Digital Biota II
Last Autumn, high in the Canadian Rockies, "life as it used to be" met "life as it might become," as the Burgess Shale fossil organisms of the Middle Cambrian played host to a motley collection of palaeontologists, computer scientists, artificial lifers and organic artists. The event was Digital Biota 1, a conference to discuss nothing less than the past, present and future of life on Earth.

The talks were as eclectic as the speakers, and ranged from morphogenetic waves in nematode embryos to whether software can ever be considered genuinely alive; from the puzzle of Anomalocaris to the curious properties of the NetTierra digital ecosystem; from computational applications of evolution to the Xenobiology of conjectured alien species.

This year's follow-on event, "Digital Biota 2," is set in Cambridge, England on September 10-13, 1998, and shifts the focus more squarely onto the future. Mankind now has within its grasp the power to synthesise true artificial life, playing out Dr. Frankenstein's dream in both Cyberspace and Realspace. How far have we got, and where do we go from here? How do we go about generating complex, intelligent, perhaps even conscious living entities using software? What are the implications of success? This conference, co-titled "The Second Annual Conference on Cyberbiology," aims to find out.

In the mediaeval setting of Magdalene College, Cambridge, leading experts from the natural and computing sciences will gather to consider how best to go about fusing Biology with Machine to create the first radically new kind of life on this planet in nearly four billion years. Simple forms of these digital biota exist inside computers today, but they are little more than intellectual curiosities or amusing pets. Their successors of the near future will inhabit cyberspace and the real world, where they will carry out useful but mundane tasks that humans no longer wish to perform.

In the far distant future, our path and theirs might diverge, as they gain greater autonomy and intelligence; perhaps ultimately it will be they who keep us as pets! In the mean time, such artificial life forms are an inevitable and exciting part of the coming techno-biological revolution, in which the simple, stupid, steam-age technology of the present gives way to the more organic, adaptable and approachable technologies of the future.


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Digital Biota 2 is sponsored by

CyberLife Technology

The Contact Consortium