Is Alife going Extinct?
For those who haven’t heard of it before, Alife stands for Artificial Life. Artificial life refers to a branch of science which seeks to emulate real life within computer simulation. Particularly Alife programs often look at simulating evolution, neural systems and automation systems. By emulating life in the form of small organisms (most often resembling pond life) Alife allows scientists to see how these systems function under different conditions and the results are often far off what could be expected. A great example of this is Polyworld – the link will take you to a page of videos of polyworld, I highly suggest reading some of the examples at the very bottom under “Early primitive species”.
Alife is very cool for a few reasons. For one thing, it is a perfect example of how evolution can work if the conditions are right – and it really shows you just how fast life can start to take advantage of its surroundings. More than this, I am personally a huge fan of Alife because it deals very often with the behavioral aspects of an organism. These artificial organisms show us how species evolve neural networks which favor attributes such as teamwork. Inspired by some of the Alife things I have seen I’ve even gone so far as to try and create my own evolutionary Alife program, it was quite petty compared to the work I’ve linked to, but it was a learning experience in any case.
So why do I think Alife is going extinct? Well if you search the internet for Alife you might see why. The majority of posted information on Alife programs is part of what I would describe as the “internet of the 90’s”. Websites with fairly shocking design and code, built by scientists personally back before the internet was mainstream – back when if you made a website people would come to it, no advertising required. And sadly it hasn’t seemed to continue in any main way into the internet of today. Alife is a “buzzword” which is no longer on the cutting edge, not when compared to such topics as nanorobotics, synthetic biology or even global warming.
But Alife is not dead yet and I don’t mean to impress upon you that it is – more that we should actively work towards trying to bring this field back into the mainstream, because it still has a lot of merit. Alife bridges the gap between AI and biology. It is something which is interesting, intriguing and genuinely useful. If it was brought back to the mainstream of the internet we may see it used as a way to get people interested in these fields, fields which will be drastically important in the future.
Here are a few links on alife if you want to see some more:
- Wikipedia Article!
- Efloys – a very nice java applet you can play around with to get an idea of what simple Alife is all about.
- Breve – a way to make your own alife programs, this is what i used
- Ventrella – this is exactly what we need more of and in a better way, brining Alife to the masses.