The University of Southampton

Artificial Life conference makes first visit to UK

Published: 
16 July 2008
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This year's International Conference on Artificial Life (ALIFE XI) will be held in Europe for the first time ever from 5 to 8 August.

The newly-formed Science and Engineering of Natural Systems (SENSe) group within the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) is to host the event, which will take place at the West Downs Campus in Winchester, involving 250 participants and more paper presentations than ever before.

`This is a critical time for Artificial Life,' said Dr Seth Bullock of ECS, the conference chair. `The field is on the verge of synthesising living cells, a feat that the Artificial Life community could only dream of when it started out in the late 80s.'

This year's conference has switched to a multi-track format, which has enabled almost 150 extra presentations. It has attracted hundreds of biologists, computer scientists, physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, social scientists and technologists from around the world, who will be hearing some of the latest research findings from areas such as artificial cells, the simulation of massive biological networks and exploiting biological phenomena such as slime moulds for computation and control.

Keynote speakers include internationally leading experts such as Professor Stuart Kauffman, author of The Origins of Order, Professor Peter Schuster, editor-in-chief of the journal Complexity, Professor Eva Jablonka, author of Evolution in Four Dimensions (with Marion Lamb), and Professor Andrew Ellington, a leading pioneer in the new science of synthetic biology. Professor Takashi Ikegami from the University of Tokyo will open the conference, speaking on work spanning self-organisation and autopoiesis in systems of birds, robots, children, flies, cells, and even oil droplets. The conference is unified by a focus on understanding the fundamental behavioural dynamics of embedded, embodied, evolving and adaptive systems.

'Alife is continuing to put new ideas into the common consciousness of scientists,' said Dr Bullock. 'It acts as a melting pot for rarefied specialist fields to come together to talk and learn from each other. This type of interdisciplinary exchange is critical to the development of scientists equipped for current challenges in understanding and managing complex adaptive systems such as ecologies, climate, the economy and the web. We at ECS are addressing this need through the development of new post-graduate training programmes and the creation of a new Chair in Biological Computing. I’m sure that hosting ALIFE XI at this stage will be a real shot in the arm for UK Alife research.'

One of the conference presentations will describe a new program for automatically identifying spam emails that is inspired by the human immune system; another uses the techniques of artificial life to model the development of consciousness as a by-product of the way that various modules of the brain needed to communicate with each other. An experiment with robots will also be described in which they self-assemble into larger, more complex forms, where the individual units assigned roles to themselves dynamically without recourse to a top-level plan or blueprint.

The world’s least expensive robots will also be demonstrated during the conference; constructed by undergraduate engineering students at the University of Southampton, the tiny robots learn from each other and work together as a swarm.

A series of press events will be hosted during ALIFE XI. Further details will be available early next week.

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