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THE CUTTING EDGE

Artificial Life Forms

July 06, 1998|ASHLEY DUNN

Cellular automata

What: Hungarian mathematician John von Neumann proposed 50 years ago the idea that extremely complex behavior could emerge from the interaction of many small elements even if each had only a basic set of instructions. This phenomenon of emergent behavior is one of the cornerstones of artificial life research.

Commercial application: Animation studios have latched onto a more complex vision of cellular automata to create lifelike crowd scenes in animated movies. Some of the best-known examples include a 1987 short called "Breaking the Ice" and the wildebeest stampede in Disney's "The Lion King."

Evolutionary computation

What: Evolutionary computation covers a broad range of programs that rely on random mutation and competition to accomplish their tasks. They are based on a vision of Darwinian evolution in which only the fittest solutions survive. Genetic algorithms and evolutionary programs are two large categories in the field of evolutionary computation.

Commercial applications: The programs have been used to create mathematical models of the stock market, optimal factory schedules and military simulations in which computer opponents learn from past battles.

Neural networks:

What: Modeled on the functioning of biological nervous systems, neural networks are formed out of artificial neurons, or nodes, that respond only to the input of their immediate neighbors. The nodes can organize themselves to accomplish a specified goal and adjust themselves to adapt to changing situations.

Commercial applications: Most commonly used for robotic control, image pattern recognition, signal processing and control of manufacturing processes.

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