25 March 2007


We are fascinated with creation. Not only from the point of view of our origin on this planet or the universe, but also from the process of creating life. The birth of a human child, or any living organism, is simply awe-inspiring. So, it’s no strange wonder that we are also fascinated with the possibility of creating artificial life.

Our efforts in genetic engineering and cloning, although sounding old-fashioned in the context of the cyber world, are still on the fast track. But, so is our effort in creating artificial life of the kind Steve Grand, among others, researches in – and even plays with. (Read my previous post ‘Steve’s grand ambition’.) Steve Grand’s kind of creation is called artificial life, or A-Life.

A-Life deals with creation of new life forms which inhabit synthetic environments in computer programmes. These artificial life forms have their own characteristics, behaviour and intelligence, and they ‘live’ and ‘evolve’ within the synthetic worlds of the computer programmes they inhabit. We can observe and interact with them from our real-life world.

This, of course, is a simplified explanation. The best example of A-Life is Steve Grand’s own computer game ‘Creatures’, which he created somewhere back in the mid-1990s. But, since most of us are unfamiliar with it, perhaps, an easier reference would be the subject of, and the allusion made to, the non-real world in the 1999 film ‘Matrix’ (starring Keanu Reeves) and its sequels.

Similar to the question raised in the film ‘Matrix’, there is a concern – and fear – over the moral and social implications of developing such A-Life technologies. What if these A-Life forms became ‘intelligent’ enough to reproduce themselves and/or take control over the humans who created them? Where would we be then?

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