Thursday, May 26, 2016

Replica Praesens: A Lecture on Synthetic Life by Sam Wolk Event Blog

Today, I attended Sam Wolk’s Replica Praesens: A Lecture on Synthetic Life. To be completely honest, I was pretty lost in the first half of the lecture. As a business economics major, I really had no clue as to what he was talking about when he showed us strips of DNA, different types of genes, nutrient fields, phenotype, etc. on the TV screen. Sam went into great detail about plants being able to sprout, grow, and mutate, but it was a bit too abstract for me because he visualized the plants as strips of DNA on the screen.

Strip of DNA of a Plant
Sam’s lecture became extremely interesting when he introduced the universe he created on the screen. With the red nutrient field, he was able to produce plants. Furthermore, he created creatures that could eat the plants, socialize with each other, and have sex with each other for reproduction. I found this to be intriguing because Sam and his team generated an artificial universe with creatures that acted on emotions and physical needs – albeit everything was computer programmed. In one of his slides, Sam intentionally inserted a bug that crashed the universe. And he said that once he started the program up again, the creatures in this computer universe would never know it crashed because they are just moving from one frame to the next. Sam then related this concept to our daily lives, as a comment or question to whether there may be a higher order of power in our universe.

I saw the pinnacle of the intersection between science and art in Sam Wolk. Sam is a sound and visual artist, yet he has so much knowledge of math and science. He had to learn everything about DNA and genes and life sciences to understand the growth and needs of plants and creatures. In addition, he had a deep understanding of statistics, when he explained how he used the Gaussian distribution with 9 degrees of freedom to be able to introduce different types of species through standard deviation. Also, Sam had to learn how to code to generate fluid visualizations onto the computer screen. 

A Creature's Neuro Network 
A Community of Creatures Socializing

Sam Wolk in the Back With The Black Laptop

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