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Archive-name: ai-faq/alife
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Last updated: Saturday, November 18th, 1995.

                Frequently Asked Questions for

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Subject: 1. Introduction This document is intended to serve as an immediate resource for the readers of the newsgroup It is intended to be lightweight; for more detailed information, follow the references. The only abbreviation used is AL, which stands for "Artificial Life". If you would like to make an addition to the FAQ, contact the author at
Subject: 2. Table of Contents The only complete part of this FAQ is the introductory section, which contains answers to some commonly asked questions. General pointers to electronic resources are available on the FAQ-associated Web site, at: In addition, the FAQs of the following newsgroups contain quite a bit of relevant information: comp.theory.cell-automata alt.memetics These are available on the FTP server, as well as many other FTP servers. Contact for more details, or go to those newsgroups. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Part 1: Introductions and General Questions * Q1: What is Artificial Life, and where is some introductory material? * Q2: What is the purpose and charter of * Q3: How do I find/compile a particular AL program/demo? - General info on finding and compiling AL programs. - Tom Ray's Tierra. - Karl Sim's movie from SIGGRAPH/ALIFE IV. - Craig Reynolds' boids simulation. * Q4: How are Artificial Life and Artificial Intelligence related? * Q5: Where is this newsgroup archived? * Q6: Where can I get a doctorate in Artificial Life or related areas? * Q7: Where can I find information on simulating or developing the mechanics of locomotion? * Q8: I'm interested in reading up on evolutionary biology. Where do I start? * Q9: I'm looking for a particular mailing list. Does it exist, and if so, how do I find it? ------------------------------ Q1: What is Artificial Life, and where is some introductory material? What is Artificial Life? ------------------------ Biology is the scientific study of life - in principle, anyway. In practice, biology is the scientific study of life on Earth based on carbon-chain chemistry. There is nothing in its charter that restricts biology to carbon-based life; it is simply that this is the only kind of life that has been available to study. Thus, theoretical biology has long faced the fundamental obstacle that it is impossible to derive general principles from single examples. Without other examples, it is difficult to distinguish essential properties of life - properties that would be shared by any living system - from properties that may be incidental to life in principle, but which happen to be universal to life on Earth due solely to a combination of local historical accident and common genetic descent. In order to derive general theories about life, we need an ensemble of instances to generalize over. Since it is quite unlikely that alien lifeforms will present themselves to us for study in the near future, our only option is to try to create alternative life-forms ourselves - Artificial Life - literally ``life made by Man rather than by Nature.'' Artificial Life (``AL'' or ``Alife'') is the name given to a new discipline that studies "natural" life by attempting to recreate biological phenomena from scratch within computers and other "artificial" media. Alife complements the traditional analytic approach of traditional biology with a synthetic approach in which, rather than studying biological phenomena by taking apart living organisms to see how they work, one attempts to put together systems that behave like living organisms. The process of synthesis has been an extremely important tool in many disciplines. Synthetic chemistry - the ability to put together new chemical compounds not found in nature - has not only contributed enormously to our theoretical understanding of chemical phenomena, but has also allowed us to fabricate new materials and chemicals that are of great practical use for industry and technology. Artificial life amounts to the practice of ``synthetic biology'' and, by analogy with synthetic chemistry, the attempt to recreate biological phenomena in alternative media will result in not only better theoretical understanding of the phenomena under study, but also in practical applications of biological principles in the technology of computer hardware and software, mobile robots, spacecraft, medicine, nanotechnology, industrial fabrication and assembly, and other vital engineering projects. By extending the horizons of empirical research in biology beyond the territory currently circumscribed by life-as-we-know-it, the study of Artificial Life gives us access to the domain of life-as-it- could-be, and it is within this vastly larger domain that we must ground general theories of biology and in which we will discover practical and useful applications of biology in our engineering endeavors. -- Chris G. Langton Where can I find some good introductory material? ------------------------------------------------- There are several "popular science" books out there. _Artificial Life: the Quest for a New Creation_, by Steven Levy, was one of the first; Levy presents a large amount of material detailing the genesis of the field, including a description of many still-active projects. This would be my first recommendation for a newcomer. There is a World-Wide-Web page for this book at the URL M. Mitchell Waldrop's _Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos_ (ISBN 0-671-76789-5) discusses the history of complex systems study. In specific, it details the founding of the Santa Fe Institute, which is actively researching most aspects of complex systems, including Artificial Life. Rudy Rucker's _Artificial Life Lab_ has been recommended as a good way to get involved; a short review (by Wally Raisanen) is available on the FAQ-resources Web page, Finally, the book _Out of Control_ by Kevin Kelly is an *excellent* 1994 overview of technology, with an emphasis on emergent behavior and modelling life in a computer environment. A must-read for those interested in the social impact of our work, as well as those interested in a general cross-section of the entire field and related areas. ------------------------------ Q2: What is the purpose and charter of the newsgroup? The purpose of is to provide an unmoderated forum in which to discuss topics related to the field of Artificial Life, as well as providing a centralized resource base for queries regarding AL research. * Topics for discussion in the newsgroup can include, but not be limited to: -- optimization techniques (such as genetic algorithms) and modelling algorithms -- the definition of a living system and "Life" -- self-organizing systems -- the origin of life -- evolutionary learning -- the development of ecosystems -- complex system dynamics (with specific relation to living systems) -- book and software reviews (non-commercial advertisements, as well) Contact for the Request-For-Discussions posted to news.announce.newgroups. ------------------------------ Q3: How do I find/compile a particular AL program/demo? There are three good ways to find a particular AL program or demo: 1) Look at the list below, which contains references to some frequently requested programs and demos. 