Nils Barricelli

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Nils Aall Barricelli [1]

Nils Aall Barricelli, (January 24, 1912 – January 27, 1993)
was a Norwegian-Italian psychologist and mathematician. He did early computer-assisted experiments in symbiogenesis and evolutionary algorithms, considered pioneering in artificial life research. In the 50s he thought about to write a chess program to test evolutionary theories, and implemented a program in collaboration with Alex Bell, who wrote a fast legal move generator, in the early 60s. In 1974, while he researched at the University of Oslo, he participated at the First World Computer Chess Championship in Stockholm with his own chess program Freedom [2].


Alex Bell, in 1962 at Manchester University, writes on his early collaboration with Barricelli [3]:

In 1954 Professor Nils Barricelli was visiting Princeton University. The University was then a leader in the new field of computing mainly due to the presence of von Neumann and his development of the (amongst others) MANIAC machines.
In a discussion with Reuben Fine, the well-known Grandmaster and psychologist, Barricelli said that he intended to program a machine in order to beat Fine in chess. Professor Fine replied that he was sure the machine would play a poor game. Whereupon we asked von Neumann of his opinion. He agreed with Professor Fine on the grounds that the machine was not even capable of translating from a foreign language into a decent English. I think that was a poor argument, but that was anyhow his opinion. 
In 1962 Barricelli arrived at Manchester University in order to use the Atlas computer, a machine with many new features and probably, at the time, the most powerful computer in the world. His intention was to write a chess program which would be used to study certain theories of evolution. I was at Manchester at the time having just finished a year of computer research. Having also just got married I had turned my attention to the mundane problems of earning a living and was told that a Dr. Barry Chelly was looking for someone to write a chess program for Atlas. My first job ever was to help write a list legal moves generator for any chess position on a machine which was barely operational.
Cooper and Kozdrowicki have remarked that chess will persist, for the problem is so exciting that once a programmer gets involved there is virtually no way he can be stopped. Personally I do not agree but I do remember that working with Barricelli was an interesting experience which definitely sold me on a career in computing although Manchester was an exciting place for computer users in almost any subject at the time.
The legal-move generator had to be as fast as possible because it would be used by symbio-organisms - numerical patterns in the machine which could reproduce and mutate - to test evolutionary theories. In order to survive and grow these organisms had to learn how to play chess; this was their test in their battle for survival. 

Barricellian Symbioorganisms

Alex Bell explains Barricelli's Symbioorganisms [4]: Barricelli devised the following extremely simple rules for sexual (symbiogenetic) reproduction. There are two integer arrays, this generation and next generation. The array this generation initially contains a random pattern of positive and negative integers. The following algorithm (expressed in Algol) is now executed:

integer array this generation, next generation [1 :512];
 loop: for i : = 1 step 1 until 512 do 
       n := j := this generation[i];
reproduce: if j = 0 then goto next i;
       k := modulo 512 of (i) plus: (j);
       if next generation[k] > 0 then 
       goto mutation else 
       next generation[k] := n;
       j := this generation[k];
       goto reproduce;
  next i: end;

  copy next generation into this generation;

  print this generation;

  goto loop;

See also

Selected Publications

External Links


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