the e-Sofa: Dr Sepulveda
his first interview for almost 20 years, the once
infamous Dr Sepulveda talks exclusively to T-Magazine.
life begins with an accident. Some curious interaction
occurs between lifeless chemicals, in the right conditions
and under the right temperatures, and suddenly you
have life. Darwinia is no different - it just happened
in the digital domain, rather than the biological."
It seems it is barely possible to open a paper, switch
on the radio, channel hop on the tv without hearing
the name Dr Sepulveda.
Yes, Dr Sepulveda has returned. And what a return
it is. After languishing in the depths of computer
obscurity for nearly 20 years, he has pulled himself
back from his disastrous Protologic fiasco, and remodelled
himself as nothing less than a Digital Deity. And
Darwinia is his creation. A virtual theme park populated
by thousands of sprite-like creatures, the Darwinians,
Darwinia is undoubtedly the leap that will take the
meaning of computing to a new level. Not just computing,
Darwinia is causing us to ask ourselves all over again
those fundamental questions about life itself.
Not the kind of thing you'd expect from a self-proclaimed
"computer geek" who spectacularly failed
to sell every single one of his 50,000 stock of Protologic
computers back in '86, when otherwise the world of
computing could do no wrong.
brief history of Sepulveda
Pronounced Sep-ul-vader - a bit like a distant relative
of Darth, maybe, the first we heard of our most recent
god was way back in the early 80s with his first Protologic
computers. Hailed (by Sepulveda himself) as "the
console to rule all consoles", the launch of
the Protologic 68000 in '86 however was far from plain
sailing. Undoubtedly innovative, the 68000 was doomed
to a dark future. Minor technical problems in the
lead-up to the launch escalated beyond all control,
leading to a media frenzy and the eventual collapse
of Protologic Entertainment in the most "glorious
public failure" of the decade.
Left with nothing but warehouses full of unsold machines,
Sepulveda became a recluse - or even more of a recluse;
he has always shied from public attention. But it
seems he has just been biding his time, waiting for
the right moment to unveil the true genius of the
With nothing left to lose, the scientist in Sepulveda
was awoken and he began to experiment. First linking
tens, then hundreds, then thousands of Protologics
he began to realise that something very special was
happening. In Sepulveda's own words, "an unintended
design quirk [
] causes adjacent systems to resonate
on a quantum level". This phenomenon, which he
terms "Hyperprocessing", is a cumulative
effect, with processing power increasing dramatically
as units are added, each making use of quantum interference
to share data with their neighbours.
Realising he was standing on the brink of a digital
revolution, Sepulveda founded Darwin Research Associates
with what little money he could scrape together. He
set to work creating a massive grid of computing power
that was "more akin to a human brain than any
form of supercomputer".
Equipped with his newly forged tools, Sepulveda crafted
himself an intricate fractally generated world, aptly
named Darwinia. And with that, the first tender shoots
of digital life began to appear. The dark age of the
Protologics was over. Let there be light!
It seems, in his fall, Sepulveda was given quite a
reality check - or at least an ego check. Once described
by an unnamed friend as "unbearably arrogant",
Sepulveda, in creating his new world, realised that
the key to Darwinia could not be designed purely from
his own knowledge or experience. The missing ingredient
to stir into the digital primeval soup was a system
of evolution, that would eventually equip Darwinia's
fledgling inhabitants, the Darwinians, with the intelligence
to flourish by their own means.
Each assigned a strand of digital DNA or a "Spirit",
the Darwinians are imprinted with individual characteristics,
as well as the ability to learn through their successes
and failures in their virtual world. Upon their death,
the Spirit is released and returns to a central repository
- affectionately called "Heaven" by Sepulveda
- situated beautifully at the centre of the Darwinian
world. Here, the Spirits are orders, parsed, and re-imprinted
on a new creature for the life cycle to begin again.
This endless cycle of spirit-enrichment has been the
cornerstone to evolution within Darwinia, which has
now been running for over a decade - representing
thousands of generations of Darwinians, "each
more intelligent and aware than the last".
it like to be a "god"?
It's not hard to see why Darwinia as caused such great
waves. Not only has Sepulveda unwittingly "discovered"
quantum computing, the holy-grail of computer scientists
world-wide, but his work has ramifications across
the spectrum of scientific disciplines: from physics
to biology; palaeontology to sociology. Not to mention
the simply overwhelming reaction among theologians
Unsurprisingly, creating a new life-form, digital
or not, is not without its controversy. Thousands
of people are expected at the official public "opening"
of the Darwinian theme park later this year, and not
all of them well-wishers. Security is going to have
to be very tight.
Already there has been harsh criticism from various
religious groups, and even some faint mumblings from
animal right activists. They fear the poor Darwinians
are being exploited by their "god", caged
up in a virtual zoo for all to come and ogle at, unprotected
by real world laws.
And of course there are many who a sceptical that
what we are seeing in Darwinia is even life at all;
that Darwinia is merely an elaborate publicity stunt
dreamt up by a struggling eccentric in need of an
Sepulveda himself has no such doubts, and seems almost
unaware of his many critics: "By any definition
that I have read, the Darwinians are most definitely
alive. More than that, I believe them to be as alive
as you or I or anyone else on this planet. They are
born, they live, they communicate, they reproduce,
they die. They learn."
He has spent the last decade watching the Darwinian
way of life evolve, watching them pass on stories,
watching them develop religious beliefs and customs.
It is clear that he sees himself as a benevolent but
distant father-figure to them. Sepulveda proudly claims
that the Darwinians have a "fundamental respect
for each other that is far more caring than anything
I have witnessed on this Earth".
Love him or hate him, genius or madman, one thing
that we all have to agree on is that Sepulveda, with
his work in Darwinia, has brought us with a jolt headlong
into a new era. An era that is both exciting in the
new technologies that is brings, but also sobering
and even frightening with the new responsibilities
that this can place upon us. And I believe that we
are all responsible. Benevolent eccentric or not,
Sepulveda has opened he door to a new world, reaching
far beyond the realms of the mere computer geek, and
will undoubtedly impact all of our futures in many
new and unpredictable ways.