Ed Burton - Darwinism on a Desktop

July 29, 2005 at 7:30 pm

Ed Burton lecture photo courtesy of the IFF
They crawl, they hop, they slink and they undulate. Some roll, some fly and others unfold into complex forms from a simple triangle. These “creatures” are the products of an extraordinary evolutionary experiment that now involves more than 100,000 people worldwide. Each of these forms has been created through a program called the sodaconstructor that enables users to build models that increasingly resemble living organisms. Over the past five years a global community has brought forth from this digital mud a Cambrian explosion of species: walkers, stalkers, floaters and flyers; things that tumble and skip; simulations of spiders, crabs and starfish; monopeds, bipeds, tripeds and centipeds; self-propelling squares, and a mobius strip that turns itself inside out. This imaginary Galapagos resides on a server in the Shoreditch area of London’s east end in the office of Soda Creative, an innovative company that specializes in producing software at the boundary of art and education. (www.sodaplay.com)
Ed Burton photo courtesy of the IFF

The architect of this online world is Ed Burton, an artist and computer programmer. Burton designed his soda-software as a virtual toy based around the principles of the engineering discipline known as Control and Dynamic Systems. Each model is made up from a set of points and lines: some of the lines are simple springs and act as a kind of soft skeleton; others act like muscles and can change length. In effect, the structures may be seen as virtual tensegrities. By connecting points in various arrangements of lines, structures can be given an internal logic that causes them to move. From these simple beginnings sodaplay users have evolved ever more complex mechanisms that can now mimic such sophisticated tasks as bipedal walking and multi-wheeled rolling. In this talk Burton will discuss the evolution of the sodaplay universe and the processes by which the community of soda constructors collectively develop new styles of form and function within this software world.

Text written by Margaret Wertheim.  Lecture presented by the Institute for Figuring