fredag 5 augusti 2011

Artificial life conference, Paris.

Next week it’s the European Artificial Life Conference (ECAL) 2011 in Paris.

Artificial Life is an interdisciplinary undertaking that investigates the fundamental properties of living systems through the simulation and synthesis of biological entities and processes. It also attempts to design and build artificial systems that display properties of organisms, or societies of organisms, out of abiotic or virtual parts.

ECAL, the European Conference on Artificial Life, is a biennial event that alternates with the US-based Alife conference series.

Download the complete PDF program booklet (53-page, includes all the abstracts)

I borrow this!

So what is life?

Posted by 5.8. on steennewmexico

This question, of course, has to be addressed, if you want to create life from scratch. At our FLinT center in Denmark we study and implement life-like and minimal living processes in a variety of materials and systems. In particular we seek to assemble a minimal protocell, a minimal physicochemically based cell.

First a little history:

Von Neumann, the inventor of the modern computer, realized that if life is a physical process, it should be possible to implement life in other media than biochemistry. He was one of the first to propose the possibility of implementing genuine living processes in computers, robots and other media. This perspective, while still controversial, is rapidly gaining momentum in many science and engineering communities and it is the basis for our work. Ilya Prigogine reemphasized and clarified the importance of utilizing free energy fluxes to generate order in physicochemical systems through self-organization. The metabolic processes in our protocells utilize free energy to maintain local order. Our metabolism is a thermodynamic engine that locally drives our system away from equilibrium. Manfred Eigen pointed out that autocatalysis between functional physicochemical components could be a mechanism for the emergence of early life and that autocatalysis can enhance a systems ability to maintain information. All our protocellular components are autocatalytically coupled.

Now, what is minimal physicochemical life then?

There is not a generally agreed upon definition of life within the scientific community, as there is a grey zone of interesting processes between nonliving and living matter. Our work on assembling minimal physicochemical life is based on implementing systems that meets three criteria, which most modern biological life forms satisfy.

In my opinion, and from a practical point of view, a minimal living physicochemical system needs to:

  1. use free energy to convert resources from the environment into building blocks so that it can grow and reproduce,
  2. have the growth and division processes at least partly controlled by inheritable information, and
  3. allow the inheritable information to change slightly from one generation to the next, thereby permitting variation of the growth and division processes and thus allow selection and hence evolution.

How difficult can that be? Implementing these three simple criteria?

Well, I’m telling you, it’s not easy. It’s very complicated, as it takes many components to fall into place at the same time, and these components are not only of scientific nature.

For me personally, it took many years to convince any funding agency (peer review committee), that this kind of work is even possible. Secondly, we had to convince the committees that this work is worthy to spent tax payers money on: “In which sense will assembling minimal life benefit society?” Very important question, which I’ll get back to in some later blog. Only very few funding agencies give you money for basic, or curiosity driven, science.

I’ll say, getting continued funding for our activities is still, and has been, the hardest part of creating life. It’s certainly more complex than doing the science.

Secondly, due to the necessary complexities of the involved physicochemical systems, this kind of science is not a one-man activity. It takes a small village of skilled scientists from different disciplines, which gets us back to the previous point about money, as well as being able to host an exciting research environment.

Finally, and of course most importantly, it takes human wondering and amazement about why things are the way they are, as well as the courage to dream about how things could be. And it takes very good people. Without good people nothing moves. And then it takes tenacity. A dedicated effort day after day (and sometimes nights), month after month, year after year.

So don’t become a scientist unless you can’t help it. It consumes too much of you. But if you can’t help it, playing with your imagination and dreaming up new stuff, I believe is one of the most exhilarating things you can do as a human being. However, fundraising, writing grants, doing budgets, paying bills, dealing with whatever organization you are a part of, managing very smart people (herding cats), teaching, correcting exams, etc., is exhausting and can take some of the fun out of it. But that’s how it is. There are no free lunch.

3 kommentarer:

  1. Two books:
    Protocells, 2008:

    What is Life? 2000:

  2. System Immunology Models of Autopoesis
    Uri Hershberg, SIM-A
    Artificial life ultimately is the attempt to define the basic characteristics of living systems and emulate them in novel computational and physical means. In the past, the field has been greatly influenced by thinking in the fields of computational neuroscience and molecular evolution. We suggest that the immune system and computational immunology may be better starting points in the attempt to define the core concepts of living systems. Immune dynamics are by nature multiscale, ranging from the molecular through the cellular to the systemic. As such they embody the multicellular cooperativity of second order autopoetic machines, in which local unicellular interactions without specific control lead to emergent cooperation and individual multicellular integrity. SIM-A is intended to bring together experimentalists and computational immunologists with an emphasis on what would be the best way to create a common language between the different models that have been created over the past years and insure that experimentalists are a driving force of this computational effort.
    Monday 8 August, 14:30-18:30

    His earlier works seem more interesting to me.

    • Hershberg, U. (2002) Proposing a new focus for the study of natural and artificial cognitive systems, proceeding of the 2nd International Conference on Epigenetic Robotics pp.43-47.]

    • Hershberg, U. and Ninio, A. (2002) Cognitive systems and the special order of their environment, Res-systemica : European Systems Science Journal, Vol. 2, Special Issue: Proceedings of the 5th European Systems Science Congress, October 02, Crete. (

    • Hershberg, U., Louzoun, Y., Atlan, H. and Solomon, S. (2001) HIV time hierarchy: Winning the war while loosing all the battles, Physica A: Vol. 289 issue 1/2 pp.178-190, also placed on the net at (Nonlinear Sciences-Adaptation and Self Organizing Systems).

    • Hershberg, U. and Efroni, S. (2001) The immune system and other cognitive systems, Complexity, Vol. 6 issue 5 pp.14-21.


    A good presentation of primordial life. Note: chaotic is called non-linear! The chaos is much overrepresented?