Steering living and life-like complex systems

Workshop: Steering Living and Life-like Complex Systems, to be held at ALife XV in Cancún, Mexico, Mon 4 July 2016


New technologies that exploit or emulate the unique properties of living systems have great potential, but the non-linearity and complexity exhibited by these systems render “brute force” approaches to control insufficient. An emerging collection of approaches use “steering”, whereby we continually interact with systems and attempt to move them between attractors – from biofilm evolution to bio-hybrid societies to industrial networks.

The workshop aims to bring together researchers interested in understanding and modulating complex biological and societal systems, to discuss various perspectives on methods, ethics, and conceptual issues as well as real-world and experimental example systems.


Our hope is to bring together a broad range of participants to provide a diverse array of perspectives. Last year’s workshop brought together members of the ALife and complexity community with social scientists, computer scientists, environmental scientists, mathematicians, neuroscientists and philosophers.

For this event therefore, as well as a cross-section of the ALife community, we would aim to attract regional participants who might not have previously engaged with ALife, but who work with living or life-like complex systems or who can bring unique perspectives to bear on the subject. This should ideally include practitioners as well as academics.  We would expect this workshop to be of interest to a variety of groups:

  • those working in living technologies, bio-hybrid societies or systems and synthetic biology;
  • those using ALife and complexity practically in managing or understanding real world complex systems such as ecosystems, regional economies and societies;
  • those concerned with the societal impacts and ethical implications of living technology or the manipulation of living systems;
  • those interested in the philosophy, theory or practice of interacting with complex adaptive systems as a means to increase understanding of those systems;
  • those interested in evolutionary, ecological or behavioural processes by which organisms “steer” or construct their own complex contexts.


  • Alexandra Penn (University of Surrey) a.penn AT
  • Rob Mills (University of Lisbon) rob.mills AT
  • Emma Hart (Edinburgh Napier University) e.hart AT