Saturday, March 11, 2006

Digital Life and Evolution

In the famous Science-Fiction Hyperion book series written by Dan Simmons, the evolution of small virus programs in the Internet leads to the Infosphere. The story begins with Tom Ray’s Tierra project and ends with Artificial Intelligences, cybrids, and other virtual creatures. Is that possible ?
There is a long story of virtual ecosystems research projects : Tierra, Avida, LifeDrop and many others (left image shows a typical LifeDrop run - you can experiment it by following the LifeDrop link on the right). All these programs are based on the evolution of digital organisms by means of “digital DNA” mutations and cross-overs. Another characteristic is that these programs use a virtual machine layer between the computer operating system and the creatures. This virtual machine creates a more suitable environment for bio-inspired digital creatures and it represents also a sort of protection barrier between the system and the outside computer world. After more than a decade of research, some digital organisms are getting closer to fulfilling the definition of biological life : most of the features that biologists have said were necessary for life we can check off. These experiments raise multiple questions: What is the definition of life ? Are some of these digital creatures really alive ? Is the evolution in such systems really open-ended ? Is it possible to create digital organisms directly in the computer memory without any ecosystem simulation ? Well, I’ll try to address some of these important questions in future posts… Keep tuned.

1 comment:

Lexa said...

Interestingly enough, 'digital DNA' has now escaped into the consumer sphere too! The Sims 2 game uses it to enable Sims to pass on traits to their virtual offspring.