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Interview with Karl Sims

SPTH
Ready Rangers Liberation Front [7]
June 2006

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About Karl Sims

Karl Sims is a researcher formerly with the MIT Media Lab who is most well known for using genetic programming to evolve virtual creatures that competed in various simulated environments.

While working at Thinking Machines, he wrote a paper describing the virtual creatures he created. They used an artificial neural network to process input from virtual sensors and act on virtual muscles between cuboid 'limbs'. The creatures were evolved to display multiple modes of water and land based movements such as swimming like a sea snake or fish.

He has also done various pictures and videos using genetic algorithm, released at his page.

His homepage: http://www.genarts.com/karl/

The Interview

Why have you started to do researchings in such an unusual topic as "artificial creatures" and "artificial evolution"?

Two reasons:

First, I think artificial evolution has the potential of creating complex and interesting results that can surpass those invented or designed by traditional methods.

Second, I think simulations of the Darwinian process could help give us a better understanding of natural evolution.

What is your definition of 'life' and which conditions are necessary for a living organism?

I tend to avoid a specific definition of 'life'. Things are what they are whether you want to assign that word to them or not.

A highly interesting developement of "Virtual Creatures" is the near connection of artificial and biological results of evolution (swimming snake for example). What has been the most interesting developement in your opinion?

I'm not sure, I'm afraid I'm not current on much of the recent work.

In "Virtual Creatures" you have used genetic algorithm for mutation. The biological evolution, in contrast, also uses point mutation, which also change the code behind the algorithm and leaded to that complex life as we can see it on our planet. Why have you desided to use genetic algorithm?

I attempted to use a genetic language that was high level enough to give interesting results with a reasonable chance, but was also not bounded by a specific length or number of parameters.Mutations could alter, add, or subtract, from the "growth" instructions.It was not a typical genetic algorithm.

In 1990 you have released a video about "Panspermia", which is highly fascinating. Do you think such unusual kind of biological spreading could have been evolved in the universe?

I think its possible.If you accept life may have evolved on other planets, why not between planets as well?

In 1986 Fred Cohen wrote in "Computer Viruses - Theory and Experiments" about the possibility of accidental development of artificial life due to software bugs. Could this thought come true in our modern world, which is "dominated" by computers?

There are certainly many viruses that propagate using software bugs, but I think they are currently more likely to start with human help than by accident.

Several sources count computer viruses as first artificial life. What is your opinion about that statement and what do you think about harmless computer viruses, which have just been created for the purpose of existing?

They can be interesting, but I don't personally consider them alive.

Are you interested in any other artificial creatures or evolution projects?

Sure, I'd be interested in any of them.

What do you expect about artificial life and evolution in future?

I expect further mutations.

What are you doing recently? Do you have new researches?

I founded a company, GenArts, Inc. which makes visual effects software for the motion picture industry.That, and my family, have kept me busy lately and I haven't spent time on any artificial evolution projects in awhile.

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