Week 7 Response: Artificial Life

The section from the reading that interested me most was the one that mentioned artificial life. It brings up a lot of questions revolving around the whole definition of life. What is life in particular? Could we as humans create life? Could a computing program be considered alive? Chris Langton describes artificial life in Artificial Life I: “Artificial Life is a field of study devoted to understanding life by attempting to abstract the fundamental dynamical principles underlying biological phenomena, and recreating these dynamics in other physical media—such as computers—making them accessible to new kinds of experimental manipulation and testing… Artificial Life allows us to extend our studies to the larger domain of ‘bio-logic’ of possible life, life-as-it-could-be.” (Wilson 303).

Even further, these works pertaining to artificial life enabled interactivity. The audience of the work became cocreators since the behavior of the work depended on the choices the audience made. However, some believe that the interactivity offered may just be an illusion and that no real choice is offered (such as insignificant choices like when and how to kill an enemy in a game). Thus artists began to search for more forms of interactivity that allowed audiences to become more deeply involved. Simon Penny’s robotic artwork, Petit Mal, is an artificial life piece that responds to its audience particularly. His goal was to create an artwork that was purely autonomous; in this sense it was aware of its environment and reacted accordingly. According to Penny: “that gives the impression of intelligence and has behavior which is neither anthropomorphic nor zoomorphic, but which is unique to its physical and electronic nature…” (Wilson 346). From an audience’s point of view, Petit Mal is to be a machine that is “intelligent” on its own not an automaton or simulation of some biological system. So would a machine that reacts to its surrounds on its own be considered living?

Say we consider these things that can act on their own as living; this opens a whole new possibility for “life”. Even now there exists robots who can think and act like humans on their own and robots that resemble humans. These robots from Japan are a great example:

Although the creation of human-like robots is not technically under the field of artificial intelligence, the same questions can be asked when considering what things we categorize as being alive. And with the label of being a “living” thing, what rights do these creations have as so? By then, will ethical issues be raised for something we made?

– Crystal Nguyen


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