Clusters is an ambitious new artificial life game/toy in the iOS App Store created by Jeffrey Ventrella, a developer who did some pioneering work for Second Life and other virtual worlds. As you might imagine, his version of an artificial life simulator is equally ambitious.
“In the spirit of classic artificial life models, such as the Game of Life,” says Jeffrey, “Clusters doesn't literally mimic life forms, but it does echo certain fundamental dynamics which are the basis of all life, such as self-assembly, sensitivity to environmental conditions, self-similarity, and dynamic equilibria.”
Clusters is based on the theories of biologist Lynn Margulis, which run counter to Darwin’s competition-based model: “She showed that cooperation and symbiosis are just as important, and perhaps even more important. She championed the theory of endosymbiosis, which claims that early organisms were so mutually dependent that they actually fused their identities, and became more complex organisms. And this is what made complex life possible on Earth.” Margulis later incorporated these ideas into the famed Gaia Hypothesis she helped James Lovelock develop, ”which claims that the Earth is an organism, with its own self-regulating dynamics… it gives power to the idea that we are all connected.”
Fricking heady stuff for an iOS app! Unsurprisingly, emergent patterns occur when Clusters runs:
“While designing the Clusters algorithm, I tried to emphasize the emergence of these larger patterns (larger than the dots themselves) which often hold their own structural integrity, but at the same time are sensitive to being disrupted. Life is always poised on the edge of chaos: having persistent structure, but always subject to descent into destruction and decay. Some clusters can shapeshift between different kinds of life-like structures. They have multiple personalities.”
“Choose the ‘Gems’ ecosystem (the first one in the list). You will see certain clusters made of blue, purple and orange species (see attached image). Find a blue-purple-orange cluster and try adding other species to it. It will not accept other species. If there are too many blue particles, it will split apart and shapeshift until it achieves the right balance.”
The image above illustrates one of the blue-purple-orange clusters being torn apart. Below, a few large clusters that are relatively stable.
“[T]here is no (actual) symbiosis occurring, as that would require a higher-level biological simulation,” he allows. “But I can say that there are semi-stable clusters that require inclusion of certain species (colors) to stay stable.“
These simulations have played a key role in Jeffrey Ventrella’s virtual worlds work:
“I have come to specialize in a kind of artificial life animation that triggers a response in viewers, whereby they see the ‘signs of life’,” he says. “This has influenced my work on expressive avatars for There.com and Second Life, as well as my work in developing the characters for Wiggle Planet.” (See above.)
Clusters is also part of another virtual world project coming soon -- more on that later. Meantime you can play with the iOS version here.