Synthetic Approaches to Biology and Artificial Intelligence

From R.U.R. to contemporary Artificial Life research

23 July 2021, 12.30-17.00 CET

organized by

Luisa Damiano, Yutetsu Kuruma, Pasquale Stano

A satellite workshop of the 2021 Virtual Conference on Artificial Life (ALIFE2021)

17-23 July 2021

Workshop Topics and Call for Paper

One hundred years after Karel Čapek introduced the notion of “robots” in his science-fiction play “Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti” (R.U.R.), advances in artificial intelligence (AI) show sophistication and complexity never reached before. Despite its remarkable achievements, AI continues to yearn for further extensions in basic and applied research. In the sub-divisions of AI still dedicated to the synthetic modeling of natural cognition, front-line research targets patterns that are increasingly autonomous, adaptive and integrative, and intends to ground them in the structural features and the form(s) of organization characterizing biological systems – from unicellular systems to complex organisms and their (social) aggregates. Currently, this research horizon includes a multitude of bio-inspired lines of inquiry, sharing a ‘bottom-up’ approach – or, in other theoretical words, an ‘emergence by design’ approach – to the construction of artificial or synthetic systems that function and behave like biological systems.

The workshop Synthetic Approaches to Biology and Artificial Intelligence intends to select a series of original contributions related to this bio-inspired modeling of life and cognition, in its hard/soft/wet-ware or hybrid expressions. The primary aim is to promote the emergence of novel paradigms for AI, firmly grounded in SB and AL research, and capable of producing qualitative leaps into next generation of technological artifacts expressing adaptive, communicational, and integrative – “cognitive” – biological-like functions and behaviors.

  • How the synthetic approach to biology, in its software, wetware and hardware forms, provide AI with new, relevant insights for the advancement in the scientific understanding of natural cognition? In which conditions, in what ways, in which domains could these synthetic explorations positively contribute to AI-based technologies? That is: What can the synthetic approach to biology, in its different expression, offer to AI?

  • What’s the complexity threshold, the links, the rules, the topology, the forms, the boundaries of Artificial Life systems (chemical networks, synthetic cells and droplets, neural networks, swarm robotics, evolutionary agents, …) in order to display minimal adaptive, communicational, integrative – “cognitive” – functions/behaviors?

  • How to design Artificial Life systems in robotic, computer science, synthetic biology domains that allow AI emergence, and how the latter compares with the biological counterparts?

This workshop aims at bringing together contributions related to these and related questions, and investigating one or more aspects of the (possible/actual) relationships between the synthetic approach to biology and AI.

The workshop will start with individual contributions, followed by a structured discussion, in the form of a round-table. The discussion aims at constituting a productive dialogue among the different specialists, a highly cross-disciplinary forum, engaging participants in generating answers to the many open questions in the field, and cooperate in the critical improvements of the projects and the ideas there presented.

  • Which are the groundings, the procedures, the expected results and the impacts of current research programs involving the synthetic approach to biology in AI?

  • Can we, at the present time, plan concrete collaborations between computer science, robotics and synthetic biology in the scientific study of natural forms of cognition and intelligence? How?

  • Can these cross-fertilizations contribute to the development of new forms of cognition and intelligence, alternative to the natural ones and to the existing forms of artificial cognition and intelligence?

We expect keynote and selected talks focused on conceptual and experimental issues related to the synthetic modeling of life and cognition, in any respect and in any domain. This way, we intend to put into focus the most advanced research relevant for the topic of Synthetic Approaches to Biology and Artificial Intelligence.

Tentative Program (time refers to Central European Time)

12,30-12,50 Welcome and Introduction by the Organizers

12,50-13,15 Talk by Francesco Bianchini, University of Bologna, Italy (20 min + 5 min Q/A session)

Between synthetic method and artificial building in biology and AI

13,15-13,40 Talk by Marco Inguscio, IULM University, Milan, Italy (20 min + 5 min Q/A session)

The right of the ‘non-deactivation’. Ethical discourse about artificial consciousness

13,40-14,05 Talk by Cyrille Jeancolas[1], Christophe Malaterre[2] and Philippe Nghe[1] (20 min + 5 min Q/A session)

[1] PSL University, ESPCI Paris, France; [2] Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Canada

Thresholds in origin of life scenario

14,05-14,30 Talk by Diego San Martin, Francisco del Basto, Sofia Quintana, Juan-Carlos Letelier, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile (20 min + 5 min Q/A session)

Building Blocks of Structurally Coupled Autopoietic Protocells

14,30-15,00 Coffee Break

15,00-15,25 Talk by Rodrigo Toledo, Victor Manuel Hidalgo, and Juan Carlos Letelier (20 min + 5 min Q/A session)

University of Chile, Santiago, Chile

Structural Coupling by Bayesian Inference

15,25-15,55 Invited Talk by Matthew R. Lakin, University of New Mexico (25 min + 5 min Q/A session)

Information processing for lifelike synthetic cells

15,55-16,55 Structured discussion

16,55-17,00 Conclusion

Important dates:

Paper Submission Deadline: 15 June, 2021

Notification of Acceptance: two weeks from the date of submission, and however not later than 30 June, 2021

Program publication on this website: 5 July, 2021

Workshop SB-AI date: 23 July, 2021

Useful links:

ALIFE2021 Conference website

Call for papers and instructions for Authors