ISAL Special Session: ALife and Society


  • Dr Alexandra Penn,
  • Prof. Mark Bedau,
  • Prof. Steen Rasmussen.

As part of this society-themed conference, the international society for Artificial Life has organised a special session on Artificial Life and its societal impact. We will survey the state of the field with a collection of submitted and invited talks, collaboratively set out the “Grand Challenges”, and forge the agenda for the way ahead.

Many of the challenges that society faces are concerned with understanding, managing and indeed creating complex living, lifelike or hybrid systems at multiple scales. Conventional approaches have often been unsuccessful in dealing with the inherent non-linearity, adaptability and self-organised behaviours of these systems. In fact the underlying technologies often transform the involved organizations and society as a whole. New paradigms are clearly required and we believe that the ALife community can play a key role.

Artificial Life provides unique perspectives, tools and philosophies, which can offer approaches to understanding and intervening in complex systems. We also create new living, life-like and intelligent technologies from the cellular to the digital realm, playing a part in constructing the complex systems of the future.

New political, economic and social institutions are also needed to manage this emerging world, and the societal component of addressing these challenges requires participation and expertise from many quarters. ALife should enter into dialogue with the social sciences, arts and humanities as well as with stakeholders from practitioners to communities, in order to add our voice to the debate and contribute to the challenges which we all face.

We are taking this opportunity to collate ideas on our technologies and approaches and their possible societal contributions and impact with an interactive and challenging special session. We start with a diverse programme of talks presenting new perspectives on this broad theme. Speakers will act as provocateurs, suggesting new approaches, highlighting challenges and opportunities and asking key questions. This will be followed by extensive group discussion, framing the key issues and challenges for the field and initiating working groups on practical projects to take forward our agenda. Groups will meet during the conference itself to take ideas forward and maximise community momentum. We will report back and set out our next steps for action at the end of the conference.

Contributions are welcome from any domain and those bringing new perspectives from other fields or experience are encouraged to attend.

Join the conversation now:

Programm Outline

Tuesday 6 July/Cobá

14:30-16:00 Keynote: Alexandra Penn. Artificial Life and Society: Philosophies and Tools for Experiencing, Interacting with and Managing Real World Complex Adaptive Systems
16:00-18:20 Talks

  1. Invited Speaker Luis Garcia Barrios- Artificial Life meets Real Death playfully: Complex socio-ecological games with and for the rural poor (Abstract).
  2. Rui Filipe Antunes, Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann – Human Crowd Simulation: What Can We Learn From ALife?
  3. Seth Bullock – Alife as a Model Discipline for Policy-Relevant Simulation Modelling: Might “Worse” Simulations Fuel a Better Science-Policy Interface?
  4. Simon Powers – The institutional approach for modelling the evolution of human societies.
  5. Steen Rasmussen – The BINC Manifesto: Technology driven societal changes, science policy stakeholder engagement.
  6. David Ackley – The Carried Network Demarc.
  7. Invited Speaker Mark Bedau- The systemic complexity of the social and ethical debate about artificial life (Abstract).
18:20-19:00 Group Discussion and Agenda-Setting Session:
  18:20 -18:50 What are the Grand Challenges for Societal Impact of Artificial Life?

18:50-19:00 Formation of action groups: Taking practical proposals forward

Topics of interest include (but are not limited to):

  • Approaches, tools and philosophy from ALife-what can we offer society?
  • Synthetic ecology, living and life-like technology and bio-hybrid societies and systems.
  • In which ways do the emerging living and intelligent technologies – spearheaded by information and communication technology – impact and transform our societies?
  • Developing novel institutions for managing multi-level living and intelligent systems.
  • Adaptive management, whole-systems and complexity design approaches.
  • Ethical and societal issues in manipulating complex systems.
  • Conceptual, philosophical and technical issues in managing complex systems- key challenges, opportunities and methodologies.
  • Societal involvement in managing complex systems: participatory and experiential approaches, narratives for understanding complexity, political processes, policy design and evaluation in the context of complex adaptive systems.
  • Manging and understanding living or life-like systems: Case studies, experiments and models
  • Technical, philosophical and social implications of a “life-like” systems approach to societal issues – metaphor or more?
  • Designing interventions in complex systems and strategies for predicting, mitigating or adapting to unintended consequences of intervention.
  • Other perspectives: approaches to managing complex adaptive systems from other domains, what can we learn?