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Artificial life

Professor Richard Mitchell gives some examples of artificial life in this article.
Fractal Fern
© University of Reading

We have described some simple examples of artificial life:

  • Simple robots with built-in instincts
  • Robots with the ability to learn.

We have looked at multiple robots interacting:

  • Predator, prey.
  • But also cooperating –
    • Communicating to help learning
  • And coordinating –
    • Flocking together.

There is much more in this field, beyond the scope of the course to go into in detail, but these ideas have a profound effect particularly in modern films and TV. If you would like to look into this topic we have included some suggested places to start below.

  • Consider biologist Aristid Lindenmayer’s work – he defined a way in which you can specify realistic plants. You can find out more about Lindenmayer’s work here.

  • For films and TV, however, what is interesting is having artificial animals which move around, interacting with each other and their environment. A leading system for this purpose is MASSIVE developed initially by Stephen Regelous. This software allows potentially millions of artificial characters the behaviour of each of which is set using ‘fuzzy logic’ so that they move, act and react realistically. Early use of MASSIVE was in the Lord of the Rings films, but it has been used in Avatar, King Kong, Doctor Who, etc. However, it can also be used by architects to visualise how their buildings would look when there are people in them; or for simulating how traffic flows, etc. For more details see the MASSIVE software website.

  • In terms of making realistic computer models of nature, the work on Fractals pioneered by Benoit Mandelbrot is worth investigating – see the Fractal Foundation website.

For more information on Fractals and to try an optional simulation, have a look at the next Step.

© University of Reading
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