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ISAL Board Elections 2019: Candidate Statements

Submitted by tim on Wed, 18/09/2019 - 3:08pm

Candidates for Election to the ISAL Board of Directors

September 2019

ISAL is electing five new members to its board of directors, to replace the current directors whose terms are expiring. 18 society members are standing for election, as listed below. Follow the links for each candidate's election statement.

All society members will shortly be contacted with further information regarding the election date and voting procedure.

Click on a candidate to read their election statement.


Dennis Wilson

Background

I came into the ALife community four years ago from the Evolutionary Computation and Genetic Programming communities, in which I am still involved. During my thesis, I helped found the ISAL Student group, now the ERA, and acted as Communications Chair from 2017-2018. My research considers AI from an ALife perspective, and I am an organizer of the Developmental Neural Networks workshop, which is taking place at ALIFE 2019. I will soon be an Associate Professor at ISAE-SUPAERO, focusing on lifelong learning in RL domains. At the same time, I have launched a company, Nautilia, which aims to simulate, monitor, and protect the oceans. In both of these capacities, I hope to apply and expand ALife methods.

Statement of Goals

If elected, I would have the following priorities:

  • Environmental impact: in addition to reducing our individual carbon contributions, how can ISAL promote research with positive environmental impact? My response to this has been Nautilia, which aims to use biologging and satellite data to simulate ocean ecosystems, and there are many others in the community working on ecosystem management, policy creation, smart city planning, and other topics that should be highlighted and encouraged from an ecological perspective.
  • Diversity: As ISAL and ALife change, potentially through more virtual meetings, we should be very conscious to involve the entire community, international and minorities especially. I will work to involve non-native English speakers, racial minorities, women, and other underrepresented communities.
  • ALife and AI: As AI receives massive attention, positive and critical, it is worth evaluating the relationship between the two fields - noting their differences but also demonstrating how these two fields can benefit each other.

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Anya Vostinar

Background

I am an assistant professor of Computer Science at Grinnell College, where I lead the SymbuLab, which uses Artificial Life to investigate the evolution of symbiosis and cooperation. I developed and maintain the artificial life platform Symbulation. I publish in venues ranging from GECCO and ALIFE conferences to the Artificial Life journal and ecology and evolution journals. I believe deeply that artificial life is an invaluable field for 1) undergraduate education and 2) public understanding and acceptance of biological dynamics. I have integrated artificial life into several classes and worked with colleagues in biology to enable their students to perform artificial life experiments. I have also written a Medium article on my work to introduce applications of artificial life to the general public. I would use my position on the board to expand this work more broadly

Statement of Goals

If elected, my priorities will be:

  • Developing a system within ISAL to connect undergraduates interested in artificial life research with summer research and graduate school opportunities.
  • Creating an Outreach track that emphasizes ways in which artificial life projects and research can be used in the classroom and to increase public understanding. This track would accept ‘experience report’ papers, modeled after SIGCSE, that focus on what the authors did and do not require assessment.
  • Creating a media recommendations column on the ISAL blog to increase community content on the blog and highlight how recently published books and other media discuss or otherwise relate to artificial life.

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Arend Hintze

Background

I perform research on evolutionary game theory and neuro-evolution using computational models. I think the only viable path to general purpose intelligence is to evolve it in a complex computer model, and I work towards that goal. I have a background in genetics and developmental biology, but now I work exclusively computationally. I am mostly known for my contribution on EGT and Markov Brain development.

Statement of Goals

I think that computational modeling is instrumental to understand complex biological and cognitive processes and I would like to promote this idea not only within the ALIFE community but also use it as a vehicle to expand ALIFE ideas into other disciplines. Similarly, I think that the field of Machine Learning will soon loose its momentum and that genetic algorithms and machines with emergent properties will become the main focus on the path to general purpose intelligence. I would like to help shape and foster this transition of focus towards ALIFE as a key scientific field.

