ALIFE 2021: celebrating the science and art of artificial life

July 27, 2021

Last week saw the second fully virtual ALIFE conference bringing together nearly 400 leading researchers and practitioners from across the world working on problems related to simulating artificial life. 

The conference, which has been running since 1987 and is supported by The International Society for Artificial Life (ISAL), focussed on research areas including simulating and synthesizing complex phenomena in computation, biology, artificial intelligence, robotics, philosophy, and cognitive science. 

Prague was the intended location for the conference and the organisation was led by the University of Chemistry and Technology Prague and supported by GoodAI. At GoodAI we see many fruitful intersections between AI and Artificial Life and have a history of collaboration with the community and the ALIFE conference participants. 


The five-day program was packed with activities: it included 9 keynote talks, 6 special sessions lasting 27 hours, 11 workshops totaling almost 40 hours, 5 tutorials, and 64 talks in parallel sessions. There was also a virtual art gallery, virtual pubs, and virtual coffee rooms! Among many satellite events, there was a virtual screening of the documentary Solution and a student essay competition.

David Ha, Keynote speaker

Keynote speaker David Ha, Research Scientist at Google Brain, gave a talk “World Models and Attention for Reinforcement Learning.” He discussed his recent work on developing “world models” for artificial agents that would construct an abstract representation of the agent’s world which helps it navigate in its environment. The goal of his talk was to encourage the development of artificial life that incorporates a form of internal mental model, which will be a stepping stone for creating conscious machines.

AI: when a robot writes a play

GoodAI hosted the only hybrid event of the conference which took place both online and at the GoodAI Headquarters – the Oranžérie in Prague. The event was a BBQ and a screening of the play “AI: when a robot writes a play,” with a discussion with the creators afterward. The play, which tells the story of the joy and sorrow of everyday life from a robot’s point of view, was composed of dialogue created by artificial intelligence in order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. where the word ‘robot’ was coined.

ISAL awards

The International Society for Artificial Life (ISAL) announced its award winners at the conference. Takashi Ikegami, from the University of Tokyo, took home the Lifetime Achievement Award, for his sustained contribution to the ALife community through an excellent body of diverse work of foundational contributions. He is a leader of and committed to the ALife community. While Jitka Čejková was awarded the Distinguished Early-Career Investigator Award as a strong contributor to the ALife domain, both technically, and to the ALife community.

Jitka Čejková, General Chair of ALIFE 2021 and Associate Professor at the University of Chemistry and Technology Prague said: “the Czech Republic has a lot of history with regards to artificial life and technology and we were very happy to host the conference. It was great to celebrate the robot centenary with the ALife community, although only virtually. One of the great joys of the ALIFE conference is its truly interdisciplinary approach encouraging participation and collaboration across research, business, arts, and design, I was extremely pleased with the diversity of scientific submissions, art exhibits, and essays.” 

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