Kenneth Stanley's digitally-evolved car image from

In a FiveThirtyEight article, SFI Journalism Fellow Christie Aschwanden draws inspiration for her creative pursuits from the blind evolution of digital images. The central message, that creative processes should not be driven by set goals, comes out of SFI Sabbatical Visitor Kenneth Stanley’s online experiment in artificial intelligence. 

Stanley and his colleague, Joel Lehman, created a collaborative art application ( in which users can breed images from “parent” pictures through an evolutionary process. The computer scientists noticed that some the most interesting pictorial “children” resulted from seemingly unrelated parents. The unexpected appearance of these images, which could not be predicted at the outset of their creation, offers an encouraging message to those who cannot see where their creative path may be leading.

Aschwanden writes: “After reading Stanley’s book, I’ve started to think of those moments of frustration as prerequisites to creativity instead. I’ve also gained a little more faith in my messy methods. When I give myself space to let ideas percolate, good things happen naturally.”

Read the article in FiveThirtyEight (July 23, 2015)

Find Kenneth Stanley’s book on