ALife day 5; last but not least.
I then went to the morning technical session on Artificial Chemistries, a potential substrate for ALife. We started with a talk on a novel replicator system based on a chemistry of functional combinators, with conservation of mass. The crucial design tradeoff is not to make the underlying artificial physics so strong that replication is trivial (a “copy organism” operation in the physics), nor to make it so sparse that replication is computationally infeasible. One way to strike the happy medium is to ensure the “functional units” are composed of a few “primitive units”, giving the system a small but crucial distance from the “atoms”. Next we heard about an extension of Hutton’s original replicator AChem, adding kinetics under the Gillespie algorithm, to find a “sweet spot” where a rich set of reaction occur in a computationally feasible time. Then we heard about “messy chemistries”, those that produce a wide range of uncontrolled products, and the conditions for one of the products to come to dominate, suggesting a “selection-first” AChem route to ALife. Then we had a description of a reaction-diffusion system incorporating energetics, and how a combination of exothermic and endothermic reaction systems can stabilise temperature across a region. Finally, we heard about taking mathematics seriously in order to use algebraic concepts, particularly non-associative algebras, to design a novel sub-symbolic AChem.
the punning title. She asked us if we got the pun: all but one hand went up. She then asked that person if they had seen the film; yes. She told us that if this was a straight biological conference, no one would have got the pun, and hardly anyone would have seen the film. Divided communities indeed. She went on to describe her computational model of vascular growth, in normal tissue and in tumours. Agent Based modelling, combined with real data and close interactions with biologists (who know which published results to trust, and which not), have resulted in several predictions that have been tested and confirmed in the wet lab. Mostly information flows from biology to ALife; this work demonstrates a great feedback from ALife into biology.
Then it was all over bar the closing ceremony: information about the International Society for ALife, the next two ALife conferences (ECAL 2017 in Lyon, France; ALife 2018 in Japan), and a variety of awards for best papers, lifetime achievements, and contributions to the community.
A truly excellent conference, in content and in organisation. I had a wonderful time, and my head is buzzing with ideas and connections. My neural pathways have been exercised and reconfigured. I need to go home and process all this information further.
Next year in Lyon.