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Artificial Life

Winter 1997, Vol. 3, No. 1, Pages 29-39
(doi: 10.1162/artl.1997.3.1.29)
© 1997 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Ontological Basis of Strong Artificial Life
Article PDF (1.5 MB)

This article concerns the claim that it is possible to create living organisms, not merely models that represent organisms, simply by programming computers (“virtual” strong alife). I ask what sort of things these computer-generated organisms are supposed to be (where are they, and what are they made of?). I consider four possible answers to this question: (a) The organisms are abstract complexes of pure information; (b) they are material objects made of bits of computer hardware; (c) they are physical processes going on inside the computer; and (d) they are denizens of an entire artificial world, different from our own, that the programmer creates. I argue that (a) could not be right, that (c) collapses into (b), and that (d) would make strong alife either absurd or uninteresting. Thus, “virtual” strong alife amounts to the claim that, by programming a computer, one can literally bring bits of its hardware to life.