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Cellular Automata: Code Beyond Words

Murilo Polese, Yadira Sánchez
March 14, 2023 to April 12, 2023 (5 classes)
Section 1: Tuesdays, 12-3pm ET Section 2: Wednesdays, 12-3pm ET
Online (Zoom)
$750 Scholarships available learn more...
Applications closed on February 12, 2023

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Cellular Automata is a way of thinking about computing, natural structures, and the wider world as a group of many entities each following simple rules. In this class we will use paper, board games, computers, and more to code and play with our own cellular automata systems. This class will give us an opportunity to challenge the traditional cultures and definitions of what programming is and who it is for, and offer some critical and playful ways to imagine what else it can be.

Images courtesy of teachers, participants and class documentarians.


Course of Study

  • Week 1: Rules and initial conditions — In this week we are going to have an overview of the course and pedagogic approach. Starting by exploring the idea of reading and executing rules. We'll investigate the importance of initial conditions and discuss the relevance and problems of "pioneering" work on the field.
  • Week 2: The grid and emergent behavior — This week we are going to bump the dimensions of our systems and talk about how simple rules can produce unexpectedly complex, structured and hard to predict behavior. We'll have a quick overview on the academic history as well as some useful nomenclatures to compare and challenge classic approaches to Cellular Automata.
  • Week 3: Space as language and indeterminism — Reaching the middle of the course we'll start breaking out of the English centric world and engage with non verbal forms of designing, representing and executing rules. We'll also break from conceptions of determinism and stop assuming the computer is flawless. We'll embrace indeterminism and think of computation through the knowledge and senses of our bodies.
  • Week 4: Interconnected knowledges — The last week of lecture will focus on using Cellular Automata as a lens to read the world. We'll challenge the orthogonal grid and question what processes can and should be described as a Cellular Automaton. We end the course looking for inspiration and knowledge in the microcosmic reality of single cell organisms and discuss the perception of intention in a biochemical reality.
  • Week 5: Harvesting the digital garden — The last week of this course is going to be dedicated to reflect and organize thoughts and documentation. We'll format the work we have done and try to create interesting narratives around the topics we enjoyed the most. There will be space for comparing the past to the present and project our dreams for the future.


Time & Workload
  • Participants are expected to spend time outside of the class reading and making assignments that will require crafting physical or virtual artifacts.
  • During 5 weeks participants will document their research and assignments on a wiki that is going to be archived by SFPC. The content is going to be signed collectively in a creative commons license (attribution and non-commercial) and it may or may not be used to sprout other forms of publication.
Learning Outcomes

By taking this class, you can expect to:

  • Gain knowledge in designing and implement complex behavior based on simple rules.
  • Read and understand the world around you through the lens of Cellular Automata.
  • Develop a critical understanding of deep biases in computers and tech.


  • Paper, ruler, scissors, pen
  • Chess, checker, backgammon or any other grid based board game
  • Phone or camera to document exercises and assignments (a webcam will work)
  • Computer with browser and access to internet


  • Microprocessor (Arduino-like board or pre 90's computer), sensors and actuators
  • Knitting, crochet or weaving material
  • Microscope

Is this class for me?

This class may be for you if:

  • I want to know more about computer technology from an alternative perspective.
  • I'm interested to explore the philosophical implications of computing. I want to play with the cross section of biology, natural systems, emergence and technology.
  • I am willing to speculate and simulate different ways of thinking.
  • I'm interested in decolonizing, degrowth and solarpunk.
  • I am open to having meaningful conversations across language barriers.

This class may NOT be for you if:

  • I want to learn by receiving step by step instructions.
  • I want to take a course fully asynchronously.
  • I want to engage only theoretically.

Meet the Teachers


Murilo Polese

My name is Murilo, I am a Brazilian technologist (or a full stack developer if you prefer) profoundly interested in learning experiences and technology but also music, microscope and drawing machines.

Any pronouns · website


Yadira Sánchez

Yadira is an artist and technologist cultivating tech ecologies. They are using software, hardware and data to bring together ecological thinking and tech making as a way to co-create and deepen connections with ecosystems. Parting from her rural ubpringing, Yadira is invested in, inspired and informed by the traditional ecological knowledge of her rural community, where she will continue to co-create communitarian tech with.Yadira has been invited to present her work at the Cambridge Centre for Data Driven Discovery and the Ida B Wells Just Data Lab at Princeton University.

she/elles · website · twitter · instagram

How do I apply?

Apply Now

Applications open until Applications closed on February 12, 2023.

You can expect to hear back from us about the status of your application on February 24, 2023. Please email us at with any questions you have.

How much does it cost to attend?

For 5 classes, it costs $750 + processing fees, for a one-time payment. We also offer payment plans. Participants can schedule weekly or monthly payments of the same amount. First and last payments must be made before the start and end of class. *Processing fees apply for each payment.

SFPC processes all payments via Withfriends and Stripe. Please email if these payment options don't work for you.

Applicant FAQ

For more information about what we look for in applicants, scholarships, and other frequently asked questions, please visit our applicant FAQ.

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