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Artificial life commonly called a-life is the term applied collectively to attempts being made to develop mathematical models and computer simulations of the ways in which living organisms develop grow and evolve Researchers in this burgeoning field hope to gain deeper insights into the nature of organic life as well as into the further possibilities of COMPUTER science and robotics see ROBOT A-life techniques are also being used to explore the origins and chemical processes of metabolism Some investigators have even proposed that some digital life in computers might already be considered a real life form Background The term artificial life was coined in the 1980s by Christopher Langdon a computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Santa Fe Institute Langdon organized the first experimental workshop on the subject at Santa Fe in 1987 Since then other a-life conferences have taken place drawing increasingly wider attention and a growing number of participants Theoretical studies of a-life however had been in progress long before the 1980s Most notably the Hungarian-born US mathematician John VON NEUMANN one of the pioneers of computer science had begun to explore the nature of very basic a-life formats called cellular automata see AUTOMATATHEORY OF in the 1950s Cellular automata are imaginary mathematical cells-analogous to checkerboard squares-that can be made to simulate physical processes by subjecting them to certain simple rules called algorithms see ALGORITHM Before his death von Neumann had developed a set of algorithms by which a cellular automaton-a box shape with a very long tail-could reproduce itself Another important predecessor of a-life research was Dutch biologist Aristid Lindenmeyer Interested in the mathematics of plant growth Lindenmeyer found in the 1960s that through the use of a few basic algorithms-now called Lindenmeyer systems or L-systems-he could model biochemical processes as well as tracing the development of complex biological forms such as flowers Computer-graphics programs now make use of L-systems to yield realistic three-dimensional images
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