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Artificial life - John C. Kirk

Dec. 16th, 2003

10:16 pm - Artificial life

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I've been reading "The Blind Watchmaker" over the last couple of days - I haven't finished it yet, but I've now got up to the section that deals with biomorphs (which is relevant to my intended MSc project). It all looks quite interesting, from a personal point of view. My only concern is the "So what?" question that my project management book mentioned a few times. I'm not entirely sure how useful this stuff actually is, in the wider sense. But that's not a major issue at the moment.

When Dawkins talks about computer simulations, he says that he'd like to design a realistic system, but it's beyond his skills as a programmer, and beyond the capabilities of his hardware. This was written in 1986, so I obviously have a more powerful computer available to me, and I'm confident in my abilities as a programmer, so this is the type of comment that sets off "ding ding!" noises in my head. On the other hand, as it's been a while since this book was published, I think it's fair to say that I wouldn't exactly be doing groundbreaking work here, i.e. there are are other people who have already progressed Dawkins' ideas.

He then says that the important point is to simulate non-random death. One of my favourite Dork Tower refers to "the Sims". I have a suspicion that my project may well wind up going in the same direction. "Ok, so we have a stable ecology here. Time for some global warming - let's crank up the heat a few notches! Hmm, ok, you can all handle that. Well done. But can you handle ... a tidal wave? Mu-ha-ha!" Designing a "Ming the Merciless" interface (buttons for hail, hurricane, etc.) would be an optional extra.

This in turn makes me think about the Lone Power from Diane Duane's Wizardry books (which I've been reading recently, aside from the latest one which isn't out in paperback yet). The idea is that this Power introduced death/entropy into the universe, and this is generally considered to be a bad thing. Maybe it does have an up side after all...

I think some relevant examples from science fiction series on TV would be the Shadows in Babylon 5 and the DS9 episode "The Begotten" (where Odo sort of becomes a father).

Comments:

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From:bazzalisk
Date:December 17th, 2003 06:48 am (UTC)
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take a look at a computer program called "Creatures".
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From:sulkyblue
Date:December 17th, 2003 09:04 am (UTC)
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Nod, that was supposed to be the peak of artificial inteligence for a commercial/gaming environment a while ago. It was renowned for doing unexpected things whether they're true or not I don't know.

On that level of AI there's also things like the bots in various games - Unreal Tournament etc and things like WETA's Massive Engine that generated the armies of middle earth.
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From:bazzalisk
Date:December 17th, 2003 10:39 am (UTC)
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It certainly did do some odd things.

The example I know of best was the random mutation which caused one guy's norns to be able to digest the aging toxin ... essentialy they were immortal. Produced some *very* strange results.

You could also produce some very weird things by cloning and duplicating norns, saving them and restoring them generations later, etc ...
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From:johnckirk
Date:December 17th, 2003 05:06 pm (UTC)

Creatures

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I actually bought a copy of "Creatures" when it first came out (back in 1996/1997), after I'd seen loads of rave reviews for it in computer magazines. Lots of people had said things like "It's amazingly addictive, and when I fell asleep in front of the computer, it kept going on its own, and I woke up 8 hours later to find some really amazing stuff on the screen". However, I never got anywhere with it, so it was rather disappointing. Still, it would probably be a good idea to dig it out and have another bash at it. Or alternately, buy a more recent copy (I know that there was at least one sequel to it).
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