Jon McCormack, Eden, Evolutionary Sonic Ecosystem, 2000-2010
All the world is watered with the dregs of eden…
Eden is an interactive, self-generating, artificial ecosystem. A cellular world is populated by collections of evolving virtual creatures. These creatures move about their environment, making and listening to sounds, foraging for food, encountering predators and possibly mating with each other. Over time, creatures evolve to fit their landscape. Eden has four seasons per year and each year lasts 600 Eden days. One Eden year passes by in about fifteen minutes of real time. A simple physics dictates only three basic types of matter in the Eden world: rocks, biomass and sonic creatures.
Creatures can learn about their environment, and then pass learnt knowledge on to their offspring. Eden’s creatures begin with little knowledge about the world they are born into. Over time they learn how to find food and potential mates, while avoiding obstacles and predators. They also learn how to make use of sound, since they can make a variety of sounds and hear the sounds made by other creatures in their immediate vicinity.
Not only do creatures adapt to their environment, they modify it, creating complex feedback dependencies between organism and environment, leading to ongoing dynamic change. Over time, many different novel ways of existing are discovered by the system, ways that were never envisaged or planned by its creator. In this sense, contrary to the expectations of Lady Lovelace, the computer has been able to originate something new.
Eden is also an interactive system. A video camera looks down from above the installation and detects the presence and movement of people in the exhibition space. A person’s presence and movement within the exhibition space affects the production of food resources in the virtual Eden world. The longer people stay in the space – indicating their interest in the work – the more food will be produced in the virtual world near the location of the viewer. Over time, creatures learn that by making interesting sequences of sounds, visitors will stay longer in the exhibition space, providing more abundant food resources. This allows the creatures to better survive and reproduce. Even though they have no explicit knowledge of their human audience, the creatures learn that making interesting sounds will lead to a more fertile world for them to live in.
A synergetic relation therefore develops between the human audience and the virtual creatures, linking the real and the virtual in an open-ended, emergent dialogue.
Eden was inspired by time spent in the wilderness of Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.
Here are some images taken at the Sensesurround exhibition, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, 2004. Click on the thumbnail to view a large version of the image.