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Stefano Nichele

Background

I am an Associate Professor at the Oslo Metropolitan University (Norway), where I direct the Living Technology Lab. I am the founder and deputy head of the Applied Artificial Intelligence research group and the OsloMet AI Lab. I am also a member of the IEEE CIS Task Force on Artificial Life and Complex Adaptive Systems and the IEEE CIS Task Force on Evolutionary Developmental Systems and Robotics. Recently, I have been working in Alife projects that use self-organizing substrates for computation. Examples include the NTNU Cyborg project (robot controlled by in-vitro neurons), the NASCENCE project (evolution in physical materials, e.g., carbon-nanotubes), the SOCRATES project (computation in substrates made of biological neurons and nanomagnets) and the DeepCA project (hybrid systems made of cellular automata and biological neurons). I am co-chairing of the IEEE ALIFE 2019 conference and I am a member of the ISAL award committee 2019.

Statement of Goals

If elected, my priorities will be:

  • Restart the annual ISAL summer school
  • Organize Alife workshops in major AI conferences (e.g., NeurIPS; ICLR, ICML) to facilitate cross-fertilization
  • Serve as an ISAL liaison with the IEEE Task Force on Artificial Life and Complex Adaptive Systems for better coordination and joint initiatives

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Lana Sinapayen

Background

I am a research scientist at the Earth-Life Science Institute and at Sony Computer Science Laboratories in Tokyo, where I lead a team working on the topic of "prediction" in areas as diverse as human perception, the evolution of cognitive abilities, and Astrobiology. Since joining the ALife community in 2015, my contributions have been of 3 kinds: I have been working at the frontier of AI and ALife, and my co-authored paper on self-organizing spiking networks received an award at the ALife 2018 conference. I have helped chairing, organizing, and reviewing for sessions at the ALife conference. Finally, I have been active in making ALife known to other fields and to the general public through numerous public talks or events, and my science communication project @ALifePapers was awarded the 2019 ISAL Education and Outreach Award. I am also a co-organizer of the Fake Life Recognition Contest launching this year.

Statement of Goals

My commitment is to increase the visibility and accessibility of ALife research both inside and outside of the community.

  • Through open science standards: encouraging the publication of open access preprints, shared code, and shared data, possibly following the Open Science Badges standard
  • By organizing and helping to organize ALife competitions to increase exchanges with other communities, such as the vibrant data science and deep learning communities
  • By discussing with the ISAL board the adoption of new science practices, an area in which I have been very involved in recent years: use of the "BetterPoster" layout (for which I developed the latex version) and other alternatives; creation of an Overlay Journal; crowdsourced hypothesis generation.

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Sara Imari Walker

Background

I am an Associate Professor, Deputy Director of the Beyond Center and Associate Director of the ASU-SFI Biosocial Complexity Center at Arizona State University, working at the intersection of artificial life, theoretical physics and astrobiology. I’m most interested in understanding fundamental principles of life and how life emerges from non-life. My research team at ASU takes a broad approach to these problems, with projects on life’s origins, collective behavior, AI/consciousness, information in biology, statistical approaches to biochemistry, planetary life and biosignatures. With collaborators, I’ve published in many ALIFE proceedings and in journals including PRL, PNAS, Astrobiology, Science, Frontiers in Robotics and AI, among others. I regularly co-organize workshops and conferences, including the 2015 ‘Re-Conceptualizing the Origins of Life’ at the intersection of origin of life and ALife research. I’m active in public engagement, promoting ALife-related research, including participating in the world science festival.

Statement of Goals

I am really honored to be nominated, especially since working across many scientific communities I have found the ALife community among my favorites. My goals as a board member are to:

  • Strengthen connections between ALIFE and other communities working in closely related areas, particularly focusing on enhancing exchange between origins of life/astrobiology and artificial life research, by serving as a liaison between these communities
  • Build on efforts within the ALife community and beyond to bring ideas about artificial life to the public, with particular focus on encouraging more young people with creative ideas to pursue ALife-related research
  • Support our early career researchers, helping them to advance ALife research and set future directions in the field, including building resources to aid in their career development, public speaking, and doing boundary-pushing science

