“Unfolding Intelligence: The Art and Science of Contemporary Computation”

April 1 – 9, 2021

In our dreams, computers were meant to be humanity’s helpmeet, easing our work, enlivening our play, and amplifying our creativity. In our nightmares, they are forces of control and surveillance, their algorithms undoing democracy and enabling exploitation. “Unfolding Intelligence: The Art and Science of Contemporary Computation” gathers artists, scientists, and humanists to discuss aesthetic, technical, and critical issues pertaining to artificial intelligence (AI) and computation. The goal of this interdisciplinary conversation is to bridge popular and tech-world understandings of AI as well as domain-specific, academic, and artistic approaches. The panel discussions stage art-science encounters with the goal of mingling otherwise enclosed areas of research, allowing for new public scrutiny and creating an inclusive field of inquiry that encourages a socially engaged view of our machines.  

The four “Unfolding Intelligence” panels address the following questions: How do recent tools in computation shape the models that scientists, artists, and engineers make of the world and universe? Can artists and scientists create a world in which Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and artificial intelligence (AI) are meaningfully brought together? Can AI and software systems explain how historically recalcitrant forms of oppression persist, embedded in our technologies? Can these same agents possibly provide alternative ways of being and living together? How has computation shaped the concept of intelligence and what models for the unfolding or formation of ideas does it provide?


Full recordings of the events, panel descriptions, and more details below.

Thursday, April 1 / 5-7pm // Generative Unfoldings Opening Reception

Friday, April 2 / 9am // Deep Time & Intelligence and Unfolding Models Video Presentation Release

Monday, April 5 / 11am-12pm // Deep Time & Intelligence Livestream Q&A

Monday, April 5 / 5-6pm // Unfolding Models Livestream Q&A

Tuesday, April 6 // The Invisible College: Color Confinement by Matthew Ritchie, Video Release

Wednesday, April 7 / 11am-1pm // Bias in AI Livestream Presentations and Q&A

Thursday, April 8 / 11am-12pm // Open Systems Part One, Livestream Presentations and Q&A

Thursday, April 8 / 5-7pm // Open Systems Part Two, Livestream Presentations and Q&A

Friday, April 9 / 11am-1pm // Breakout Rooms Meet the Speakers

Parallel Programming:
Tuesday, April 6 // The Max Wasserman Forum Videos Release
Saturday, April 10 / 3-5pm // The Max Wasserman Forum Keynote

Asynchronous Programming:
Generative Unfoldings Exhibition curated by Nick Montfort
The Invisible College: Color Confinement by Matthew Ritchie

Generative Unfoldings Exhibition Opening Reception

Live Presentation and Q&A with Artists: Thursday, April 1, 2021 / 5:00–7:00pm EDT

Curated by poet and MIT professor of digital media Nick Montfort, the Generative Unfoldings exhibition is a collection of 14 generative software artworks commissioned by MIT CAST.

Generative Unfoldings jurors Sarah Rosalena Brady, Fox Harrell, Lauren Lee McCarthy, and Nick Montfort speak about what generative art is, why they find the artworks chosen for the Generative Unfoldings exhibition so compelling, and how communities come together through the practice of generative art.

Deep Time & Intelligence

Video Release: Friday, April 2, 2021
Live Q&A: Monday, April 5, 2021 / 11:00am–12:00pm EDT

How has computation shaped the concept of intelligence? What models for the unfolding in time of thought does it provide? This panel takes up the question of intelligence by addressing time scales from that of the infant to that of evolution. In the lived time of thinking and doing, rhythm and reflection interweave with anticipation and forecasting. Temporal forms, like recursion, also structure training protocols used in computational models of thinking and sensing. From a composer musician who sees the training of AI as a novel ritual form to a musicologist of paleolithic sonic intelligence and a computer scientist’s account of multi-modal sensory training inputs, this panel resituates AI within the long durée of thinking and microbursts of ingenuity called training or learning.

Convened by William Lockett.



William Lockett


Markus J. Buehler


Holly Herndon


Gary Tomlinson


Antonio Torralba

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Unfolding Models

Video Release: Friday, April 2, 2021
Live Q&A: Monday, April 5, 2021 / 5:00–6:00pm EDT

How do tools in computation shape the models that scientists, artists, and engineers make of the world and universe? From simulations of cosmic evolution to models of the unfolding of epidemics, computer and AI-aided work sees practitioners unfolding the possibilities of digital calculation and representation. In play are ways of animating theories, translating abstractions into code, and working, often collaboratively and cross-disciplinarily, across scales of structure and degrees of data resolution in order to fashion models that can force new thinking or intervention into the realms—physical, biological, social, and political—that such models represent.

Convened by Stefan Helmreich.



Stefan Helmreich


Rosa Menkman


Priyamvada Natarajan


C. Brandon Ogbunu

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The Invisible College: Color Confinement

Premiered: Tuesday, April 6, 2021 / Via e-flux

As the 2018–21 Dasha Zhukova Distinguished Visiting Artist at MIT, Matthew Ritchie has created a multi-part transmedia artwork, The Invisible CollegeThe central theme, as is often the case in Ritchie’s work, is the emergence of hidden narratives from the specific informational qualities of the site. At MIT, The Invisible College was inspired by new developments in artificial intelligence, collaborations with a multidisciplinary team of MIT faculty and students, and Sir Francis Bacon’s 1626 unfinished utopian science fiction story, New Atlantis, which proposed the first description of the scientific method, ultimately becoming the model for research institutions like MIT.

