Full Program

Detailed Conference Daily Schedule
Read more about the excellent program participants.
Note that this is the final schedule

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Welcome to the Digital Burgess

Welcome to the Digital Burgess, a conference on the origins and future of life on Earth.

High up in the Canadian Rockies lies one of the greatest known records of the Cambrian epoch, the Burgess Shale. Fossils of Burgess Shale organisms have confounded previously held notions of evolution and increased public interest in Paleontology. The Burgess Shale has also contributed to a global movement to digitally model organisms and whole ecosystems. The resulting convergence of Paleontology and the digital world is producing powerful new tools that can be used to piece together the story of life and provide inspiration for the Computer Sciences and arts.

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, as well as potential new sources of support of research on evolution and innovative methods in computer science and the arts. We hope you enjoy the following program:

Arrivals Day: August 29, 1997

We recommend earlier arrival if you are planning to go on the Burgess Shale trek on August 29th or 30th. This will allow for acclimatization. See detailed requirements for the Burgess Shale Trek.

Optional Exercise Hike up Tunnel Mountain

This brisk walk will take the group up Tunnel Mountain above the Banff Centre. This is a 30 minute walk up a well prepared trail with moderate grades. This is designed to help attendees acclimatize to the Banff environment and prepare for the Burgess Shale treks. This hike will depart from the Professional Development building of the Banff Centre at 3pm on August 29th and last from 2 to 3 hours. At the top, artist Teri Reub will give us an artistic overview of the way to the Burgess Shale.

Opening Keynote
August 29 7:00pm-11:15pm

The opening and closing sessions will be held at the Margaret Greenham Theatre at the Banff Centre. Both of these events are open to the public at a cost of $10CDN. Priority seating will be given to registered attendees of Digital Burgess.

  • 7:00-8:00 Welcoming Reception, display of evolutionary art
  • 8:00-8:15 Welcome by Sara Diamond, Bruce Damer
  • 8:15-9:00 Film and computer graphics documentary on the Burgess Shale Fauna
  • 9:00-9:25 Randle Robertson, on the Burgess Shale Foundation and visiting the Shale
  • 9:25-9:40 Brief Intermission
  • 9:40-10:05 Paul Johnston: Royal Tyrrell Museum bringing the Burgess Shale to the public
  • 10:05-11:05 Desmond Collins on the lessons of the Burgess Shale Fauna
  • 11:05-11:15 Overview of conference program, Burgess Trek and Emerald Lake Lodge

Day Two: August 30, 1997
In the Field at the Burgess Shale or Emerald Lake
Small view of Burgess Shale
Click here to experience
a visit to the Burgess Shale

Burgess Trek 1
August 30, all day

See detailed requirements for the Burgess Shale Trek if you intend to participate on this trek.

  • Bus leaves from the Banff Centre at 7:00am. Box lunch will be provided.
  • After the bus reaches the starting point for the hike, the first group of 15 will depart just after 8:00am and the second group of 15 will depart at 9:00am.
  • Narration by Desmond Collins and expert guides from The Burgess Shale Foundation will outline the nearby geological formations and landforms, structural geology, stratigraphy, sedimentations/folding and other background to the formation of the Burgess Shale.
  • At the Walcott Quarry, discussions with Des Collins' fieldwork team from the Royal Ontario Museum will include recent finds.

Emerald Lake Lodge Program
August 30, all day

  • Full program of lectures on the Burgess Shale Fauna.
  • Lunch provided at the lodge
  • Walk around Emerald Lake area
  • Trip to adjacent waterfall

Evening Bar-B-Que at the Banff Centre

  • The BBQ Starts at 8:30pm at the Trans-Canada Pipeline Pavilion. Rest your aching muscles, exercise your stimulated mind and meet your fellow Digital Burgess participants around the bonfire.
  • Dinner will be served between 9:00pm and 10:00pm and includes a choice of: hamburgers, veggie burgers, corn on the cob, green salad and a non-alchoholic punch.
  • A cash bar will be available until 11:00pm
  • Get a good night's sleep to be ready for two days of intense cross polination between Paleontology and the Digital World.

