An Overview of Artificial Life Research

Soul Geometry Two 009, by agsandrew.

When you look at everything around us, we see a lot of different entities, from inanimate objects to living creatures, ranging from the smallest to the largest entities. However, the scene we could be watching has a broad spectrum of the type of systems that comprise it, with many intermediate points, if seen from a scientific point of view. There are the "simple" systems (e.g. liquids, gases, inorganic compounds, tools, etc.). The "complex" systems (e.g. computers, earthquakes, economics, soft matter, etc.). And living systems (e.g. bacteria, fungi, plants, humans). Furthermore, our understanding of those systems, particularly in the mathematical aspect, decrease in the same sense that was mentioned.

From the list above, living systems have been of particular interests for the humanity since man became aware of him and understood that it was a being with a life and not like several inanimate objects around him, and so the study of life began.

The term "Artificial Life" was coined in 1986 by Christopher Langton[1] where he used cellular automata as a tool to explain how artificial life might exist through artificial biochemical molecules (based on the elementary theory of biochemistry). The transcendental of this is work was that, in one hand, he put tool in the hands of researchers in biochemistry with the potential of being more accessible in cost and most feasible in the time of experimentation, and on the other hand, it opened the door to the study of life from another perspective: not the study of what is life as we know it, but the study of how could be life.

Beginning of Artificial Life

As mentioned above, the term "artificial life" emerged as such in 1986. However, research on the subject can be traced back much longer. In [2], it is recounted some attempts since the mid-eighteenth century to simulate intelligent processes of animals or humans. Although several of these attempts proved to be a hoax, it shows the interest of scientists of that time trying to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the various phenomena that surround life.

Similar studies continued to develop until, after the first article of Langton, a workshop was established, Workshop on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems at Los Alamos National Laboratory, about simulation of living systems, which later evolve to be the Artificial Life congress. Since then, different lines of research began to emerge, many of them which would already be under the umbrella of this newly created discipline.

Types of Artificial Life

Broadly, the research into artificial life, from its origins, can be divided into three different types[3]:

  • Artificial Life through hardware - which refers to the design and creation of physical devices that may eventually demonstrate behaviors and characteristics of life.
  • Artificial Life through software - which refers to the design and implementation of algorithms and computer programs that exhibit characteristics of life as well as creation of simulators that allow experimenting with virtual beings that were the result of algorithms and programs mentioned above.
  • Artificial Life through wetware - which refers to the biological and chemical aspects of research that aims to create life from basic (organic and inorganic) components available in the real(physical) world.

In future articles, we will delve into the study each of these areas.


  1. Langton, C. G. Studying artificial life with cellular automata Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena, 1986, 22, 120 - 149
  2. Riskin, J. The Defecating Duck, or, the Ambiguous Origins of Artificial Life Critical Inquiry, 2003, 29, 599-633
  3. Taylor, C. & Jefferson, D. Artificial life as a tool for biological inquiry Artif. Life, MIT Press, 1993, 1, 1-13