Essay on Artificial Life

This essay has a total of 679 words and 4 pages.

Artificial Life


Artificial life (commonly called a-life) is the term applied collectively to attempts
being made to develop mathematical models and computer simulations of the ways in which
living organisms develop, grow, and evolve. Researchers in this burgeoning field hope to
gain deeper insights into the nature of organic life as well as into the further
possibilities of COMPUTER science and robotics (see ROBOT). A-life techniques are also
being used to explore the origins and chemical processes of metabolism. Some investigators
have even proposed that some digital "life" in computers might already be considered a
real life form.


Background
The term artificial life was coined in the 1980s by Christopher Langdon, a computer
scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Santa Fe Institute. Langdon organized
the first experimental workshop on the subject at Santa Fe in 1987. Since then other
a-life conferences have taken place, drawing increasingly wider attention and a growing
number of participants.


Theoretical studies of a-life, however, had been in progress long before the 1980s. Most
notably, the Hungarian-born U.S. mathematician John VON NEUMANN, one of the pioneers of
computer science, had begun to explore the nature of very basic a-life formats called
cellular automata (see AUTOMATA, THEORY OF) in the 1950s. Cellular automata are imaginary
mathematical "cells"-analogous to checkerboard squares-that can be made to simulate
physical processes by subjecting them to certain simple rules called algorithms (see
ALGORITHM). Before his death, von Neumann had developed a set of algorithms by which a
cellular automaton-a box shape with a very long tail-could "reproduce" itself.


Another important predecessor of a-life research was Dutch biologist Aristid Lindenmeyer.
Interested in the mathematics of plant growth, Lindenmeyer found in the 1960s that through
the use of a few basic algorithms-now called Lindenmeyer systems, or L-systems-he could
model biochemical processes as well as tracing the development of complex biological forms
such as flowers. Computer-graphics programs now make use of L-systems to yield realistic
three-dimensional images of plants.


The significance of Lindenmeyer's contribution is evident in the fact that so-called
"genetic algorithms" are now basic to research into a-life as well as many other areas of
interest. Genetic algorithms, first described by computer scientist John Holland of the
University of Michigan in the 1970s, are comparable to L-systems. A computer worker trying
to answer some question about a-life sets up a system-an algorithm-by which the computer
itself rapidly grades the multiple possible answers that it has produced to the question.
Continues for 2 more pages >>




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