In the closing scene of “Life as it could be”, David Hall, the director of the Institute for Posthumanism, informs his colleagues about the plans for a new institute. He asks if they have any ideas for a new name and speculates about the location “either on Tennis Court Road, surrounded by the natural sciences, or in Newnham, next to the computer science department.”
Readers of ‘Life as it could be’ will know that a computer game plays an important role in it: Core War, to my somewhat limited knowledge the oldest, geekiest and most cerebral of all computer games. It is set up as a virtual computer in which to battle programs called ‘warriors’ are fighting to their death. The warriors are short programs written in a special purpose assembly language called Redcode. What makes the game so interesting for ‘Life as it could be’ is that the warriors can be bred by genetic algorithms or evolutionary computing. While the game has a small following, its worldwide community is very active and competes in a steady stream of tournaments—quality over quantity!
It has to do with my previous career as a bioinformatician. I was squeezed in between biology and computer science—exciting, but also daunting as both are incredibly complex, far too complex for any individual to understand them as a whole. Another shared feature is that they are very dynamic. Computers evolve incredibly fast. Nature doesn’t in itself, but our understanding of it certainly does. And there are differences. Computers are more top down, machine-like (they are machines!) orderly and controlled. Nature, while we understand many of its parts, has a more 'alien' way of ‘thinking’. It is bottom up, seemingly chaotic, creative and emergent.