Day Three: August 31, 1997

Session Day One

Digital tools in the service of Paleontology and Natural Sciences
William Riedel and Stefan Bengtson

  • Bill Riedel will chair a panel of distinguished Paleontological researchers and is coordinator of the Paleo program track.
  • Stefan Bengtson's session will be titled "The present as a keyhole to the past", focusing on the use of present life as analogues to past life.
  • Roy Plotnick will discuss the role of computer modeling in understanding the ecological and evolutionary history of life on earth. His presentation will be titled: "The Ecological Play and the Geological Theater: Modeling Chaos and Contingency in the History of Life". Read his paper The Ecological Play and the Geological Theater for some background prior to this session.
  • Bruce Runnegar, Paleobiologist, University of California Los Angeles, will talk about the "Virtual life of the Cambrian Explosion".


A Theory behind the Bauplans
of the Burgess Fauna

Richard Gordon
Richard Gordon will describe his discovery of a set of waves on axolotl embryos that may trigger cell differentiation. The waves are organized in space and time in a differentiation tree that varies from one kind of organism to another, and may explain the Bauplans of the Burgess creatures.

An Open Exploration in how Paleontology and Paleobiology can benefit from Digital Technologies and Methods
Panel discussants: William Riedel, Stefan Bengtson, Roy Plotnick, Bruce Runnegar

    This is the first open session of the conference. We invite attendees, especially those from the digital world to suggest ways in which their skills, research methods, funding sources and collaboration might benefit Paleontology and Paleobiology, both of which are facing a severe worldwide funding crisis. Results of this discussion will be contributed directly to the Paleontology in the 21st Century Workshop being held in Frankfurt, Germany on September 3-9, directly following Digital Burgess. See the purposes of Paleo21 to understand the importance of this event.

    In the afternoon and for the rest of the conference, many presenters from the computer sciences and digital arts will discuss and demonstrate approaches to modeling and visualizing living systems. We all take inspiration from the wondrous biota around us and the impressive process of evolution so clearly visible in the fauna of the Burgess Shale. Our digital constructs often mimic organisms or ecosystems in the natural world. Therefore, more powerful digital methods can be discovered through insights from the Paleo sciences. Closer collaboration with and support of those researching life's origins can only benefit Computer Science, the digital arts and the whole high technology industry.


Artificial Evolution I
Tom Ray, Larry Yaeger

  • Tom Ray will show guide us into Network Tierra, running live on a cluster of machines at the Banff Centre and all over the world. Find more about Tom Ray and Tierra on his Homepage at ATR.
  • Larry Yaeger will talk about PolyWorld and "life and information" insights from a computational ecology. Pay a visit to the PolyWorld computational ecology.


Artificial Evolution II
Karl Sims, Demetri Terzopoulos

  • Karl Sims will present results from several projects in which artificial evolution is used to generate synthetic plants, abstract images, and virtual creatures. Various types of genetic grammars will be described, and various types of selection methods will be discussed including aesthetic interactive selection, automated goal oriented selection, and selection by competition. See our page on Karl Sim's creatures for some examples of his work.
  • Demetri Terzopoulos will present a session on ARTIFICIAL ANIMALS: Biomechanics, Locomotion, Perception, Behavior, Learning & Cognition in Simulated Physical Worlds. We have created physics-based virtual worlds inhabited by realistic artificial animals possessing muscle-actuated bodies, eyes, and brains with motor, perception, behavior, learning, and cognition centers. Our approach has been to develop sophisticated computational models of animals with reasonable faithfulness to the relevant physics, anatomy, and ethology. These models are of interest to computer graphics in part because they are self-animating creatures. They are also valuable to the study of perception, learning, and cognition in living systems. I will demonstrate artificial animals that can navigate their synthetic world using vision algorithms to continuously analyze the foveated retinal image streams acquired by their eyes. I will also describe algorithms that enable artificial animals to learn muscle-actuated locomotion, as well as to acquire some astonishing, high-level motor skills guided by sensory perception. Furthermore, through knowledge representation, artificial animals can reason about causality in their world to appropriately plan their actions. Read more about Demetri Terzopoulos and his research on his homepage.

