Event 2 Blog
Me outside of the classroom that the lecture took place in.
Last week I attended Sam Wolk’s lecture on synthetic life. This lecture was really interesting to learn about because it demonstrates that powers of technology and how one can essentially create a whole new world with a computer program. He created an entire universe on his computer, complete with nutrients and organisms that can reproduce and emit waste.
Sam is a sound and visual artist and works in a wide variety of fields such as four track tape recording, sound installation and non-fiction film making. Initially the project started out as a failure of another project. This first project was a film that, according to him failed, and he decided to go into the synthetic world. The synthetic world that he created contains a detailed ecosystem that begins with a nutrient system, plants and works its way up to different creatures that live in this universe and how they interact with one another. The entire ecosystem that he has created exists in a program on his computer and was shown to us on a large computer screen. Sam had essentially made an alternate universe that existed in a program on his computer. The lecture was broken into different parts. The beginning broke down the nutrient system that was the foundation for the system, then he went into the plant life in his system and lastly he broke down the creatures that live in this little universe.
Like any other system this one’s foundation is nutrients. There are three nutrients in total: red, blue and green. On the screen you can see the intensity of the nutrients by the intensity of the color. When plants die in this system they go back into the nutrient field from which they originated. Sam then broke down the DNA strips of the plants in his system. These strips are various shades of black and white that form columns across the screen. Each row is an individual plant, each column is a gene and the color each gene has represents how far the gene value is from the original species.
Sam showing a strip of a plant's DNA.
Sam showing us lots of different plants genetic makeup in relation to one another.
After a heavy explanation of the nutrients and plants Sam went on to explain the creature world. He generates his creature populations the same way he generated his plant populations. However, each creature has significantly more genes than a plant, which has only 27 or 28. Each creature has a nose radius that shows how far it can smell, similar to how each plant has a fragrant radius for how far away it can be smelled. The creatures also have a vision cone for how far and wide their vision is. There are multiple biological sexes that the creature can have and they can all bear children. When the creatures are socializing a line is drawn between them, the more they socialize the darker the line gets.
The creatures socializing with one another.
A creature looking for food and emitting waste (the brown square).
Near the end of the lecture Sam explained to us how if the program crashes everything is save to his computer. If you restart the program no time has passed for the creatures. Even if it has been years since you turned on the program the creature would have no indication of this. He then asked us to contemplate that if we were in a synthesized world like the one he created we would have no way of knowing. I thought that this was a very interesting point to make because, to me, it created the possibility that we could be a part of a program in someone’s computer and have no idea. For all we know we could be a synthetic life program in someone like Sam’s computer.