Life Spacies II

Prepared By Pamela Jennings for nas

Life Spacies II

Creation is not any more understood as expression of the artists’ inner creativity or ingenuity but instead becomes itself an intrinsically dynamic process that is based upon the interaction parameters and the evolutionary image processes of the work.

Complex Science Systems

Creating virtual life on computers ultimately brings up the question of how life has emerged on earth and how it could have developed from simpler units or particles into increasingly complex structures or whole systems of structures that seem to follow a certain inner rule of organization. This is also the central question in the new Complex System Sciences. Complex System Sciences, as a field of research, has emerged in the past decade. It studies how parts of a system give rise to the collective behaviors of the system and how the system interacts with its environment. Social systems formed (in part) out of people, the brain formed out of neurons, molecules formed out of atoms, the weather formed out of air currents are all examples of complex systems. The field of complex systems cuts across all traditional disciplines of science as well as engineering, management, and medicine. It focuses on certain questions about parts, wholes and relationships. Although there is no exact definition of what a Complex System is, there is now an understanding that, when a set of evolving autonomous particles or agents interact, the resulting global system displays emergent collective properties, evolution and critical behavior that have universal characteristics. These agents or particles may be complex molecules, cells, living organisms, animal groups, human societies, industrial firms, competing technologies, etc. All of them are aggregates of matter, energy, and information that display the following characteristics. They couple to each other, learn, adapt and organize, mutate and evolve, expand their diversity, react to their neighbors and to external control, explore their options, replicate, organize a hierarchy of higher-order structures.

Screen image from Life Spacies II artificial life interactive ecology.

Life Spacies II – Modeling Complexity for Interactive Art

Based on the objective to create an interactive artwork, that should display some of the features of complex systems, Sommerer and Mignonneau created a system called Life Spacies II. Life Spacies II is an interactive artificial life environment that enables users to create artificial creatures that form an emerging evolutionary system. This is accomplished by typing text messages that are transformed into artificial life creatures. “Life Spacies II” consists of a graphical user interface (GUI) that allows users to type text messages  into the Internet web page text editor. Written text is used as genetic code to create three-dimensional forms. In addition to creating creatures, user can feed their creatures by releasing text characters on the GUI. Food particles are in fact text characters, and the user can decide how much text, which type of text, and where to place the text by typing specific text characters within the GUI of the web page. Instantaneously, the text (food) is shown and picked up by the creatures on the large projection screen. The “text-to-form editor” takes written text as genetic code and translates it into visual forms. In a way similar to the genetic code in nature, letters, syntax and sequencing of the text is used to code certain parameters in the creature’s design functions. The text parameters and their combinations influence form, shape, color, texture and the number of bodies and limbs. As there is a great variation in the texts sent by different people, the creatures themselves also vary greatly in their appearance. The default form of a creature is a body composed of a sphere consisting of 100 vertices, that is, 10 rings with 10 vertices each. All vertices can be modified in x, y and z axes to stretch the sphere and create new body forms. Several bodies can be attached to each other or a pair of limbs can be created. According to the sequencing of the characters within the text, the parameters of x, y and z for each of the 100 vertices can be stretched and scaled, the colour values and texture values for each body and limb can be modified, the number of bodies and limbs can be changed, and new locations for attachment points of bodies and limbs can be created. Since each of the vertex parameters is changeable and all of the bodies and limbs can be changed as well, about 50 different design functions for the creature’s design parameters are available. As there is great variation in the texts sent by different people, the creatures themselves also vary greatly. 

Behavior of the Creatures

As the users interact with these systems, the systems themselves become increasingly complex, displaying some of the features of complex systems such as variety and dependency, irreducibility, symmetry breaking, adaptation and organization, mutation and evolution, expansion of diversity, reaction to neighbors and to external control, exploration of their options, and replication. A creature’s behavior is basically dependent on two parameters: a) its Energy level (E) and b) its Speed (S) or ability to move. While the Energy level (E) is a value that constantly changes as the creature moves in its environment and decreases by increased movement, the Speed (S) value is designed by the creature’s body physics. A creature with a large body and small limbs will typically move more slowly than a creature with a small body and long limbs. Additionally, the shape of the creature’s body and limbs has an influence on its ability to move. On the other hand, the Speed(S) value is set at creation through the arrangement of text characters in the creature’s genetic code, which is interpreted and translated by a design function table. The creature’s interaction with other creatures is based on how much Energy (E) it has at a given moment and the Speed (S) with which it can move in the environment. A creature whose Energy level has risen to E < 1 becomes virtually hungry and desires to eat text characters provided by the user through the text input editor. The kind of text characters released depends solely on the user’s decision and the place where the food is released can be directed by the user as well. Creatures also have preferences for certain types of food and only eat text characters contained in their genetic message. For example, a creature whose genetic code is ‘John’ will only eat ‘J’, ‘o’, ‘h’, and ‘n’ characters. By eating text characters, the creature will manage to accumulate a certain amount of energy, and eventually its Energy level can again rise to E > 1. Given that a creature succeeds in adding energy to the level of E > 1, it becomes a potential mating partner. It will now look for a suitable mate, whose energy level is also above 1. The two potential parent creatures will now move toward each other and try to collide. If successful, the two parents exchange their genetic code through a cross-over operation and, as a result, a child creature is born. This offspring creature carries the genetic code of its parents with some mutations. A creature’s lifetime is not pre-determined but influenced by how much it eats. Through eating the creature increases its body size until reaching a maximum size of about four times the original body size. On the other hand, a creature will starve when it does not eat enough text characters and ultimately die and sink to the ground.

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Acknowledgements & Credits


This work was commissioned by the ICC-NTT InterCommunication Museum in Tokyo. The first version Life Spacies was shown in spring 1997. The artificial life and genetic programming techniques used for Life Spacies II came from their previous interactive evolutionary systems. Sommerer and Mignonneau collaborated with programmer Roberto Lopez-Gulliver at the ATR Media Integration and Communications Research Lab, Kyoto Japan on this project.

Text excerpts from: Modeling Complex Systems for Interactive Art, C. Sommerer 1, and L. Mignonneau 2. Published in: Applied Complexity – From Neural Nets to Managed Landscapes, edited by S. Halloy and T. Williams (Institute for Crop & Food Research, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2000), pp.25-38.



Texts: All texts were written by the exhibition participants.

Editor: Pamela Jennings, Pittsburgh, PA (USA)

This work has been republished from the 2007 Exhibition 'Speculative Data and the Creative Imaginary: Shared Innovative Visions between Art and Technology' curated by Pamela Jennings As part of the ACM Creativity and Cognition Conference at  at the National Academy of Sciences' headquarters at 2100 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C. The original exhibition catalogue can be found at:

Exhibition Sponsors

Office of Exhibitions and Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences presenting a program of exhibitions that explore relationships among the arts and sciences, engineering and medicine.

The 2007 Association for Computing Machinery Creativity and Cognition Conference held in Washington D.C. June 13th – 15th, 2007, exploring the theme of cultivating and sustaining creativity: understanding how to design and evaluate computational support  tools, digital media, and socio-technical environments that not only empower our creative processes and abilities, but that also encourage and nurture creative mindsets and lifestyles. -

National Science Foundation Computer, Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Creative IT Program, exploring the synergies between creativity and information technology, science, engineering, and design research.

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