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Jitka Cejkova

Background

I work as an Assistant Professor at University of Chemistry and Technology Prague. (I submitted Habilitation thesis titled “Chemical engineering contribution to artificial life research” in February 2019). Besides wet-artificial-life-oriented research and teaching, I am actively involved into the science communication. My research focuses on the idea to use droplets as liquid robots (paper of the same name was awarded by ISAL as Outstanding Paper of 2017 in the field of Artificial Life). I regularly attend artificial life conferences, I organized a workshop “Chemistry and artificial life forms” in Newcastle. In the occasion of 100th anniversary of the word “robot”, that comes from Czech Čapek’s play R.U.R. I am preparing a book “Robot 100” (and around 30 Alifers already promised to contribute). I am organizing ALIFE 2021 conference in Prague.

Statement of Goals

I would like to keep the artificial life community as great as it is. (Anyway there is always the space for some improvements). I would like to help the community by activities as follow: I will continue to promote artificial life field at non-ISAL conferences and invite other researchers to our community. I will use my communication skills to introduce the artificial life research also for non-experts (by using social and other media). I will look for financial support (sponsors, grant proposals) that enables more intensive networking (organizing local meetings, summers schools, short term scientific missions). The priority will be to co-locate conferences and meetings, organizing workshops at non-ISAL conferences. Alife community is like my family and I would like to be more active in organizing events for them and support the networking.

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Emily Dolson

Background

I am currently a postdoc at Cleveland Clinic in the United States. In Fall 2020, I will start a faculty position in the computer science department at Michigan State University. I have been involved with the ALife community for six years, serving as chair of the student/postdoc group for the past 3. Recently, this position has lead me to begin the process of taking over as webmaster for the ISAL website. I have also been involved with the ALife data standards project, an attempt to strengthen the ALife software ecosystem. My research interests center on understanding eco-evolutionary dynamics and how we can use spatially heterogeneity environments to control the evolution of complex ecological communities. Thus far, I have studied these questions in the context of evolutionary computation, digital evolution, and cancer. I also have a crosscutting interest in open-ended evolution.

Statement of Goals

While I have many long-term goals for the society (e.g. promoting strengthened dialog with biologists, diversity, and broader public engagement) my concrete goals as a board member would center around reducing the barriers to entry for our field. The work I have already been doing on the ISAL website represents a first step in this direction, as I am migrating the website to a platform that will allow these contributions. As a board member, I would organize the creation of a set of resources on how to do Artificial Life research (many have already expressed interest in contributing). This repository would enable students and researchers from other fields to more rapidly discover ALife software and techniques, encouraging them to join our community. I am also excited about using the website as a tool to launch other projects.

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Peter Andras

Background

I am a Professor of Computer Science with strong interest in the evolution of biological and social systems and the modelling and simulation of evolutionary processes. I have worked on protein interaction networks, biological neural systems, and the evolution of cooperation and social institutions. I have written papers about the origins of life, FPGA implementation of synthetic neurons, neuron-scale analysis of small biological neural systems, the role of uncertainty in the evolution of cooperation. I have been involved in setting up three spin-off companies. I have extensive experience in setting up and running organisations inside and outside of academia, including the managing of social media presence. I have been on editorial boards of interdisciplinary journals. I have attended ALife/ECAL conferences since 2009, I have co-organised workshops at the recent conferences and co-guest edited a journal special issue on social learning.

Statement of Goals

My aim will be to strengthen the society’s links with industry, to get more engagement with AI focused companies and to bring artificial life to the forefront of industrial applications. I will also aim engage with other organisations, especially think tanks and policy focused organisations, which can help to increase the awareness about the importance and potential impact of artificial life research. I also see very important the interaction and collaboration with funding organisations (government, charities, industry) in order to gather support for funding programmes aimed to artificial life researchers. Finally, I will also aim to have an active relationship with associations of academic decision makers (e.g. deans, heads of departments) to ensure that sufficient volume of academic positions and appropriate career tracks are open for researchers working on artificial life topics.

