Robotics as practiced within the artificial life community is no longer the bitter enemy of representational explanation in the way that it sometimes seemed to be in the heady, revolutionary days of the 1990s. This rapprochement is, however, fragile, because the field of evolutionary robotics continues to pose two important challenges to the idea that real-time intelligent action must or should be explained by appeal to inner representations. The first of these challenges, the threat from nontrivial causal spread, occurs when extra-neural factors account for the kind of adaptive richness and flexibility normally associated with representation-based control. The second, the threat from continuous reciprocal causation, occurs when the causal contributions made by the systemic components collectively responsible for behavior generation are massively context-sensitive and variable over time. I argue that while the threat from nontrivial causal spread can be resisted, the threat from continuous reciprocal causation provides a stern test for our representational intuitions.
Many artificial life researchers stress the interdisciplinary character of the field. Against such a backdrop, this report reviews and discusses artificial life, as it is depicted in, and as it interfaces with, adjacent disciplines (in particular, philosophy, biology, and linguistics), and in the light of a specific historical example of interdisciplinary research (namely cybernetics) with which artificial life shares many features. This report grew out of a workshop held at the Sixth European Conference on Artificial Life in Prague and features individual contributions from the workshop's eight speakers, plus a section designed to reflect the debates that took place during the workshop's discussion sessions. The major theme that emerged during these sessions was the identity and status of artificial life as a scientific endeavor.