Programming for Serendipity

José Campos and A. Dias de Figueiredo

Serendipity, the faculty of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident, is recognized today as playing a key role in sparking innovation. It does not seem, however, to be manageable by any means, which has kept it as a relatively unexplored subject of research. This paper claims that, although it may not be possible to program serendipity, it is quite possible to program for serendipity, that is, to induce serendipitous insights through the use of computers. The paper begins by commenting on the nature of serendipity and on its relationship to conventional creativity, before it presents Max, a software agent that uses simple information retrieval techniques and heuristic search to wander on the Internet and uncover information aimed at stimulating serendipitous insights.

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