Digital Biota 2
The Second Annual Conference on Cyberbiology September 10-13, 1998
Last Autumn, high in the Canadian Rockies, "life as it used to be" met "life as it might become," as the Burgess Shale fossil organisms of the Middle Cambrian played host to a motley collection of palaeontologists, computer scientists, artificial lifers and organic artists. The event was Digital Biota 1, a conference to discuss nothing less than the past, present and future of life on Earth.
The talks were as eclectic as the speakers, and ranged from morphogenetic waves in nematode embryos to whether software can ever be considered genuinely alive; from the puzzle of Anomalocaris to the curious properties of the NetTierra digital ecosystem; from computational applications of evolution to the Xenobiology of conjectured alien species.
This year's follow-on event, "Digital Biota 2," is set in Cambridge, England on September 10-13, 1998, and shifts the focus more squarely onto the future. Mankind now has within its grasp the power to synthesise true artificial life, playing out Dr. Frankenstein's dream in both Cyberspace and Realspace. How far have we got, and where do we go from here? How do we go about generating complex, intelligent, perhaps even conscious living entities using software? What are the implications of success? This conference, co-titled "The Second Annual Conference on Cyberbiology," aims to find out.
In the mediaeval setting of Magdalene College, Cambridge, leading experts from the natural and computing sciences will gather to consider how best to go about fusing Biology with Machine to create the first radically new kind of life on this planet in nearly four billion years. Simple forms of these digital biota exist inside computers today, but they are little more than intellectual curiosities or amusing pets. Their successors of the near future will inhabit cyberspace and the real world, where they will carry out useful but mundane tasks that humans no longer wish to perform.
In the far distant future, our path and theirs might diverge, as they gain greater autonomy and intelligence; perhaps ultimately it will be they who keep us as pets! In the mean time, such artificial life forms are an inevitable and exciting part of the coming techno-biological revolution, in which the simple, stupid, steam-age technology of the present gives way to the more organic, adaptable and approachable technologies of the future.
Preliminary Call for Participation
Many of the more interesting properties of living systems are emergent phenomena, found only in complete organisms or communities of those organisms, not in their isolated components. Both Science and Technology therefore stand to benefit greatly from attempts to synthesise complete creatures and ecosystems of creatures. This conference focuses on the simulation of complete, multi-functional, non-trivial organisms, whose behaviour is an emergent consequence of the interactions of biologically plausible building blocks.
This conference invites participation from people who work on or are interested in such "grand syntheses." The intention is to gather specialists in relevant areas who also have a background in, or penchant for, holistic approaches. Some questions for discussion are:
How do we go about constructing complete, intelligent artificial life forms? What should their brains be like, or their physiological systems?
The first conference in this series was held in Banff, Canada in 1997, drawing participants from such diverse fields as Palaeontology, 3D Computer Graphics, Evolutionary Art and Artificial Intelligence. Last year's topics revolved around the following questions: 1) "What does the future hold for Earth's biota and will we survive our own "great experiment" with the biosphere?" 2) "In our efforts to model biological processes in software, some claim that we will initiate a 'digital Cambrian explosion' of information-based life forms inhabiting the Earth's collective compute spaces. If this occurs, what forms and direction will opportunistic digital biota take, and what will be the consequences for humanity?"
This year, the activity takes a more practical stance and looks to the near future. Rather than simply assume this process will occur spontaneously, we hope to lay out a road map for how to make it occur. Mankind is on the verge of being able to create systems worthy of description as "living things" - Digital Biota 2 is all about how to do it.
Current Confirmed Speakers
Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science, and a Professorial Fellow of New College, Oxford
Author and Chief Fantasist at The Digital Village
Professor of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto
programmer-scientist, Apple Computer Corporation
Director of Technology at CyberLife Technology, Ltd.
Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science, The University of Birmingham
Research Director and one of the founding partners of the Digital Village
professor of computer science at San Jose State University
Journalist and A-life evangelist
Development Director, CyberLife Technology, Ltd
founding director of the Contact Consortium
This year's venue is Magdalene College (pronounced "maudlin"), Cambridge, England. On the banks of the River Cam, Magdalene is a mediaeval building, dating from 1428, and was the alma mater of Samuel Pepys, whose library is housed in the college. Pepys (who was a contemporary of Isaac Newton) looks down at us from the wall of the ancient dining hall, where electricity has never been installed and dinner is served by candlelight. A perfect location for intense round-table discussions and creative thought!
Conference accommodation is provided in the college itself, which also has secluded gardens just right for informal group conversations. Just across the river are CyberLife's offices, where the technology starved will find email, technology demonstration facilities and the other comforts of modern life.
The programme is currently being finalised, but includes an exciting international guest speaker list. We aim for a congenial, round-table feel to the event where provocative, far-sighted talks are the order of the day, rather than dry, technical papers. In between talks and discussions, we plan to organise a number of social events, including a "scientific treasure hunt" around historic Cambridge and punting on the River Cam.
The spirit of Digital Biota 2 is lively, provocative discussion, rather than an unending series of stagnant presentations. We are fortunate to have guest presenters stimulating each discussion drawn from a range of backgrounds, from the US and Europe, from academia and industry.
Evening dinner lectures are provided by eminent guest speakers, with a keynote on the first night delivered by the world-renowned scientist, lecturer and author Richard Dawkins, Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.
The schedule for the conference is as follows:
|Thursday,||15:00||Registration and Official Conference Treasure Hunt|
|19:00||Keynote||Richard Dawkins||The view from real life|
|(Evening sponsored by Coopers and Lybrand)|
|21:30||Discussion and Relaxation|
||9:00||Talk||Steve Grand||Where Newton went wrong|
|9:45||Talk||Bruce Damer||How and why is life trying to get into digital space?|
|11:00||Talk||Richard Harris||Uses and function of Artificial Life|
|11:45||Talk||Sue Wilcox||State of the art - a summary|
|13:30||Talk||Larry Yeagar||The evolution of life and intelligence|
|14:15||Talk||Tom Ray||Digital biospheres|
|15:00||Reception, Demonstrations and Tea, sponsored by Scientific Generics|
|11:45||Talk||Aaron Sloman||Brains and consciousness|
|13:30||Talk||Chris Winter||Analogue: the 2nd coming|
|15:30||Social event - Punting on the River Cam|
|18:30||Keynote||Maggie Boden||The Social Implications of Artificial Life|
||9:00||Talk||Rudy Rucker||Artificial life and science fiction|
|9:45||Talk||Stuart Gold||Architecting Cyberspace|
|11:00||Closing Keynote||Chris Langton||Summing up|
Digital Biota 2 will be held in beautiful Cambridge, England. Cambridge is a short 50 minute train journey from London's King's Cross Station and 2 hours from London Heathrow Airport. Stanstead Airport is only 20 minutes away. Detailed directions will be provided but a variety of information about Cambridge and surrounding areas is available at CamNet. Railtrack provides on-line timetables.
For those who have never experienced a British summer, suffice it to say that the weather can be unpredictable, however, previous Septembers have been warm and sunny.
Information about the initiators of the series and last year's Digital Burgess conference is available at http://www.biota.org.
Conference and accomodation will be at Cambridge University's Magdelene College. Full email, fax, internet access and other trappings of modern life are available at CyberLife's modern offices directly across from the college.
For more information about Cyberbiology and its applications, there is a selection of papers, information and links available on the CyberLife website.
Enquiries should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Overview Location & Program Speakers Call for Participation Pre-registration Further Information