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Generativity in essence describes a self-contained system from which its user draws an independent ability to create, generate, or produce new content unique to that system without additional help or input from the system's original creators. In semiotics or epistemology, generativity refers to a form of communication that possesses compositionality and the ability to construct complex messages. The philosopher Daniel Dennett has argued that animals cannot have wants or desires in the sense that humans do because they lack a language with compositionality and generativity. Gordon Brittan disagrees with this evaluation.

Technological generativity generally describes the quality of the Internet and modern computers that allows people unrelated to the creation and operation of either to produce content in the form of applications and in the case of the Internet, blogs. Jonathan Zittrain has expressed concern that many recent technologies such as DVR and GPS have moved away from the generative, two-way aspects of the personal computer and the Internet.

In Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, generativity is a struggle against stagnation that ascends during adulthood. Generativity in the psychosocial sense refers to the concern for establishing and guiding the next generation and is said to stem from a sense of optimism about humanity.

In computer modelling, generative models are contrasted to phenomenological models. Phenomenological models reproduce the studied phenomenon by directly capturing the dependencies between the measured/visible variables of the phenomenon. Instead, generative models reproduce the studied phenomenon by reproducing the often non-measurable/non-visible mechanisms generating (i.e., underlying, causing) the measured/visible variables of the phenomenon. Typical generative models are the probabilistic (or `Bayesian') models that aim to infer latent (or hidden) variables of the investigated phenomenon on the basis of data on the visible variables related to it.


The term "generativity" was coined by the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson in 1950 to denote "a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation." It can be defined as creativity between the generations. Generativity can be expressed in literally hundreds of ways, from raising a child to stopping a tradition of abuse, from writing a family history to starting a new organization. One can try to "make a difference" with one's life, to "give back," to "take care" of one's community and one's planet.[1]

Jonathan Zittrain defines the term, "Generativity is a system's capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences." - The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. (Pg.70)


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