Artificial Life, or Alife, is an area of research that is based on emergent characteristics of complex systems and attempts to see how detailed and complicated properties can be explained and engineered with simple rules of evolution. Through getting computers and software to simulate living systems, it tries to understand, explain and determine the ways they behave like natural living organisms. The most common method employed in Alife research is the cellular automata.
Artificial Life does overlap with Artificial Intelligence but the two areas are very different in their approach and history. Artificial Life is concerned with specific life-oriented algorithms such as genetic algorithms which can mimic nature and its laws and therefore relates more to biology, whereas Artificial Intelligence tends to look at how human intelligence can be replicated, therefore relating more to psychology.
Just as artificial intelligence is broken down into major camps, the Strong and Weak versions, so is artificial life. The difference between the camps is mainly a philosophical one, with the critical issue surrounding the status of “organisms” in alife systems. Strong artificial life proponents believe that they are genuinely creating life: that all the conditions required in a robust definition of life are being met. Weak artificial life proponents, on the other hand, insist that no real life is being created; rather, the alife systems are merely simulating life not exemplifying it. The debate is largely definitional: what constitutes life. For the Strong Alife proponents, life is multiply realizable and does not require the particular features of biological life.
Computer scientist Christopher Langton, held a conference at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1987 and it was here that the field of Alife got its first big push into the academic mainstream. There, he described the field of Artificial Life which had barely been touched upon by anyone else before. This conference was called the “International Conference on the Synthesis of Living Systems” and set out to define a discipline that would seek to discover “the logical form of living systems” by attempting to “simulate or synthesize” various levels and features of living systems.
Artificial life is very different to Genetic Engineering which is based on creating or modifying something that is already alive. Whereas Artificial Life is created from scratch.
Web Resources On Artificial Life
An Introduction to Artificial Life
Wikipedia: Artificial Life
Book Resources On Artificial Life
Artificial Life: An Overview by Christopher G. Langton
The Philosophy of Artificial Life by Margaret A. Boden