Digital Burgess
A Conference on the Origins and Future of Life on Earth
Conference Overview
See the Detailed Conference Schedule.

High up in the Canadian Rockies lies one of the greatest known records of life on Earth, the Burgess Shale. Fossils of Burgess organisms have confounded previously held notions of evolution and increased public interest in paleontology. The Burgess has also further inspired a global movement to digitally model organisms and whole ecosystems. The resulting convergence of Paleontology and the digital world is producing powerful new tools and methods to piece together the story of life. Against the backdrop of the Burgess Shale, this conference will consider the following provocative questions:

  • Humanity is perpetrating a mass extinction of life on Earth, while at the same time creating new variants of living forms through habitat transformation, genetic engineering and cloning. What does the future hold for Earth’s biota and will we survive our own "great experiment" with the biosphere?

  • In our efforts to model biological processes in software, some claim that we will initiate a "digital Cambrian explosion" of information-based life forms inhabiting the Earth’s collective compute spaces. If this occurs, what forms and direction will opportunistic digital biota take, and what will be the consequences for humanity?
Events at the Conference

This unique four day event will be held from August 29th to September 1st in the heart of the spectacular Canadian Rockies at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Arrivals day is August 29th, with an opening keynote that evening. The Trek to the Burgess Shale will take place on August 30th (weather permitting) with an alternate program available. Conference workshops will be held on August 31st and September 1st with a closing keynote on the evening of September 1st.

The opening and closing keynotes are open to the public for a small admission charge. Those intending to go on the trek to the Burgess Shale must sign up in advance. Trek spots will be limited to 30 people, first come first served. Burgess Shale trek participants are encouraged to arrive one or two days early to acclimatize. Burgess Shale trekkers must read and comply with the Burgess Shale Trek Guidelines. There will be an alternate program at the Emerald Lake Lodge. NOTE: TREK 1 is now FULL, reserve your spot in TREK 2 (see below). You will be able to participate in the alternate Emerald Lake Lodge program on August 30th.

There are plenty of events happening in and around Banff and places to visit in the immediate area, so make a real holiday of it!

Who Should Attend

The Digital Burgess Conference will provide an interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of ideas between natural scientists, computer scientists, and artists. Discussions will be interspersed with presentations on evolution and demonstrations of digital tools that model organisms and living systems. This conference will provide an environment for the exploration of novel research and artistic directions.

Keynote Events (open to the public)

There will be opening and closing keynote presentations and receptions in the evening of August 29th and September 1st which will be open to the public. Seating is limited and priority will be given to conference attendees and sponsoring organizations.

Trek to the Burgess Shale

Small view of Burgess Shale
Click here to experience
a visit to the Burgess Shale

Up to 30 participating Digital Burgess attendees will be guided to the actual site of the Burgess Shale and receive the latest interpretations of the Burgess organisms and current theories of evolution. As this is a strenuous hike, there will be an alternate program available. See full details of the upcoming trek. NOTE: TREK 1 is now FULL, reserve your spot in TREK 2 (see below). You will be able to participate in the alternate Emerald Lake Lodge program on August 30th.

Conference Workshops

Conference workshops will feature discussion and debate of key questions in evolution, mass extinction, and hypotheses about digital ecosystems. Attendees will participate in special demonstrations and hands-on virtual experiments involving the latest digital tools for the study of evolution and modeling of early biota. See more about the workshop contents in the Detailed Conference Schedule.

Technology Showcase

The Banff Centre for the Arts has a well equipped computer facility which will be used for demonstrations and hands-on experiences of various environments used in support of research into evolution and natural science.

Some of the technologies to be showcased will include:
  • VRML 2.0 and Java as key tools in 3D modeling of organisms with embodied behavior, VRML models of Burgess organisms
  • Tierra, a large scale networked digital ecosystem
  • Synthetic plants and their environments as represented by L-systems
  • Cellular Automata
  • Genetic Algorithms
  • Systems representing Flocking and Swarming behaviors
  • Digital fossil repositories, including recent fieldwork of universities and local high schools

Other systems embodying principles from biology to be discussed may include:
  • A taxonomy and history of the computer virus
  • Emergent properties in multi-agent systems
  • Biologically inspired robot motion
  • Computational Neuroethology
Explore the Worlds of Paleobiology and Digital Biota and see our educational mission Synthetic Ecosystems for more links to these techologies.

Other Events and Activities in Banff and the Immediate Area

  • The Banff Festival of the Arts will be happening concurrently with the conference. See:
  • Experience the Spectacular Canadian Rockies including:
      Lake Louise, horseback riding, and alpine Hiking in Yoho National Park and other areas.
  • The Royal Tyrrell Museum (about 3 hours drive) is one of the premier museums in the world for dinosaur fossils and about early life on earth. See:
  • Takakkaw Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the world and is visible from the route to the Burgess Shale.
  • The Cave and Basin, and Upper Springs natural hot springs are close by in Banff
  • The Sulphur Mountain gondola ride features great views.
  • Sunshine Meadows, one of the largest alpine meadows in the world, straddles the nearby continental divide.
  • The Columbia Ice fields, where you can walk on a glacier is just a few hours drive to Jasper Park.

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