philip lelyveld The world of entertainment technology


Ian Cheng’s videogames blend art and artificial intelligence in his first solo show at MoMA PS1.

BN-UX967_Cheng0_8SR_20170901174854 BN-UX921_201709_G_20170901164624 BN-UX908_201709_G_20170901161925Mr. Cheng, whose first museum solo show, “Ian Cheng: Emissaries,” is on view at New York’s MoMA PS1 through Sept. 24, has spent the past three years developing software that simulates animated games—with backdrops that include an ancient village nestled against a rumbling volcano, a teeming wildflower field and a spare, sandy atoll. The key distinction is that he has populated his scenes with foliage and figures who twitch and fight and feed each other in real time with no predetermined outcomes, an endless unspooling of artificial intelligence in beta mode.

At one point during the volcano simulation, Mr. Cheng said that he watched a group of villagers gang up on an outlier, kill him, drag his body into the center of town and urinate on him. “There was no algorithm for that,” he said. “It was horrifying, but it felt like a revelation since they had not been told to do anything like that.” In another simulation, he watched a pack of dogs encircle a man and repeatedly lick him, a man’s-best-friend response that was also unscripted.

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