EMAR 391.003 (445): Creative Machines - Fall 2023

Description Schedule Resources Grading Policies References


Clockwise from left: Harold Cohen - AARON (1972-2016), Architecture Machine Group - SEEK (1969-70), Jonathan Schipper - Detritus (2013), Maria Yablonina - Mobile Robotic Fabrication System for Filament Structures (2015), Allison Kudla - Capacity For Urban Eden - Human Error (2010)


This course draws on skills from intermediate coursework in Emerging Media Arts. Students integrate multiple computational tools to create creative machines. Students will learn key ideas from systems art, cybernetics, and computational creativity, and apply these to the development of self-guided projects.

Final projects will demonstrate generative, interactive, and computational techniques at an advanced undergraduate level.


Learning Goals

Prequisites: any one of the following EMAR 345 Smart Environments, EMAR 349 Machine Learning for the Arts, EMAR 342 Principles of Interactivity, or EMAR 446 Digital Fabrication and Physical Computing.


Course Schedule

(Subject to Change-Always check back for most up to date information)

For Fall 2023 we will study Creative Machines in the context of Robotics for the first half of the semester.

Week Topic
1 Introduction
- Syllabus and Policies; Course Structure;
- identifying with machines / machine avatars
- Define terms: creativity, machines, creative machines; creative attributes
- three ways to control the XArm (demonstration, blockly, python, omniverse)
- HW Paper Machine
- Reading Harold Cohen. 1999. Colouring without seeing: a problem in machine creativity. AISB quarterly 102: 26–35.
2 Pretense
- Small groups: share paper machines
- Plotting activity: analyze and diagram the dimensions of creative space; plot your machine;
- Pick and place with blockly + XArm
- Assign HW2 Pick and Place
- Assign Reading John McCarthy Ascribing Mental Qualities to Machines (1979)
3 Strong AI, Motion Control
- Discuss McCarthy Reading: Machine as metaphor; the project of strong AI
- Camera Robots and Dollies
- Camera mounts and camera control;
- HW Install Rhino Grasshopper; do tutorials. Complete Part 1 of your H3 Bot and Dolly: Robotic Camera Control
- Reading Rodney Brooks Elephants Don’t Play Chess (1990)
4 Real-Time Control and Camera Work
- Special guest Isaac Regier (Heartland Robotics Cluster): UR-10 and grasshopper Robots plugin;
- In-class work on Robotic Camera Control
5 Creative / Destructive Machines
- Share and discuss Bot and Dolly homeworks
- Creative / Destructive Machines
- Tooltips / end effectors
- Assign HW End Effectors
- Assign Reading Destructive Machines: [1] Tinguely, Homage to New York MOMA, [2] Luria et al., Destruction, Catharsis and Emotional Release in HRI (2020)
6 Affective Machines
- Discuss Reading Destructive Machines
- Present + Discuss HW End Effectors
- Introduce Affective Machines (Picard Affective Computing; Breazeal Sociable Robots; others)
- Assign Midterm Project My Elegant Robot Freedom
- Reading Rosalind Picard “Affective Computing” MIT Technical Report 1995, Cynthia Breazeal. 2003. Emotion and sociable humanoid robots. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 59, 1: 119–155.
7-8 Work time Midterm Project
- Independent check-in
- Reading Bruce Sterling, My Elegant Robot Freedom from Hello, Robot (2015)
9 Theories of Creativity
- Recenter on creativity
- Brief introduction to Margaret Boden (P- and H- type creativity; combinatoric, exploratory, transformative; novelty; which of these can AI do?);
- Guiding questions for this course: What is creativity and what are its attributes? can there be such a thing as a creative machine?
- Assign Reading Margaret Boden Creativity and AI (1998)
10 Conceptual Machines
- Critique
- Conceptual Machines (share and discuss)
- Reading Conceptual Machines (Sol Lewitt Paragraphs on Conceptual Art)
- Assign HW Conceptual machine
11 Collaboration and Co-Creation
- Discuss Reading Conceptual Machines;
- Introduce Computational Co-Creativity: 4 Ps (Rhodes), 5 As (Glăveanu), 5Cs (Kantosalo and Takala)
- Examples of Computational Co-Creation
- Reading Anna Kantosalo and Tapio Takala. 2020. “Five C’s for Human–Computer Co-Creativity: An Update on Classical Creativity Perspectives”. In Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on Computational Creativity, 17–24
12 Desiring Machines
- Playtest HW Conceptual Machines
- Introduce Desiring Machines
- Assign Reading Deleuze and Guattari Balance sheet-program for desiring-machines (1977)
- Assign Final Project: your Creative Machine
13 Healing Machines
- Critique HW Conceptual Machines
- Reading Kelly E. (Kelly Elizabeth) Dobson. 2007. Machine therapy. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
14 Project Work and Individualized Readings
- Project completion time
- Readings: How to structure a project; How to write a proposal; How to pitch.
- Readings: Texts and artworks supporting individual project directions.
- Exercise: Final project development; critiques; reading responses
15 Exhibition/Showcase
-Preparing final report
-Final critiques; Open Studios.
Finals Submit final documentation and report.

Course Grading Policy

Graded activities

*Work will be evaluated on the quality of concept, the degree of experimentation (both aesthetic and technical), and final realization (again, aesthetic and technical). Prompts and rubrics will be provided with more specific details regarding each assignment and breakdowns.

