About two years ago I came across the amazing applet called Organic Builder made by Tim Hutton and I think this was my first introduction to artificial chemistries. The applet confronts you with a a soup of atoms bouncing around and you can build or modify molecules by specifying chemical reactions. The applet is part of research into an area called ‘Strong Artificial Life’; the idea that artificial life can emerge from artificial chemistry. In such artificial chemical worlds Tim Hutton has built systems which are very similar to replicating cells and which can even be subject to evolution.
Apart from the conceptual interest his applet is a great puzzle too; yesterday I finally found (my own and undoubtedly very roundabout) solution to reach the stage where I could see artificial DNA-like molecules replicating on screen. Very strange experience to see something in your computer that does feel to have its own agenda. Also strange to realize that by specifying these reactions you’re doing something that is a very basic operation indeed in the world of the computer outside of this simulation: to copy a string. I suppose that copying a string is again a wonderful thing pretty much anywhere else in the world outside of the computer.
a soup of atoms and an initial string.
various stages of replication.
not enough atoms to replicate any further.