Ninth International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems (ALIFE9)

Boston, Massachusetts

September 12-15th 2004

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Artwork by Dr. Cliff Pickover used by permission



Rethinking Life: Scientific and Philosophical Perspectives
Workshop at Alife 9 Conference
Sunday, 12 September 2004

Organized by Mark Bedau


Motivation: The nature of life is an age-old issue that has proved remarkably difficult to resolve. It is considered a grand challenge of artificial life (Bedau et al. 2000). Fifteen years ago the advent of “soft” artificial life (computational systems with life-like properties) gave the issue a new face and generated new unresolved controversies. “Wet” artificial life (novel life forms synthesized biochemically) is now on the horizon (Szostak, Bartel, and Luisi 2001, Rasmussen et al. 2003), prompting yet another re-examination of what life is. One of the motivations for this workshop is to rethink the controversies about life in the light of the new developments in wet artificial life. At least since the time of Aristotle the nature of life has engaged both scientists and philosophers, but these two communities work largely in isolation from each other. Building bridges between them would surely benefit each. The new developments in wet artificial life are bound to galvanize the general public’s attention and spark a variety of reactions. Scientists and philosophers have both an opportunity and a responsibility to provide informed and thoughtful reflection about life to the public. Promoting this process is a second motivation for the workshop.

Scope: The questions to be addressed by this workshop include:
- How should we understand the question “What is life?”
- Why, if at all, is this question interesting?
- How should we go about answering it?
- How will we know when we have found the answer?
- What today are the key open problems about the nature of life?
- What are examples of important recent progress on the issue?
- What special role can “soft” or “wet” artificial life play in resolving it?
- What role should philosophy play?
- What are the social and cultural implications of rethinking the nature of life?

Format: The bulk of the workshop will consist of a series of 30 minute presentations, each followed by 15 minutes of discussion. A round-table discussion with audience participation will close the workshop. Participation: The workshop speakers will include both scientists and philosophers. Most speakers will be invited but interested parties are welcome to  send an extended abstract (3 pp.) to the organizer.

The invited speakers (*confirmed) include:
Chris Adami, Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences
Mark Bedau*, Department of Philosophy, Reed College
Carol Cleland*, Department of Philosophy, University of Colorado at Boulder
Claus Emmeche, Center for the Philosophy of Nature and Science Studies, University of Copenhagen
Peter Godfrey-Smith, Department of Philosophy, Harvard Unversity
Takashi Ikegami, Department of Physics, University of Tokyo
Norman Packard*, ProtoLife S.r.l.
John McCaskill, Biomolecular Information Processing,
Ruhr University of Bochum
Barry McMullin, School of Electrical Engineering, Dublin City University
Kelly Smith*, Department of Philosophy, Clemson University
Elliott Sober, Department of Philosophy, Stanford University
Eors Szathmary, Institute for Advanced Study, Budapest
Jack Szostak, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School
Susan Fox Kellert, Science, Technology, and Society Program, MIT

Publication: Workshop participants have the opportunity to publish a paper in the Artificial Life IX Workshops Proceedings. The deadline for submission of camera-ready copy for this Proceedings is 5 August 2004. The organizer intends to publish a report on the workshop in the Artificial Life journal.

Organization: The workshop is organized by Mark Bedau.



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M. Bedau, J. McCaskill, N. Packard, S. Rasmussen, C. Adami, D. Green, T.Ikegami,
K. Kaneko, T. Ray. Open problems in artificial life. Artificial Life 6(2000), 363-376.

S. Rasmussen, L. Chen, D. Deamer, D. Krakauer, N. Packard, P. Stadler, M.Bedau.
Transitions from nonliving and living matter. Science 303 (2004), 963-965.

J. Szostak, D. Bartel, P. Luisi. Synthesizing life. Nature 409 (2001), 383-390