Emissaries, created by Ian Cheng from 2015 to 2017, is a trilogy of computer simulations that immerse their audience into an artificial ecology. The simulations appear as games that play themselves: They feature a variety of agents that interact with each other and their environment, creating an abundance of possible constellations. One of the agents, the so-called emissary, pursues narrative goals against a meaningless and random environment, embodying the narrative component of each episode. Into which direction the story unfolds and whether the emissary reaches its goals or fails to do so, remains contingent.
The narrative arch contains a speculation about the evolution of human cognition, its past and its posthuman future. It begins with the emergence of consciousness in an archaic collective (Emissary in the Squad of Gods, 2015), moves towards a near future in which an AI is bringing a human corpse back to life in order to conduct experiments (Emissary Forks at Perfection, 2015-16), and eventually ends in a dystopian future in which the AI has become a planetary immune system and looses control of the organisms it inhabits (Emissary Sunsets the Self, 2017). Among the sources that influence Emissaries are video game design, ABM simulations, cognitive science, evolutionary theory, improvisational theatre, and military strategy. Cheng speaks of his artistic practice as worlding, defined as follows: „Worlding is the unnatural art of creating an infinite game by choosing a present, storytelling its past, simulating its futures, and nurturing its changes.“ (Emissaries Guide to Worlding, 2017)
In my presentation, I will explore the world of Emissaries in a technical, discursive and aesthetic dimension, highlighting how its internal ‘AI’ is constructed, which ideas influenced it and how the aesthetic practice is reflected.

Niklas Egberts is a UX designer, researcher and writer based in Berlin.

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