Description of Assignments and Exams

Weekly Exercises Regular small assignments employing tools, techniques, and ideas covered in class. These are short activities with clearly stated creative prompts and technical requirements. Projects will be graded on satisfactory completion with additional credit for creative, technical, expressive extension beyond requirements.

Projects We will have one (or more) projects covering concepts from the introductory portion of the class. Each project will have a formal proposal; students will maintain code and design files for their work; students will document their result. Projects will be presented and critiqued in class. Documentation will be submitted for grading.

Final Project, Documentation, and Presentation For the end of the semester you will propose and create a self-directed Creative Machines project engaging tools, materials, and subjects from class. You may build off of examples that excited you from the course, or explore a topic of interest that we have not covered in class. The format, workflow, and submission of this project will follow the process of the midterm. In Week 15 we will have a showcase for these projects, including a short talk and exhibition of the resulting work.

Participation Contributions to class discussions and active participation in critiques and workshops are essential to the momentum of the course and the development of your ideas. This requires that you come to class prepared (having completed assigned reading or exercises), and ready to participate in class activities. Bring finished work for in-class crtiqiues. See the participation evaluation in the Grading Scale below for more information.

Grading Scale

A+ = 96.67-100 | A = 93.33-96.67 | A- = 90-93.33
B+ = 86.66-90 | B = 83.33-86.67 | B- = 80-83.33
C+ = 76.67-80 | C = 73.33-76.67 | C- = 70-73.33
D+ = 66.67-70 | D = 63.33-66.67 | D- = 60-63.33
F = below 60%

Here is a description of the kind of participation in the course that would earn you an A, B, C, etc. Your instructor may use pluses and minuses to reflect your participation more fairly, but this is a general description for each letter grade.

A – Excellent

Excellent participation is marked by near-perfect attendance and rigorous preparation for class work. You respond to questions and activities with enthusiasm and insight and you listen and respond thoughtfully to your peers. You submit assignments on time, adhering to posted requirements, and demonstrate a thorough engagement with the assignment. You respond creatively to any feedback you receive (from both your peers and instructor). You are an active contributor to classroom community.

B – Good
Good participation is marked by near-perfect attendance and thorough preparation for class. You respond to questions with specificity and make active contributions to class. You submit assignments on time, and demonstrate a thorough engagement with the assignment. You respond effectively to the feedback you receive (from both your peers and instructor). You are a regular and reliable contributor to classroom community.

C – Satisfactory
Satisfactory participation is marked by regular attendance and preparation for class. You respond to questions when prompted and participate in classroom activities, though you may sometimes be distracted. You are present in class, with few absences, and have done some of the work some of the time. You submit assignments and make some efforts toward revision proposals and final submission. You are involved in classroom activities, but you offer minimal feedback and you may not always contribute fully to classroom community.

D – Unsatisfactory
Unsatisfactory participation is marked by multiple absences from class and a consistent lack of preparation. You may regularly be distracted by materials/technology not directly related to class. You submit late or incomplete work. You are absent for classroom activities, or do not work cooperatively in collaborative environments.

Failing participation is marked by excessive absences, a habitual lack of preparation, and failure to engage in classroom activities and development processes.


Course-specific policies and rules.

Attendance Late Work Other People’s Code UNL Course Policies and Resources


On-time attendance is required as well as work inside and outside of section. Please notify your instructor in advance if you must be absent for illness or family emergency. Any absences must be cleared with the instructor, or justified with written documentation (e.g. letter from team, etc.). We do not differentiate between mental and physical health and in either case please be in communication for when you need to take a day off. After a student misses a week’s worth of classes each subsequent missed class will result in the reduction of the final grade by a full letter grade (i.e., A to B, B- to C-) Excessive tardiness or leaving early will also impact your grade and will follow the same rubric.

Please also note the JCSTF attendance policy:

Late Work

An assignment may receive an F if a student does not participate in every phase of the development of the project and meet all deadlines for preliminary materials (proposals, drafts, work in progress, etc.). Failure to submit any of the graded course assignments is grounds for failure in the course. If a final draft or project, plus required addenda, is not submitted in class on the date due, it will be considered late and will lose one 5% for each day or part of a day past due (A to B, etc.). Assignments are due in class and via online submission, as specified in assignment descriptions. Any late submissions must be approved by your faculty instructor well in advance of the due date.

Other People’s Code

We will use many open source projects to make our work. It is ok to use others’ code. However, you need to cite your sources, and you need to do transformative work/make it your own.

UNL Course Policies and Resources

Students are responsible for knowing the university policies and resources found on this page (https://go.unl.edu/coursepolicies):

Land Acknowledgment

We acknowledge that the University of Nebraska is a land-grant institution with campuses and programs on the past, present, and future homelands of the Pawnee, Ponca, Oto-Missouria, Omaha, Dakota, Lakota, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kaw Peoples, as well as the relocated Ho-Chunk, Iowa, and Sac and Fox Peoples. Please take a moment to consider the legacies of more than 150 years of displacement, violence, settlement, and survival that bring us together here today. This acknowledgement and the centering of Indigenous Peoples is a start as we move forward together for the next 150 years