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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 06:53 GMT 07:53 UK
Putting the fish in the net
Passport for a fish that lives in Daliworld
A sample passport for one of the fish from Daliworld
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Imagine for a moment that the vast virtual space defined by the internet is a huge ocean populated by schools of virtual fish.

Soon it could be.

A Californian company is trying to create a cybersea that can support a population of artificial fish that live out their existence while swimming from one node in the network to another.

The company is currently recruiting people willing to become part of the network that forms the artificial ocean.

Fish and artificial

Fish-based screen savers have been popular for a long time but now Pasadena-based Dalilab is planning to go several steps further by using the potentially vast resources of the internet to create an artificial ocean populated by virtual fish.

Dali stands for Distributed Artificial Life and does not refer to the surrealist painter.

The company wants to create a peer-to-peer computer network, a little like Napster, that will form the ocean and a basic habitat for a population of computerised fish. Already the project has over 200 registered users.

Daliworld fish
Pacific double-Saddle butterfly-fish
Sargassum Triggerfish
Clown Triggerfish
Clown Wrasse
Stoplight Parrotfish
Tiger Grouper

Daliworld is modelled on the Indonesian ocean and support artificial versions of the species of fish that are typically found there.

Screensavers are not supposed to be interacted with. They are designed to pop up when a computer is idle.

By contrast Daliworld is an extended experiment in artificial life that its creators want people to play with.

Each species of fish within the Daliworld ocean is an autonomous program that has its own behavioural repertoire and makes its own decisions about where it swims to, when to rest, how to avoid being eaten, what to eat and who to make little fish with.

Fish facts

Those signing up for Daliworld can set the basic amount of fish they want to see passing through their section of the ocean, but the creators expect large schools of fish to develop and migrate as the artificial sea grows.

Fish species in the ocean include the Pacific double-saddle butterflyfish, stoplight parrotfish, wrasse, angelfish, batfish, damsel fish, grouper, leatherjackets, triggerfish and surgeonfish.

tiger grouper
A tiger grouper - one of the species in Daliworld

Daliworld members can create almost any number of the basic fish species but will only be able to create one type of the rare and special species such as the sargassum triggerfish and the longnose filefish.

Eventually Daliworld hopes to make it possible to attach messages to fish and have them deliver it just like an e-mail.

The artificial fish also have a software genome that means when the fish mate their offspring will be able to mutate, evolve and adapt to the environment.

Earlier ALife projects, such as Technoshpere, suffered because people made far more carnivores than herbivores which led to an imbalance in the world's ecology.

Each fish is issued with its own passport that can be viewed by right-clicking on it to see who created it, where it started swimming from and all the nodes it has been through on its travels.

The Daliworld creators recommend that anyone taking part has a powerful desktop computer and a graphics card to cope with the demands of the system - each fish is individually modelled and drawn in real time.

See also:

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Computing power on tap
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