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Olaf Witkowski

Background

  • My first interdisciplinary experience was through my MSc thesis (2007), in 'ethno-cryptography' with evolution and neural networks, which eventually led me to discover ALife, my favorite soundboard community to this day.
  • I am a Director of Scientific Affairs and Chief Scientist at Cross Labs, in Tokyo. We founded this research institute to study the fundamental principles of intelligence, from cognitive neuroscience to ALife, at the crossroads between academia and AI industry. I'm also affiliated with TokyoTech and the Institute for Advanced Study, and I'm teaching information science at the University of Tokyo.
  • My passion is to help foster cross-disciplinary research in physics of life and mind: in 2015, I co-founded YHouse­ – a nonprofit transdisciplinary research institute in New York focused on the study of awareness, artificial intelligence, and complex systems. I also had the pleasure to 'program-co-chair' ALIFE 2018, and a few other ALife meetings.

Statement of Goals

My priorities are diversity, communication and impact:

  • Keep the community young, diverse, 'scruffy' (Inman Harvey, ALIFE 2018 keynote) and wildly creative. Keep ALife from crystallizing into inert clusters, by fostering deep discussion across sub-fields at workshops and conferences.
  • Engage in communication and outreach to continually renew and connect our community with the outside, and actively share with neighboring communities: astrobiology/OoL (e.g. ISSOL), AI (e.g. IMLS, NeurIPS), consciousness (e.g. ASSC), fundamental physics (e.g. FQXi), and many more. This will require a full rethink of our current submission formats (full paper vs. abstract vs. late-breaking) and online management systems.
  • Contribute to human society and collaborate closely with the industry, both on concrete applications and foundational theory of ALife. I want to advocate for concrete synergies with the industry, including joint grants, yearly open challenges, shared positions, and bilateral collaborations towards progress in science and philosophy of life and cognition.

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Luis Zaman

Background

Hello! I am starting as an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan in September of 2019. My appointment is joint between the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) department, and the Center for the Study of Complex Systems (CSCS). I earned a dual PhD in Computer Science and EEB from Michigan State University where I worked with Charles Ofria (ISAL Outgoing President) and Richard Lenski on a mixture of microbial and digital evolution. My research and teaching, though mostly oriented towards a biological audience, is deeply interdisciplinary and draws heavily from the field of Artificial Life. I have attended many ALIFE/ECAL and GECCO meetings, but in some ways I view my role within the society as more of an evangelist than an organizer. As someone primarily embedded within the broader evolutionary biology community, my goals have been focused on making ALife a “household” name in ecology and evolution.

Statement of Goals

It's a huge honor to be nominated for the ISAL board. I've always loved this community, and especially its willingness to explore what might sometimes seem like obscure corners of the scientific landscape. My goals as a board member would be to foster this kind of risk taking within the community, and to discourage attempts to make ALife more narrowly defined. Of course, this raises a unique set of challenges to the success of a field. With that in mind, I think the question of “what is life” is poised to make another wave in popular science. I would strongly argue we are the community that should have the authoritative position. In summary, my goals are to 1) continue furthering the reputation of artificial life among biological sciences, 2) foster the curiosity and playfulness that I admire so much in this community, and 3) position the ALife community as the authoritative source on questions about what living systems are, and how we might understand them.

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Charles Ofria

Background

I am a Professor of Computer Science at Michigan State University, current president of ISAL, and a dedicated member of the Artificial Life community since 1993 when I started developing the Avida research platform. I consistently advocate using Artificial Life techniques in biology, and my own artificial life research has appeared in top-tier biology journals. In 2008 I united a group of computer scientists and evolutionary biologists to form the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action; I now direct the $47.5 million center, funded by the US National Science Foundation. In 2012, I chaired ALIFE XIII, linking it with the annual BEACON Congress and substantially increased participation of biologists. Since 2016 I have been ISAL President, helping to improve and grow the society. My research involves computational experiments to understand fundamental evolutionary dynamics, including the evolution of complexity, major evolutionary transitions, and the principles of open-ended evolution.

