I’ve been reading up on the concept and practice of the upcoming Will Wright game called the Spore. It is basically a game of artificial life management, where certain designer creature made by the player can be controlled by the player to adapt and semi-evolve into more advanced forms, eventually forming cabals and civilizations until they are star-faring and space colonising force in the galaxy. There are numerous number of galaxies in the game (each composed of many, many solar systems) each inhabited (possibly) by other user created creatures all in process of evolving.
Is this an interesting practice in the field of artificial life? I doubt it on the player side, since everything is basically controlled on semi-micro level management for the most of the game. However, for the computer managed downloaded user-created creature population, how such creatures play out will be very interesting to see, and there might be many people who would spend their time observing what other creatures do and react to instead of nurturing their own (now that I think about it, I hope Will Wright paid much attention to the effects of weather and geography to the determination of the creature behavior/culture). I know I would spend much of my time doing that. A sort of infinitely malleable aquarium.
I am quite disillusioned with the approach taken by the computer-based artificial life community. While there are quite a few noble pursuits out there, most of them doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what an artificial life is, or should be. The general trend of the day is calling a thing an artificial life study for lack of a better term, rather than the intention of the thing, whether it be a search engine algorithm or a type of number generator. That is the reason why I try to stay away from the computerized practices of artificial life, instead opting for physical modelling based on replicable complex systems-based experiments happening in physical medium. Just so that there is no misunderstanding, I do believe that a type of artificial life can be achieved by the practice of computer programming. It is only that what most people seem to be doing at the moment is closer to a debate on how many angels can sit on the head of a pin, and I believe such lack of ingenuous ideas stem from lack of physical and experimental basis for the study of the actual phenomena of life. It is very depressing when the crossing of the line between the art and the science through the means of artificial life is mostly expressed through computer generated patterns of ‘organic’ looking things when there are practically infinite range of possibilities using variety of medium available to us at this moment. Life, I believe, doesn’t have to be convinced.
Will Wright’s design of the Spore is somewhat reminiscent of the disillusionment I’ve described above. The program of the Spore, at least the foundational idea of it, is very simple. Actual complexity that enriches the ‘game experience’ to the point that it is of interest to someone actively pursuing artificial life stems from the complexity of the human interaction with that simple basis. It is structured in such a way that the infinite variety of options open to those simple building blocks inevitably give rise to a type of complexity that can not be predicted in any algorithmic pattern. Thus, he is attempting to create a complex system not by act of coding a complex system, but by involving pre-existing complex system of complex environments (human beings) to simple deterministic systems. When certain feedback forms between the two wildly different systems, the outcome is nigh unpredictable, giving rise to depth and variety that cannot be replicated by any hard-coded complex system at this juncture.
Perhaps this idea of metasystem transition can be applied to variety of other platforms/mediums in the search for artificial life. I think I can already draw a rough outline of how such structure and resulting interaction is fundamental to formation of various complex systems, including the system of complex plasma.