René Doursat, Ph.D.
Complex Systems Institute, Paris (ISC-PIF)
November 30, 2012
12:50 - 1:45 pm
Kalkin, Room 001
Generally, phenomena of spontaneous pattern formation are random and repetitive, whereas elaborate devices are the deterministic product of human design. Yet, biological organisms and collective insect constructions are exceptional examples of complex systems that are both architectured and self-organized. Can we understand their precise self-formation capabilities and integrate them with technological planning? Can physical systems be endowed with information, or informational systems be embedded in physics, to create autonomous morphologies and functions? I will present a new field of research, Morphogenetic Engineering, which explores the modeling and implementation of "self-architecturing" systems. Particular emphasis is set on the programmability and computational abilities of self-organization, properties that are underappreciated in complex systems science—while, conversely, the benefits of self-organization are underappreciated in engineering methodologies.
Embryomorphic Engineering, a particular instance of Morphogenetic Engineering, takes its inspiration directly from biological development to create new robotic, software or network architectures by decentralized self-assembly of elementary agents. At its core, it combines three key principles of multicellular embryogenesis: chemical gradient diffusion (providing positional information to the agents), gene regulatory networks (triggering their differentiation into types, thus patterning), and cell division or aggregation (creating structural constraints, thus reshaping). I will illustrate the potential of Embryomorphic Engineering in different spaces: 2D/3D physical swarms, which can find applications in collective robotics, synthetic biology or nanotechnology; and nD graph topologies, which can find applications in distributed software and peer-to-peer techno-social networks. In all cases, the specific genotype shared by all the agents makes the phenotype's complex architecture and function modular, programmable and reproducible.
René Doursat (http://doursat.free.fr) is a Research Scientist and former Director of the Complex Systems Institute, Paris Ile-de-France (ISC-PIF). He also co-founded the Complex Systems Master's at Ecole Polytechnique, where he is an Adjunct Lecturer. Previously, he was a Visiting Assistant Professor in computer science at the University of Nevada, after an extended period in the Bay Area's software industry. An alumnus of Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, he completed his PhD in 1991 and a postdoc in neuroinformatics at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany. The main theme of Rene's research is the computational modeling and simulation of morphogenetic engineering systems (Springer book to appear), i.e. how complex architectures self-organize from a swarm of heterogeneous agents via dynamical, developmental, and evolutionary processes. He was the General Chair of ECAL 2011, the European Conference on Artificial Life.
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