The University of Southampton

Conference to make Artificial Life a reality

Published: 29 January 2008

As scientists get closer to engineering new forms of life in test tubes, the University of Southampton is set to host an international conference on Artificial Life (ALIFE XI).

The Artificial Life XI conference, which will be held in Europe for the first time ever this August, will be hosted by the Science and Engineering of Natural Systems (SENSe) group within the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science’s (ECS).

‘It is a great honour for us to host this event which celebrates its 21st anniversary this year,’ said Dr Seth Bullock from SENSe, one of the conference organisers. ‘The field is on the verge of synthesising living cells, a feat that the Artificial Life community could only dream of when it first started out in the late 80s.’

The newly-formed SENSe group, one of the leading Alife groups in the UK and Europe, is already exploring the use of biological organisation in managing large-scale computing systems and has also developed a new type of biochip encapsulating a slime mould cell.

ALIFE XI will provide an opportunity for biologists, computer scientists, physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, social scientists and technologists to get together to exchange ideas and results.

Keynote speakers include internationally leading experts such as Professor Stuart Kauffman, author of The Origins of Order, Professor Peter Schuster, the inventor with Manfred Eigen, of the quasi-species model and the hypercycle concept, 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. Topics such as artificial cells, simulating massive biological networks, exploiting biological substrates for computation and control, and deploying bio-inspired engineering, will all be addressed.

‘Our challenge is to understand the organisation of living systems via a combination of simulating existing life and building new life,’ said Dr Bullock. ‘Until recently, the term “artificial life” referred almost exclusively to computer programs, or maybe robots, but the progress being made by synthetic biologists building real cells out of real biological material means that the field is on the cusp of a major step forward, and that this conference has the potential to be a real breakthrough event’.

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