What has emerged from that confluence of ideas is a recursive reflection on experimental inquiry, embodied in a science fiction detective story, set in an evocative, almost mythological version of MIT. In Color Confinement, masked avatars embody the elementary ‘color-charged’ particles called quarks and anti-quarks. As these mysterious figures roam the almost deserted MIT campus, their activities might be read both as a meditation on the role of the masked persona in gaming and popular culture, and as a response to the masked world that defined 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more

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Bias in AI

Live Presentation and Q&A: Wednesday, April 7, 2021 / 11:00am–1:00pm EDT / Livestreamed above

It is now well known that AI systems can encode many forms of bias, including those that serve social oppression. It’s imperative for system designers to consider the impacts of such unfair biases and for users to be critically aware of them. This panel takes up this challenge through an interdisciplinary dialogue to imagine how we can design AI systems to ensure not only ethically sound systems, but systems that serve the needs of human empowerment. Specific topics include: particular forms of bias related to artificial neural network (ANN)-based approaches such as deep learning, social biases such as racism and sexism in AI systems, and the capacity of AI systems to reveal and fight unfair biases — not only to instantiate them.

Co-presented by the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality and convened by D. Fox Harrell.



D. Fox Harrell


Ruha Benjamin


Behnaz Farahi


Jon Kleinberg

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Open Systems

Part 1: Thursday, April 8, 2021 / 11:00am–12:00pm EDT
Part 2: Thursday, April 8, 2021 / 5:00–7:00pm EDT

Creative artists and scientists are already engaging ways to bring Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) together with machine learning in meaningful ways. Speakers in “Open Systems” look at alternative approaches to modeling planetary systems, often with AI but often with other computational maneuvers that might exchange singularity for intuition or reciprocity. Open systems are those concerned with how AI is only part of how we understand planet Earth, refocusing on various kinds of permeability: looking to the politics of Indigenous epistemologies as they have shaped multiple generations of new media art; to artistic interrogations of asemic writing generated by AI trained on the form and motion of primordial organisms; and to the art and science of more-than-human intelligences. From recalcitrant microbial and computational poetry to ghost-colored extraterrestrials, the systems of world building are always more than humans and their machines.

Co-presented by the MIT Transmedia Storytelling Initiative and convened by Caroline A. Jones.



Megan Frederickson


Lars Bang Larsen


Jason Edward Lewis

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Breakout Rooms

Live Interactive Event: Friday, April 9, 2021 / 11:00am–1:00pm EDT

Join us for the final session of “Unfolding Intelligence” to explore hidden threads between the presentations, exhibitions, and panel discussions that occurred during the week. Attendees will have the opportunity to join symposium speakers and artists in breakout rooms that are thematically oriented based on public discussions on social media. Follow @artsatmit and tag your questions and comments using #mitcast throughout the symposium to be part of the conversation.

Featuring 2018–21 Dasha Zhukova Distinguished Visiting Artist Matthew Ritchie and members of the project team in conversation about The Invisible College multi-part transmedia artwork.

11:00am-12:00pm EDT

CAST Collaborative Projects

The Invisible College with Matthew Ritchie, William Lockett, Shara Nova, Sarah Schwettmann, Sarah Wolozin, and Evan Ziporyn

Wet-on-Wet with Markus J. Buehler and Jenna Sutela

12:00-1:00pm EDT

Panel Crossovers

Stefan Helmreich, Behnaz Farahi, Megan Frederickson, and Gary Tomlinson

Markus J. Buehler, Jon Kleinberg, Jason Edward Lewis, William Lockett, C. Brandon Ogbunu, and Antonio Torralba

Holly Herndon, Caroline A. Jones, Priyamvada Natarajan, and Rosa Menkman


The Max Wasserman Forum

Videos Available: Tuesday, April 6, 2021 / Watch the Panels
Live Presentation and Q&A: Saturday, April 10, 2021 / 3:00–5:00pm EDT / Watch via the List Visual Arts Center

The 2021 Max Wasserman Forum, entitled Another World, brings together artists, educators, and writers at the forefront of discourse on art in the digital realm to share their deep understandings and perspectives on digital media’s potential for more radical, imaginative, and limitless expressions.

Two pre-recorded online panel discussions, What are we Building? and What are the Barriers?, address questions such as: How do digital platforms affect art and create new possibilities of what art and artists can do? What strategies are employed by artists to bridge speculative ideas and in real life encounters? What are the extended or alternative experiences provided by artists that affect human consciousness?

The Forum culminates with a live streamed closing address by Berlin-based filmmaker, visual artist Hito Steyerl.

Presented by the MIT List Visual Arts Center.


What are we Building?
Panelists: Salome Asega | Rindon Johnson  | Lawrence Lek
Moderator: Eunsong Kim

What are the Barriers?
Panelists: American Artist | Lauren Lee McCarthy
Moderator: Gloria Sutton

Wasserman Forum Keynote Speaker:

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