Revived from near extinction: Penguin resurrects Richard Dawkins’ interactive evolution code after 30 years
30 years ago, Richard Dawkins wrote a suite of computer programmes to demonstrate evolution in action. Three decades on, Penguin has brought Dawkins’ unique programmes – or ‘biomorphs’ - back to life, making them available to the world for the first time.
On 24 May, Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Random House UK, will launch mountimprobable.com, an interactive new space in which the world can play with Richard Dawkins’ original ‘biomorphs’. The website has been built from Richard Dawkins’ original source code – until now considered obsolete – and developed by Penguin’s Creative Technology team to mark the anniversary year of four of Dawkins’ ground-breaking books. Featuring images close to shells, insects and trees, never before been seen by the public, the programmes demonstrate the effects across generations of artificial selection.
“It is remarkable that we again can access this wonderland of strange creatures.” Richard Dawkins
To celebrate, with an industry first on this scale, Penguin will reissue three seminal titles by Richard Dawkins – The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable and Unweaving the Rainbow – for which each and every copy will carry a unique book jacket together with a unique code that will take the reader straight to their biomorph on the website.
“I am astonished, that they are all, every single copy of the books, literally unique. This is wonderful.” Richard Dawkins
• The Blind Watchmaker features unique 'biomorphs’ (representing insects)
• Climbing Mount Improbable features unique shells
• Unweaving the Rainbow features unique wave patterns, with the colours accurately reflecting their relative wave lengths
Once a decade Richard Dawkins has published a book that has defined life’s evolution. 2016 marks the 40th, 30th, 20th and 10th anniversaries of four of his global bestsellers, The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable and The God Delusion, as well as his own 75th birthday. Penguin Random House UK and Oxford University Press have joined together to celebrate this landmark moment with refreshed looks for these key titles.
“Dawkins is the global authority on evolutionary biology. Our goal was to create an interactive entry point to his books to entertain and inform a new generation of readers, gamers, designers and curious minds. We are constantly experimenting with new creative formats to ensure the stories and ideas that matter reach wide audiences.”
Mathieu Triay of Penguin’s Creative Technology team, who masterminded the revival of Dawkins’ code
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Richard Dawkins’ “Biomorphs” programme was one of the earliest examples of an artificial life programme. By artificial selection (like breeding dogs or roses) it generated images close to trees, insects and snails. He first presented these programmes in public at the inaugural Artificial Life conference at Los Alamos in New Mexico in 1987, at which he coined the phrase, ‘the evolution of evolvability’.
The images had been published the year before in The Blind Watchmaker (1986), where Dawkins’ original biomorphs had nine genes. A second stage development introduced genes for colour made its debut in Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), upping the number of genes to 32. Richard Dawkins regards Climbing Mount Improbable as his most underrated book, and the 20th anniversary edition has a new Introduction explaining why. Together with a reissue of Unweaving the Rainbow (1998), Penguin will publish these titles each with unique jackets.
Originally written in Pascal, the software eventually became obsolete and Richard Dawkins assumed his biomorphs had gone extinct. In 2016 Penguin has worked from the original code to resurrect his vision and give his ‘hopeful monsters’ new life, and a permanent home.