Automata, Chaos and Emergent Behaviour

Monday, October 22, 2018 - 19:00
Algorithmic Art

This month we're very lucky to have Peter Marks talk to us about the surprising patterns and behaviour that can emerge from collections of even very simple automata.


Automata are machines or control mechanisms whose behaviour follows predetermined instructions. An automaton acts entirely according to its own rules, possibly responding to its environment, but not under external control.

In this talk, we will explore software automata and how they can be used to create art. Specifically, we will limit our consideration to deterministic finite-state automata (DFA) – entirely predictable machines with no randomness in their actions.

One might imagine that simple machines with rigid, predictable behaviour would produce boring, predictable art, but we will demonstrate that that is not the case. We will look at chaotic systems where slight variations in initial conditions yield wildly diverging outcomes. Such systems, whilst completely deterministic, are not practically predictable at all.

Though chaotic, these systems can exhibit patterns - patterns not specifically encoded, but clearly observable. This is called emergent behaviour, and allows us to create complex images and animations from simple code.

We will show how software automata are built from three programming concepts: iteration, multiplicity and interaction. We will present and explain increasingly complex automata, and finish with a hands-on session where participants will build their own automata using a framework provided.

We will use JavaScript and P5.js which has been introduced in a few previous talks. Some basic knowledge of JavaScript and P5.js will be assumed, but the material presented should be accessible to people with little programming experience. Feel free to bring a laptop and experiment yourselves during the session.


The session will start at 7pm, and you can arrive from 6.30pm. Refreshments are available including free tea and coffee. Please also sign up at skillsmatter:

Skills Matter, CodeNode

10 South Pl, London EC2M 7BT