čas: 19.9.2020 10:10:53
Obnovit | RAW
Artificial life (commonly abbreviated Alife) is an interdisciplinary field that can be most briefly described as the study of life as it could be as opposed to the biology, which studies life as we know it here on Earth. This is a fascinating field where topics range from artificial intelligence and robotics to the chemical synthesis of artificial cells to almost philosophical considerations (what exactly is life?). In the Alife community, one encounters computer scientists, robotics researchers, physicists, chemists, biologists and also representatives from humanities disciplines and even artists. ALIFE conferences have been held annually since the 1980s, when the first conference was hosted by Christopher Langton, one of the founders of the field, in Los Alamos, United States.
Originally, this year’s conference was supposed to take place in Montreal, Canada, but due to the current situation and limited opportunities to travel, it was moved online to become the first fully virtual ALIFE conference. Next year the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague (UCT Prague), will organize the conference. I am optimistic about the future, so we are planning ALIFE 2021 as a hybrid conference. This means that the conference will take place in Prague but that those who will not be able to in-person will be able to participate virtually. However, it will not be the first hybrid ALIFE conference: already starting in 2019 for the Newcastle (U.K.) event, scientists from the ALIFE community could choose whether to attend in-person or to choose a more environmentally friendly option by attending lectures online. We believe that the hybrid format will eventually become common for all conferences.
Although artificial life does not have much of a tradition in the Czech Republic (and currently only I and a handful of CIIRC scientists are supporters of this field), next year’s event will be the second international conference on artificial life to take place in the country. The first, ECAL (The 6th European Conference on Artificial Life), was organized by Jozef Kelemen in 2001. The ALIFE conference will therefore “return” to Prague after 20 years and its theme this time will be the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Čapek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), source of the globally used word “robot”, which first appeared in this work.
Anyone who has read Čapek’s play or seen it in a theatre knows that Rossum’s robots were not metal monsters, as many people imagine robots imagine, but were made of chemically prepared matter that behaved as if it were alive. The play states: “Nature has found only one way to organize living matter. However, there is another way, simpler, more malleable and faster, which nature has not encountered at all.” With a little exaggeration, it could be said that Karel Čapek formulated some of the ideas and goals of the scientific field of artificial life as early as 1920. In R.U.R., we find many topics that scientists are still dealing with today: whether it is the processes of synthesis of artificial tissues and organs, questions surrounding evolution and reproduction, the ability to imitate the behaviour of human beings and to show at least signs of intelligence or consciousness. R.U.R. also outlines societal issues related to globalization, the division of power and wealth, religion, and the status of women. Basically, almost every scientist could show an example of how R.U.R. opens one of the still unanswered questions in their area of investigation. And that’s exactly what I did! At first I decided to recall how this hundred-year-old play is related to chemistry, but later I began to relate individual ideas to artificial life and other fields. I contacted my colleagues and acquaintances and asked them to read the Čapek's original R.U.R. (especially abroad, many had no idea about this work) and then to write their commentaries about it. And so the book Robot 100 was created.
From last autumn to January this year, I collected a total of 86 short chapters and several illustrations from 100 personalities—not only scientists, but also fiction writers, journalists, athletes, and artists. About a third are Czechs; the other authors come from all over the world. If we look at it like the Olympics symbol with its five interlocking rings, there are representatives from all five continents in the book. You will be able to find out who and what they contributed to the book on the website www.robot100.cz and social media. From now until November, the details about the book Robot 100 will be gradually released. And the book itself will see the light of day in November 2020, exactly one hundred years after the book edition of Čapek’s R.U.R. For now, I will tell you that the author of the cover of Robot 100 is the well-known Czech illustrator Jonáš Ledecký.
The Czech version of Robot 100 will be published by us at the UCT Prague Press. UCT Prague is the largest chemistry oriented university in the Czech Republic, which focuses not only on teaching and research in chemistry, chemical technology, biochemistry, biotechnology, and materials engineering, but also gives us, researchers, the ability to explore relatively new fields such as artificial life, as mentioned above. The UCT Prague Press, headed by Ing. Eva Dibuszová, PhD, is the only specialized publishing house in the Czech and Slovak Republics that systematically publishes chemical literature. In addition to coursepacks and textbooks, the publishing house also publishes conference proceedings and books for the general public.
It is terrific that our university’s publishing house has included Robot 100 in its publishing plan for this year. I am glad that, here at UCT Prague, we will be able to commemorate Čapek’s original concept: that his R.U.R robots originated by chemical means, and that for the first time, the word “robot” was used essentially for a chemical invention, albeit only a fictitious one. However, we are not the only ones planning to celebrate the centenary of the word “robot”. I am collaborating, for example, with Zdeněk Vacek, director of the Karel Čapek Memorial, where various events are planned in this context for autumn 2020. In January 2021, Jiří Dědeček and Jaroslav Veis will hold a several-day conference at the Archa Theater to celebrate 100 years of R.U.R. Some other authors and I will give lectures at events for the general public, especially during November’s “Night of Scientists”. I collaborate with Jana Horáková from Masaryk University in Brno, who wrote an amazing book, Robot as Robot, about R.U.R. from the theatre studies perspective. And the highlight of all this will be the ALIFE international conference, which will take place in Prague in summer. And at that time, the English version of Robot 100 will be published.
22 teachers from our department spent two half days out of Prague to intensively discuss about topics related to education and research at our Department of Chemical Engineering.
This year master students visited three companies only virtually. MS Teams platform was used for the group meeting with the absolvents of our department and representatives of Evonik (Dr. Robert Jahn), Zentiva and The Parc (Dr. Jiří Dohnal, Dr. Pavel Kovačík and Dr. David Smrčka) and Škoda (Dr. František Plát and his colleagues).
Many congratulations to the glucan team from Chemical robotics laboratory for being awarded a national patent on a new process for drug encapsulation by spray drying. The patent titled “Method of producing composite beta-glucan particles with incorporated poorly water soluble drug, pharmaceutical preparation and use thereof” by inventors Gabi Ruphuy, Petra Šalamúnová, Ivan Saloň, Jarda Hanuš and František Štěpánek has been registered under no. CZ 308357.