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State of the Society letter from the ISAL President

Submitted by tim on Tue, 17/01/2017 - 9:06pm

Dear members of the Artificial Life Community,

One year ago, I had the privilege of being elected president of the International Society for Artificial Life (ISAL). Today, I am happy to report about the exciting changes, events, and initiatives within the society, as well as our initial plans for 2017 and beyond.

First, some news about the Artificial Life conferences. Since 1991, the European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL) has helped shape the field of Artificial Life and promoted cutting-edge scholarship within our field. In recent years, ECAL has exchanged so many ideas with the International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems that the two are now run almost interchangeably. As such, ECAL 2017 will mark the final conference under the ECAL name, as we begin our transition to a single, annual Artificial Life conference.

ECAL 2017 will be September 4-8 in Lyon, France. I strongly encourage all of you to submit proposals for Tutorials or Workshops (due Feb 8th) or manuscripts (due April 9th).

The following July, ALife 2018 will be the first, all-new International Conference for Artificial Life. It will be held near Tokyo, Japan, making it our first conference outside of Europe or North America in over two decades.

Moving forward, we will hold the ALife conferences each year in different regions of the globe. For those of you interested in potentially running ALife 2019 or later, please let me know so we can start a conversation. The next call for conference proposals will be out in the coming months, with the goal of announcing the location of ALife 2019 at ECAL 2017.

We have also made some improvements to the Artificial Life journal. Mark Bedau, the Editor-in-Chief, is now working with several active associate editors including Seth Bullock, Martin Hanczyc, Hiroki Sayama, Susan Stepney, Steen Rasmussen, and myself. Each of us will focus on increasing submissions and improving quality in our respective research areas. Furthermore, Alexandra Penn is now the Societal Impact Editor for the journal, and René Doursat is the Book Review Editor, adding valuable new features. The impact of these changes should start being visible over the next year. The journal remains a cornerstone of our community, and continues on an upward trajectory. Please consider submitting your best work!

I would also like to make sure that everyone is aware that articles appearing in the journal can be made Open Access for a fee of $1250. For those authors who cannot pay this fee, the journal will remain free to publish. We are exploring ideas for how to shift the journal entirely to open access, but we also want to ensure that the required expense won’t prohibit authors from submitting quality publications.

A major initiative that ISAL launched this year is a working group for Artificial Life in Society, led by Alexandra Penn. This initiative promotes our community’s role in addressing urgent global challenges that involve complex living, lifelike or hybrid systems. Artificial Life provides unique tools for understanding and manipulating living systems, as well as creating new living or life-like technologies. The emerging challenges in nature, technology, economics, and culture call for participation from Artificial Life experts across many fields; we must add our voice to the debate and contribute solutions to the challenges that we all face. Projects starting soon include a new section in the Artificial Life Journal, educational resources, interactive workshops dedicated to building innovative collaborations, and a societal impact award. Anyone who wishes to get involved, should please contact Dr. Alex Penn (a.penn@surrey.ac.uk)

I am also excited to announce a new Artificial Life Student/Postdoc Group that is just getting off the ground. The group currently has 26 members from around the world and has been organizing bi-weekly journal club meetings. Since these meetings are attended by people from all areas of artificial life, they provide a great opportunity for students to discuss the broader context of the papers they are reading. The journal club, along with assorted discussions on the group's Slack channel, help the students get to know each other and form a community. Going forward, the group is planning further contributions to make to the field, such as a series of videos explaining various aspects of Artificial Life. If you want to join or have students who may be interested, please email Emily Dolson (EmilyLDolson@gmail.com).

At the 2016 Artificial Life conference in Cancun, we debuted several new ISAL Awards. We are now giving out six annual awards: Outstanding Paper of the Year, Outstanding Paper of the Decade, Distinguished Young Investigator, Education & Outreach, Exceptional Service, and Lifetime Achievement. To see the results of the 2016 awards, go to http://alife.org/news/2016-isal-awards-winners. Nomination requests for the 2017 awards will appear soon!

The ISAL Board of Directors currently has 14 members (nine elected, five appointed into specific roles), plus a representative from the Student/Postdoc Group. The full board membership and roles can be found at http://alife.org/board-members. As a board, we meet once per month via teleconference, and then for an extended meeting each year at the annual conference. During these meetings, we lay out plans for the society, for the journal, for the conferences, and promote new activities and initiatives. The next round of elections to the board will begin in a few months, so if you are interested in influencing the ISAL inner workings, please consider standing for election!

Priorities for 2017: The board has numerous goals going forward, but our short-term priorities will depend on feedback from the community and the willingness of community members to contribute their own efforts. Some of the possible goals that we have discussed include:

  • Improving the reputation of Artificial Life in other areas of science and engineering by active promotion, education, and raising our own standards.

  • Growing our membership and engaging a broad range of new researchers in Artificial Life activities.

  • Cultivating a vibrant online community for Artificial Life discussions and collaborations, as well as creating a range of online resources to help researchers learn about each other and find collaborators.

  • Promoting open science via open source software, open access publications, simplified data sharing, and establishing a more collaborative scientific culture.

  • Setting up a Newsletter to keep members of the community informed.

  • Encouraging grassroots projects and facilitating members of the community in organizing society activities.

  • Jump-starting Working Groups on Education, Diversity, Industry, and Social Media, while keeping the strong momentum going for the ALife in Society Working Group.

  • Identifying Open Questions and Grand Challenges in Artificial Life, as part of a broader community discussion.

  • Increasing member opportunities; allow hobbyist members, organize special interest groups, form an advisory board, elect ISAL Fellows, and more.

If you haven’t had a chance yet to fill out the ISAL Community Survey, we really do want to get your feedback as we continue to plan. Please fill it out! The numerous responses that we’ve been getting so far have been very useful.

I do plan to keep the community up to date about our progress towards these goals. If you want to stay informed about ISAL activities and events in the Artificial Life community, please join the Artificial Life announcements mailing list.

Finally, I’d like to encourage everyone to publish in the Artificial Life journal, come to the Artificial Life conferences, and join ISAL! Remember that ISAL membership gets you a discount on the annual conference (worth at least as much as the membership itself), full journal access (and free publication), the right to vote for the ISAL board, eligibility to be nominated for ISAL Awards, and more benefits soon (let us know if you have ideas for what you’d like to see.) MOST IMPORTANT: your ISAL membership will help support the society and our activities, strengthening the field of Artificial Life. For now, you become a society member through MIT Press by subscribing to the Artificial Life journal: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/loi/artl

Want to discuss anything from this e-mail? Go to https://reddit.com/r/alife

Want to help ISAL? Support us on https://smile.amazon.com!

Thank you all for reading this, and have a wonderful 2017!

Sincerely,

Charles Ofria

Professor of Computer Science
President, International Society for Artificial Life
Director, MSU Digital Evolution Laboratory
Michigan State University

ofria@msu.edu