2) The World Wide Web resource of 'ZOOland', available at the WWW URL or off of the Artificial Life Resources WWW page mentioned above. 3) Asking on the newsgroup. Even if the people from the particular project don't actually read the newsgroup, someone who knows them probably does... Send questions about compilation (e.g. how do I compile tierra on XXX) to the author of the package, not to the newsgroup. The author's address should be included with the package; if it's not, then it's likely an unsupported package. In addition, there are quite a few topical newsgroups for specific platform; e.g. comp.unix.osf.osf1 for DEC OSF/1 questions. These are likely more helpful places to ask specific questions about platforms. How do I find... ---------------- 1. Tierra The complete source code and documentation (NOT the executables) for Tom Ray's tierra program are available via anonymous FTP at [ ] [ ] and [ ] in the directory /SOFTWARE/Tierra, file tierra.tar.Z. Tom Ray does not permit the executables to any version of tierra to be freely distributed; contact him at the e-mail address for more information. 2. Karl Sim's movie (from the ALIFE IV conference) Karl Sim's movie, presented at the ALIFE IV conference, is apparently not available. However, the SIGGRAPH movie, which shows some of the same work, is available via FTP at: 3. More information on Craig Reynold's "boids" simulation? Craig Reynold's "boids" simulation, presented at the ARTIFICIAL LIFE conference in 1987, has a page at the WWW address: ------------------------------ Q4: How are Artificial Life and Artificial Intelligence related? There is a connection between the two fields in both methodology and research. AI is much older, with conceptual work dating to 1950 and earlier, while AL coagulated in the late 1980s, when people recognized similarities in the work they were doing. AI methodologies play a large part in AL work, partly because of the recognizable similarities in the two disciplines: AI studying intelligence, AL studying life, both with an eye to usefulness and reproducibility. And, in recent years, "traditional" AI researchers have focussed on AL techniques for autonomous learning, among other things. In spite of these similarities, there are several dissimilarities. AL is grounded in biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics, while AI is pursued mainly by computer scientists, engineers, and psychologists. Also, the general philosophy of researchers in the fields seems to approach similar problems from different sides; AL from the ground up, in an attempt to study synthesis, AI from the top down, focussing on results and not implementation. [ The text above is my opinion; I welcome alternative viewpoints on the subject, of course. --Titus ] ------------------------------ Q5: Where is this newsgroup archived? is archived weekly at the CMU CS archive site; Contact for more information. In addition, an HTMLized archive of the newsgroup (and several other related newsgroups) is available: ------------------------------ Q6: Where can I get a doctorate in Artificial Life or related areas? Ben Marcotte ( has made a guide available via the WWW: ------------------------------ Q7: Where can I find information on simulating or developing the mechanics of locomotion? Here are some places to start: Karl Sims' work with evolving novel "virtual creatures" for tasks including walking, swimming, jumping and more: The work of Jessica Hodgins et al. building controllers for balanced locomotion (and other athletic tasks) for "human" characters: -- Craig Reynolds ( ------------------------------ Q8: I'm interested in reading up on some evolutionary biology. Where do I start? Charles Taylor (of UCLA) recommends the following books for people interested in evolutionary theory: Evolutionary Biology, by Douglas J. Futuyma. Evolutionary Genetics, by John Maynard Smith. From the perspective of mathematical modelling: Theory of population genetics and evolutionary ecology : an introduction, by Jonathan Roughgarden. ('bit old, but good') Principles of population genetics, by Daniel L. Hartl and Andrew G. Clark. ('a class of its own; contains ref. list') ------------------------------ Q9: I'm looking for a particular mailing list. Does it exist, and if so, how do I find it? 1. Autopoiesis: there is an autopoiesis mailing list. To subscribe, e-mail a message with "subscribe autopoiesis" in the text body to, or send "help" for more information. 2. Genetic Programming: there's a GP mailing list. To subscribe, e-mail with your name and the e-mail address with which you'd like to subscribe. If you're interested in finding other mailing lists, take a look at the FTP directory There's an exhaustive list of mailing lists there. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Before you sue my pants off for information I've misrepresented in this file, read the... Legal Necessities: This article is provided as is without any express or implied warranties. While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, the author/maintainer/contributors (take your pick) assume(s) no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein. The contents of this article reflect my opinions only and not necessarily those of my employer. And, finally, copied right off of the FAQs-about-FAQs guide, by Russ Hersch: Copyright (c) 1995 by C. Titus Brown, all rights reserved. This FAQ may be posted to any USENET newsgroup, on-line service, or BBS as long as it is posted in its entirety and includes this copyright statement. This FAQ may not be distributed for financial gain. This FAQ may not be included in commercial collections or compilations without express permission from the author. --- -- Titus Brown,

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