Digital Digital Burgess Conference Reviews:
Bruce Damer
Conference was held August 29-September 1 1997, Banff Alberta, Canada

Note that this review was written for a late 1997 issue of the Burgess Shale Foundation's newsletter Marrella

Digital Burgess was a conference designed to mix the unique talents and insights of three professions: Paleontologists, Computer Scientists and Digital Artists. As conference coordinator I had little time to settle down and soak up the proceedings but I was able to remark on some of the unique synergy between these communities. Chris Winter of British Telecom research exclaimed at one point that if we could model a complete organism (a Nematode was being proposed by Richard Gordon's Cyberworm project) then large companies would learn valuable methods for building large software systems.

Conversely, some of the Paleontologists, upon seeing Karl Sims' and Demetri Terzopoulos' adapting digital organisms commented on how these methods had progressed much farther than they had thought and how useful they might be to Paleontology. One example was Terzopoulos' 3D sharks and fishes, which learn efficient swimming behaviors through (all the time in a virtual sea). After viewing VRML models of Anomalocaris swimming about chasing Marrella meals in a virtual world on the Internet, it became apparent that we may soon be able to model larger ecosystems and understand how Cambrian life functioned as a community. The trek to the Walcott Quarries was blessed by wonderful weather and great dialogue between all conferees and our guides: Des Collins and Randle Robertson. There was a memorable "debate" between rain forest ecologist Tom Ray (who developed the digital ecosystem called Tierra) and Des Collins. Standing together against the face (the "database") of the Burgess Shale, they talked about conditions for Cambrian Explosions and whether one could happen in Cyberspace. Discovery Canada and the Banff Centre caught it all on video, watch for the documentary in November! (the program aired in two segments on Discovery Canada in November 1997, and will air again in 1998).

All in all, it was a very memorable event and should generate some fruitful new collaboration. One other thing Digital Burgess proved: the high technology community is a willing and able supporter of Paleontology and the growing public interest in evolution.

Review by Bruce Damer The Contact Consortium Special Interest Group
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