Open discussion and closing of the Day
Bruce Damer and conference documentors

Final open discussion of the day and daily summation by conference documentors. Updates about the next day's activities. Participants may then engage in:

  • Hands on experience of software systems for the study of evolution and living systems as well as generative art in the Rice Studio.
  • Informal socializing in the Props lounge.
Dinner and evening on your own
Recommended activities: dinner in Banff township, visit to local hot springs, information on these options will be available from the Banff Centre staff.

Day Four: September 1, 1997

Session Day Two

Modeling, Simulation, and Visualization of Living and Extinct Plants
Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz and Christian Jacob

  • A brief history of the applications of computer graphics to paleobiology,
  • Principles of the modeling of plant forms and simulation of plant development using L-systems,
  • Examples of the simulation and visualization of the evolution of plants,
  • Evolutionary algorithms and evolution of L-system encoded fractal and plant structures,
  • Coevolution of plant behaviour in competitive environments.


Solving Real World Problems with Cellular Automata and Genetic Algorithms
Chris Winter, Paul Marrow, Rajarshi Das

    Chris Winter and Paul Marrow will present the following session:

  • Evolving systems for real-world problems: from the small to the large
    Biological ideas have informed several techniques currently used in computing; e.g., genetic algorithms, genetic programming and cellular automata. We would like to be able to use these algorithms to reduce the effort involved in producing realistic computer applications, but at present the methods available only work for small-scale problems. We will discuss the reasons for this, and contrast this situation with that in the biological world, where evolution has occurred robustly over very long time-scales, and has resulted in a large amount of diversity. What can we learn from biology in developing applications for real-world problems? We will present some early results from our group's research into making computer systems more evolvable, and give some suggestions for the future.

    Rajarshi Das of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Santa Fe Institute will present the following:

  • The Evolution of Emergent Computation
    How does evolution produce sophisticated emergent computation in systems composed of simple components limited to local interactions? In this work we construct models of such processes, using a genetic algorithms (GA) to evolve cellular automata (CAs) to perform computational tasks requiring globally-coordinated information processing. We show that the emergent coordination is engendered when evolution takes advantage of the underlying medium's potential to form embedded particles. The particles, typically walls or defects between homogeneous domains in a CA, are discovered and then modified by the evolutionary process to perform the given computational task. It is shown that the particles are one of the main mechanisms for carrying information over long space-time distances in a CA. This information might indicate, for example, the partial result of some local processing which has occurred elsewhere at an earlier time. Logical operations on the information particles carry are performed when particles interact. In essence, the collection of domains, particles, and particle interactions for a CA represents the basic information-processing elements embedded in the CA's spatio-temporal behavior.
    For a given computational task, we delineate the typical solutions discovered by the GA, and the discovered coordination algorithm in terms of embedded particles dynamics. The particle-level description is also be employed to analyze the evolutionary sequence by which the solutions were discovered. These results have implications both for understanding emergent collective behavior in dynamical systems and for the automatic programming of decentralized multiprocessor systems.
    Detailed information regarding this project can be found at http://www.santafe.edu/~evca/.


Assisted Digital Evolution: Digital Biota Let Loose on the Internet, User Experience and Implications
Steve Grand, Bruce Damer, Mark Rudolph

  • Virtual pets and assisted evolution in a digital Cambrian Explosion
  • Is the Universe made out of Scotsmen? Why can't you make San Francisco out of water? What has Rudyard Kipling got to do with Cosmology? What's the relationship between atoms and minds? Can computers be alive? Can software be alive? Can softer-than-software be aliver-than-alive? All of these questions will bravely be tackled and fail hopelessly to find adequate answers in this talk on the philosophical, computational and ethical challenges presented by Artificial Life.
    Steve Grand of Cyberlife will conclude this speculative swim into the digital primordial soup with some philosophical and other challenges raised by this latest attempt by humanity to author life.
  • Bruce Damer will demonstrate some Digital Biota including a growing L-system forest with plans for a polygon control ecosystem. Bruce will also talk about biological systems as appropriate models for the next version of Cyberspace and the philosophical implications of a Cambrian Explosion in digital space: why would life want to exist in bits?
  • Mark Rudolph: Metaforms, abstractions and building a Cyberspace out of biological metaphor


