I recently watched an interesting BBC documentary called “The secret life of chaos”. It did a good job of explaining how interesting patterns could arise from very simple rules and how these could be further shaped by evolution to create the sort of complexity we see in the living world. It is well worth watching in full.
I have been interested in genetic algorithms for some time and use a genetic algorithm to optimise seating plans in my own PerfectTablePlan software. So I was particularly interested in a segment towards the end, where they showed how naturalmotion.com have used bio-mechanical modelling and genetic algorithms to create virtual humans that can respond realistically to various (unpleasant) physical stimuli, e.g. being shot, being hit or falling off things. The details are sketchy in the TV program, but it appears that they have evolved genetic algorithms that mimic aspects of the human nervous system. For example a human will instinctively put their hands out to cushion a fall or put a hand to an area that has been hit. They then combine this nervous system modelling with physics and a realistic a bio-mechanical modelling of the human anatomy. The results are impressive. You can see them about 2 minutes into the video below.
They claim they can use these models to generate realistic movements for synthetic characters in real time. Their Euphoria software is already being used in computer games, such as Grand Theft Auto IV.