Statement of Goals

If elected my priorities will be to continue to:

  • Grow ISAL. The society has been around for decades, but remains small due to few incentives and a confusing membership process. I will continue working toward taking over membership management to simplify it, while building an inclusive community and expanding member advantages.
  • Expand and unite the Artificial Life community. Many researchers are already conducting Alife research, but don’t realize it. Those that come to our conferences end up having a more positive view of the field, and often even join us.
  • Highlight the value of Alife for engaging the public and improving scientific understanding through art, games, and societal impacts.
  • Push open science by updating conference and journal policies (e.g., open access options, badges for replicating experiments, etc) while providing forums for effective collaboration and discussion.
  • Develop materials to streamline organizing ALIFE conferences, local Alife-based workshops, and student organizations.

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Sebastian Risi

Background

I'm an associate professor at the IT University of Copenhagen, where I co-direct the Robotics, Evolution and Art Lab (REAL). I'm interested in ALIFE topics such as neuroevolution, generative and developmental systems, and open-ended evolution. Together with colleagues, I have developed several ALIFE algorithms that facilitate the evolution of more complex artificial systems (Adaptive ES-HyperNEAT, Evolving Neural Turing Machines, Ribosomal Robots). Currently, I'm very excited by the emerging field of ALIFE projects at the intersection of digital and biological systems, like our florarobotica.eu project that investigates symbiotic relationships between robots and natural plants. I have co-chaired several ALIFE-related events, such as the Complex Systems track at GECCO, an AAAI symposium about abstractions in AI research, and GECCO's Virtual Creature Competition. For ALIFE 14 I organized the first ALIFE Science Visualisation Competition, to encourage communicating ideas from our field to a broader audience and cross-pollinating of ideas between different ALIFE subfields.

Statement of Goals

I am honored to have been nominated as a candidate for the ISAL Board. If elected I would:

  • continue to make ALIFE accessible to a broader audience through events such as Science Visualisation Competitions
  • foster more interactions between different ALIFE subfields by organizing workshops that explicitly encourage interdisciplinary work and introduce a new "best interdisciplinary paper" award
  • ALIFE ideas such as open-ended evolution or quality diversity have been highly influential in our field but are only starting to inspire others. I will continue to be an ISAL ambassador to share our ideas with the machine learning, games, and robotics community.

Thank you for your consideration!

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Michael Wiser

Background

My background is an evolutionary biologist. I first got involved in the ALife community as a grad student when my university hosted an ALife conference. As a postdoc, I've been routinely attending the yearly meetings, submitting and reviewing papers there and for the journal, and have written a book review for the journal. My ALife-relevant research focuses on questions of repeatability and predictability in the evolutionary process, collaborating with computer scientists where I contribute knowledge of the biological literature and statistics that meshes well with their programming expertise to study biological processes in ways that are largely intractable with organic systems. In addition to my basic science research, I've also been conducting pedagogical research with the Avida-ED software, and have run a series of tutorials on that software.

Statement of Goals

My main goal as a board member would be to increase the participation of people in other disciplines who are doing work in or related to artificial life, but who don’t see themselves as part of the artificial life community. The two main scientific fields I am part of that I see as underrepresented in ALife are a) population biology (including evolution, ecology, astrobiology, etc), and b) science education. Population biology in particular has a lot to contribute to ALife, both in terms of insights into evolutionary and ecological processes, and also in systematic statistical approaches to experimentation. Science education experts would further be useful in helping us to quantify the effects of the multiple different educational tools in our field.

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Wolfgang Banzhaf

Background

I am the John R. Koza Professor in Genetic Programming at Michigan State University, and member of the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. In my past, I was chair of the executive of ACM-SIGEVO, the ACM special interest group in evolutionary computing. I have co-founded the journal Genetic Programming and Evolvable Machines, and am involved in the organization of the EvoStar series of conferences in Europe, and its sponsor, the SPECIES association. My interests are in EC and Alife, in particular Artificial Chemistries (see my book with that title) and self-organizing processes.

