Friday, 8 September 2017

ECAL 2017, Friday

The final day of the European Conference of Artificial Life, in Lyon; actually only half a day, to allow people to travel home.

The keynote presentation today was Sabine Hauert talking on Swarm engineering across scales: From robots to nanomedicine.  She started off with a description of her work on swarms of flocking robots, and how to control their behaviour without GPS absolute position, only short range wifi and a compass heading, and where the fixed-wing flyers have restricted manoeuvrability.  But these are small swarms: 10s of devices.  At the other end of the scale is use of small particles in nanomedicine, where the numbers are more like 10^13, 12 orders of magnitude larger, and the controlability is even less, having to rely mostly on diffusion and similar processes.  Most of the “programming” goes into the design of the “body” of these “brainless” particles, adjusting parameters such as size, shape, charge, material, and surface decoration with molecules that can interact with cell receptors.  Once the nanoparticles have “leaked” out of the bloodstream into the tissue, they might be activated by light or heat.  The aim is to come up with generalisable design guidelines.  One approach to searching the vast design space is to use a game to crowd-source workable designs for different scenarios.

After coffee was the final technical session of the conference.  I went to the Artificial chemistries and models of cellular dynamics 2 session.  In Transparency Of Execution Using Epigenetic Networks we heard about a form of neural network that can modify its topology during execution.  A Dynamic Model of the Phosphate Response System with Synthetic Promoters in Escherichia coli was a quite detailed simulation of a particular pathway.  I missed the last presentation, as I needed to get back and get ready for the closing session, which included some announcements about ISAL and the Artificial Life journal (I plugged the review article section), and then huge thanks to everyone involved in organising and running this splendid conference.

Then is was a picnic lunch, and saying our goodbyes (until next year?), and travelling home, our brains full of lots of wonderful new stuff.

Travel involved a tram to the train station, the express tram to the airport, a lot of waiting around (I had gone a bit early, as I had heard there were delays at passport control at Lyon; I needn’t have bothered, as they didn’t open passport control until just before the flight was scheduled), an easyJet flight to Gatwick, a train to St Pancras, a walk across the road to Kings Cross, another train, then finally a taxi, arriving home at 11pm.  One book read on the way out; another read on the way home.

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