Imagine that someone has discovered alien creatures on a nearby planet and is planning to import them to Earth to sell as pets. Would you want to buy one?
What would you do with it? Where should you keep it? What is it capable of? Does it have alien dreams, hopes, fears? Does it have its own primitive language? Its own culture? What should you feed it? What makes it sick and how do you look after it? Can this species safely coexist with that species? Is it possible to get the creatures to breed, here on Earth? Might they evolve? Can we understand their biology? Can we interpret the structure of their brains? Are they conscious? Should they have rights?
If these are not the kinds of question that would run through your mind, this isn't the project for you. But if they are, read on…
I can't promise actual physical aliens from another planet, but I can offer you real 'alien' life forms who can live in a virtual world on your computer. And I do mean real. I'm not talking about a computer game designed to simulate lifelike behavior; I mean genuine artificial life. I mean virtual creatures constructed from complex networks of virtual brain cells and biochemical reactions and genes. They'll learn things for themselves and have their own thoughts. I don't program them to behave in a certain way - they make their own decisions. If they get sick it will be because something has disturbed the delicate balance of their biochemistry, and remedies must be discovered that can rebalance it. If they evolve new traits or suffer from unknown hereditary diseases it'll be because nature has taken its course, not because it's part of the plot. If you conclude that they're conscious, thinking, feeling beings then it won't be because I've somehow fooled you. I'm not here to fool you; I'm here to celebrate the beauty and complexity of life with you.
This project is to produce the first in what I hope will be a long line of 3D virtual environments*, species of creatures, and tools with which to care for them and study them. I hope you'd like to be part of it and become an enthusiast - perhaps even an expert. But first I really, really need your help to make it possible. Ever since I finished the Creatures game (the forerunner of what I'm attempting now) around 15 years ago, I've devoted myself to artificial life and artificial intelligence research, funding it as well as I could by writing books and accepting a research fellowship or two. It's been tough. Finally I think I've made the scientific breakthrough I was looking for and I've started to develop it, but although I've been working towards this for years it's happened a little too late, and without your support I don't have the resources left to finish it. I don't want to take it to a publisher because it will cease to be a labor of love and a work of art and science, and instead become a commercialized video game. I'm asking for the bare minimum I can live on while I put my latest ideas into practice (it's going to take about another 12 months), but if you can help me raise more than my goal then I can probably afford to eat as well and do a better job with the game. I'd really appreciate that. Thank you.
*The initial simulation will work on PC and Mac. Mobile platforms (with novel attributes) will come later. I don't yet know what the final creatures or the environment will look like - I have to let the biology be my guide.
- (40 days)