Statement of Goals

I am very fond in sustainability issues. This is mainly political, but also includes finding ways to make the ALIFE community (and conference) more sustainable. In the political realm we can be more outspoken as a community. Also I am interested in fostering the ALIFE community's scientific achievements, e.g., by helping to get word about this work in journals and books. One project I have taken on is a Springer book series on Evolutionary Computing which is now very open to publish books on Artificial Life topics.

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Shigang Yue

Background

I am a Professor in Computer Science in the University of Lincoln, United Kingdom. I have been a contributor to the Artificial Life journal since 2007 and I am eager to engage more in ISAL. I have worked in many universities or institutions in the Europe and in east Asia. My research interests include artificial life, neural system modelling, swarm intelligence and robotics, especially the mechanisms of bio- or artificial visual neural systems and its applications.

Statement of Goals

I believe the ISAL should adapt to fit to the changing society and more broader communities. There a few things I would promote if elected:

  • Expanding the scope, the content and the reach out of the ALife journal to make it more inclusive, more relevant and more active.
  • Introducing Artificial Life research to young students with summer schools and/or lab visits.
  • Electronic copy and access of the ALife journal to all ISAL members via email; content to all known and reachable readers.
  • Expanding the ISAL to the fast growing regions in east Asia with local hubs.

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Harold Fellermann

Background

I am an applied system scientist, currently working as a Lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Computing and Complex Biosystems Research Group at the School of Computing, Newcastle University. My research interests are in complex systems, systems chemistry, systems biology, synthetic biology and DNA nanotechnology. I am particularly interested in the processing of information by biomolecular systems and the emergence of biological information. I have worked in the area of Artificial Life for the last 15 years and contributed numerous research articles to the Artificial Life journal and conferences. I have been head of the organizing committee of the ALIFE XII conference in 2010 and general chair of ALIFE 2019. Since 2018, I am appointed member of the ISAL board in the role of conference liaison.

Statement of Goals

If elected, I would bring the role of Conference Liaison forward by supporting future conference organizers with experience and advise. This involves establishing material and procedures that are currently reinvented by individual organizers time and again. In particular, I plan to homogenize the submission, review, and publication process (e.g. standing programme committee, ISAL authored reviewing guidelines, homogenized acceptance rates etc.) All of this would be performed in close consultation with the community. As demonstrated with ALIFE 2019, I am also keen on making our conferences demonstrators for more sustainable conferencing. Provided community interest, I would see that ALIFE takes on a leading role in reducing the global carbon footprint of academic conferencing.

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Alexandra Penn

Background

Since my DPhil at Sussex I have worked on Major Transitions in Evolution, co-operation/niche construction in bacterial biofilms, participatory management of industrial ecosystems and methods for designing and “steering” complex adaptive systems. I am now working with the UK government on new methods for making policy for complex adaptive systems, taking ALIFE approaches into the heart of government. I have repeatedly combined theory with application and participation. With projects from ecosystem selection to improve soil on degraded land; citizen science on human-microbial co-evolution; applying design methodology to manipulating biofilms; to putting complexity tools in the hands of stakeholders in regional economies. I have run numerous interdisciplinary workshops, tracks and events at ECAL/ALife and elsewhere. I firmly believe that the creative, exploratory and practical spirit of Alife makes us ideally placed for contributing to positive societal futures. ALife and Complexity are not just problems to be dealt with or sources of ethical dilemmas, they are rich creative fonts of new ideas, approaches and technologies which will help us develop new ways of interacting with the world. As such I would like to galvanise a collective effort in the ALife community to engage with big societal issues.

Statement of Goals

I have been the ISAL ALIFE and Society Chair for the last 2 years. during which I have run a society track at every conference, providing a space for new thinking, discussion and the inception of innovative new projects. I have also created a home for ideas on societal impact in the Artificial Life journal. In all these formats the conversation has blossomed and deepened and I would love the chance to develop this further. If re-elected I will continue this work, but go further to bring in diverse contributors from fields outside ALife, both academics and practitioners, to cross-pollinate ideas and maximise the benefit produced and derived, expand the ALIFE journal section with accompanying online discussions and seminars and work on creative outreach and engagement in a wide variety of forms.

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