Evolution through the Eyes of the Digital Artist
Steven Rooke, Darrel Anderson, Joel Hagen

  • Steven Rooke will present lessons and surprises from four years' experience guiding evolution by aesthetic selection of genetic artwork. See some examples of his work at his home page.
  • Darrel Anderson will be showing his experiments in algorithmic art, and talking about his efforts to provide kids with tools for their own explorations. His current project, GroBot, is software designed to give kids a fast, intuitive 3D drawing and programming environment, and means of exploring art/science synergy. See Darrel's Grobot home page.
  • Artist Joel Hagen will present Xenobiology: Perceiving the Limits of Alien Life in which he will discuss past and present scientific perceptions of alien life. Within that context, he will explore the challenges facing artists who depict alien life. Joel will show his creation of a museum of alien fossils. See Joel's work at: http://www.ainet.com/hagen


Open Discussion on the Key Conference Themes
Facilitators to be determined at the conference

    Food for thought
  • Screening of an insightful new computer graphics piece: The DNA Story.

    Key Questions

    Origins of the designs of life

  • The Blind Watchmaker:
    how did the body plans in the Cambrian seas emerge and why did certain designs survive over others?
  • Digital modeling of living and evolutionary systems:
    what kinds of insight can software systems give us into the evolution of living systems?

    Digital tools with biological inspiration

  • Use of biological metaphor in computing and engineering:
    will living systems inspire powerful new software and engineering solutions for humanity?
  • Biological software may be stimulating whole new forms of artistic expression:
    what are the fundamental sources of the aesthetic that can spring equally from nature or a digital ecosystem?

    The future of Life on and off the Earth

  • Lessons learned from mass extinctions:
    what do past mass extinctions tell us about the vast reduction in biodiversity being perpetrated by humanity and how will this affect the future course of life?
  • New niches, new biota:
    will cloning and gene manipulation produce a radical new direction for biota on an Earth transformed by humanity?
  • Consequences of bona fide digital life:
    will a Cambrian Explosion of the digital occur in the next century and if so, what might be the impact on the future of humankind and life on and off the Earth?

Closing of the Day
Bruce Damer and conference documentors

End of day and conference wrapup by conference documentor team. News about the closing event and keynotes. Participants have the following options:

  • Hands on experience of software systems for the study of evolution and living systems as well as generative art in the Rice Studio.
  • Informal socializing in the Props lounge.

Dinner on your own

Closing Event and Keynotes
This event will be held at the Margaret Greenham Theatre at the Banff Centre. This event is open to the public at a cost of $10CDN. Priority seating will be given to registered attendees of Digital Burgess.

  • 7:30-8:00 cash bar, dessert snacks
  • 8:00-8:05 Introducing Digital Burgess conference, closing keynote speakers
  • 8:05-9:15 Karl Sims will present demonstrations of artificial evolution in the service of art and science. See our pages on Karl Sims' work.
  • 9:15-9:30 Brief Intermission
  • 9:30-10:45 Tom Ray will talk about the need for both a physical and digital biodiversity preserve and the prospects for a Cambrian Explosion in Cyberspace. Find more about Tom Ray and Tierra on his Homepage at ATR.
  • 10:45-10:50 Bruce Damer: Biota, the Contact Consortium, upcoming programs
  • 10:50-11:00 Sara Diamond, Bruce Damer: thanks to sponsors, supporters, staff, media, Banff Centre, The Burgess Shale Foundation and others

New Sessions under development
Topics being developed

  • Ricardo Colasanti from COGS

  • LEE Hoong-Chien: will present a poster session (TBA)

Optional Day Five: September 2, 1997

Burgess Trek 2
September 2, all day

This day is optional and is provided for those who were not able to participate in the first trek to the Burgess Shale on August 30th, due to the trek being full or other factors. This trek is not officially part of the Digital Burgess conference and those wanting to participate (up to 15 people) must register for it during the conference and cover their own costs ($40CDN) and make their own way to the starting location for the hike. The hike will be guided by members of the Burgess Shale Foundation. See detailed requirements for the Burgess Shale Trek if you intend to participate on this trek.

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