To think a reality beyond our thinking is not nonsense, but obligatory." At OOO's heart is the idea that objects—whether real, fictional, natural, artificial, human, or non-human—are mutually autonomous. This core idea has significance for nearly every field of inquiry which is concerned in some way with the systematic interaction of objects, and the degree to which individual objects resist full participation in such systems. In this brilliant new introduction, Graham Harman lays out OOO's history, ideas, and impact, taking in art and literature, politics and natural science along the way. From Sherlock Holmes, unicorns, and videogames to Dadaism, Voltaire, and string theory, this book will change the way you understand everything.

7.2 Web Resources

1.     Varone, M. and Mayer, D. and Melegari, A. [no date]. What is Machine Learning? A definition. Expert Systems, Available from [Accessed 22 April 2019].

2.     Wesley Angelo, R. [2008]. The Origins and Branches of Philosophy. Wittgenstein's Logic of Language, Available from [Accessed 22 April 2019].

3.   Hylton, P. and Kemp, G. [2010]. Willard Van Orman Quine. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Available from [Accessed 04 May 2019].

4.  Bricker, P. [2014].  "Ontological Commitment". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Available from [Accessed 04 May 2019].

5. Wheeler, M. "Martin Heidegger". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Available from [Accessed 08 May 2019].

6. Hornsby, R. [no date]. What Heidegger Means by Being-in-the-World. Discussions ala Philosophy, Available from [Accessed 08 May 2019].

7. Unknown, [2014]. Robert Henke: Lumière. Ableton, Available from [Accessed 10 May 2019].

8. Cooper, M. [no date]. Emergence. Available from [Accessed 10 May 2019].

9. Unknown, [2018]. Actress unveils new label Werk_Ltd with new EP Young Paint. The Wire, Available from [Accessed 10 May 2019].

10. Unknown, [2019]. Actress + Young Paint (Live AI/AV). Transmediale , Available from [Accessed 10 May 2019].

11.Henke, R. [2014]. Lumière No 6 Excerpt II, Vimeo, Available from [Accessed 12 May 2019].

12. Cooper, M. [2015]. Max Cooper presents EMERGENCE – trailer video, Vimeo, Available from [Accessed 12 May 2019].

13. Paint, Y. [2019]. Actress + Young Paint (Live AI/AV), YouTube, Available from [Accessed 12 May 2019].