7th Conference on Artificial Life and Robotics, Beppu, Oita, Kyushu, Japan, January 2002


The Visual Aspect
of Artificial Life


Alan Dorin

  Centre for Electronic Media Art (CEMA)

School of Computer Science & Software Engineering
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
  Special thanks

Rodney Berry & Ryohei Nakatsu, ATR, Kyoto, Japan
Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau, IAMAS, Gifu, Japan
Mark Bedau, Reed College, Portland, USA
Masanori Sugisaka, Oita University, Oita, Japan

  • Seeing emergent phenomena

  • Seeing spatial relationships

  • Seeing state-based relationships

  • Seeing temporal relationships

  • Conclusion


  Emergent phenomena

After Polanyi (1968)...

Emergence/supervenience is the appearance of properties or behaviours of a set of components which may in principle be unpredictable by reference only to the rules governing their individual interactions, but which nevertheless arise through these same rules.

For example...

Reynolds' boids...

Conway's The Game of Life and its glider...


  Seeing emergent phenomena

Tufte (an information visualization expert) writes...


"Comparisons must be enforced within the scope of the eyespan"


  Seeing spatial relationships (flocks)


Is this a flock?

Is this a flock?

The usual visualization strategy for a computer-based "flock" is to compute boid locations in 3D Cartesian space, perspective project these co-ordinates into a 2D plane, and display the result on a flat screen.


Obviously, the usual method is not the best way to convey the volume of a flock!

But there are less effective methods.


  Seeing spatial relationships (gliders)

Recognizable features of a glider:



  Seeing spatial relationships (additional factors)

"Panorama, vista and prospect deliver to viewers the freedom of choice that derives from an overview, a capacity to compare and sort through detail." - Tufte

Turing machine implemented in the Game of Life.
Taken from an image by Paul Rendell, April 2000


  Seeing state-based relationships (flocks)

Frequently visualized state information includes:

Craig Reynolds' boids, 1987

Karl Sims' Panspermia, 1990


  Seeing state-based relationships (gliders)

Frequently visualized state information includes:


  Seeing temporal relationships

In (virtual) biology, essential elements are processes, rather than static entities and relations

The time-series plot is a frequently employed device for displaying change. For example...

The ubiquitous "Fitness vs. Time" graph


  Seeing temporal relationships (flocks & gliders)

Temporal relationships needing display include all boid and glider characteristics discussed above, including:

A visualization tool called "small multiples" may be utilized with some degree of success...


Muybridge's "Animal Movement" photographs are also an example of what may be learnt using this technique.


Lack of attention to visualization principles will result in a lack of understanding.

But just as dangerously, visualization techniques give apparent "life" and substance to inanimate, abstract patterns.

Consider carefully what aspects of an abstract system need to be visualized and the best way to do this.

Ki o tsukete!

©Copyright Alan Dorin/Animaland 2002