Black Shoals Stock Market Planetarium is an animated night sky that is also a live representation of the worlds stock markets, with each star representing a traded company. Fed by massive streams of live financial information, the stars glimmer and pulse, immediately flickering brighter whenever their stock is traded anywhere in the world. The stars slowly move across the sky, clustering together or drifting apart in response to the shifting affinities of their respective companies, growing or shrinking as the company’s fortunes change. Digital creatures, a form of artificial life, inhabit this world, feeding on the light released by the stars, breeding, dying and slowly evolving. while trying to learn to live in this strange artificial ecology into which they’ve been born.
The planetarium displays listed companies as stars that drift across the sky in response to the complex currents of the market. The stronger the correlation between the histories of stock prices of any two companies, the more powerful the gravitational attraction between them. Whenever a stock is traded somewhere in the world, the corresponding star in the dome immediately glows brighter. A trade of a minimum of $700.000 will produce light in the planetarium - the brightness and duration of the glow indicating the volume of trading activity taking place. The stars in the planetarium slowly move across the sky in response to the currents of the markets - clustering and dividing according to the relationships between the companies they represent, while outlining the shapes of different industries and the huge multinational conglomerates like the signs of the zodiac. In this way, any general movement in a section of the market has a visible effect on the sky – a Parmalat scandal, or the recent collapse of Enron, for instance, would cause all the companies affected to glow very brightly and to be pulled towards each other into a very powerful vortex.
Feeding on the trading activity of the stars is an ecology of artificial life creatures that live and evolve within this financial universe. The creatures feed on the light of the stars, generated by the stock trading, and vary in numbers depending on their survival strategies and current level of trading activity. Starting from first principles, unable even to move, they learn to survive and cope within the rather strange environment into which they have been born. The evolution of the creatures is open-ended and it is unknown how sophisticated they can become
Every creature has a unique 'DNA' code that determines its bodily structure and behaviour - a genetic program. Over time evolutionary pressures will tend to breed successive generations of creatures that will be better at coping with the conditions in the strange world that they inhabit. A time of slow trading will be a difficult time for the creatures as they desperately search out any signs of food. During these times of famine many of the creatures may die of starvation. The creatures who survive will be those who's behaviour and knowledge about their world allows them to find food more easily. The final results of this process are impossible to predict, but we can guess at the likely course of evolution.
It is likely that early on creatures will develop simple ﾒbeliefsﾓ about the world - for instance, that a stock which is proving fruitful today will probably also produce food tomorrow. Later, more sophisticated behaviour may emerge, for instance some creatures will probably develop "grazing" techniques - based on the belief that similar stocks (those in the immediate vicinity) will be behaving similarly. Still more sophisticated models may develop - such as the ability to recognise periodic movements or patterns of cause and effect. Predators and parasites may eventually develop, perhaps even "farmers". The possible range of creatures is very wide - maybe a shark-like species of creatures will develop, that can swim very fast to pick up flashes of food as soon as they appear. Maybe large slow moving creatures will be better able to survive the cycles of glut and famine, of population explosion and crash.
Most likely a combination of different forms of life will develop to fill different ecological niches: lots of small fast scavengers able to survive on little flashes of food, and a few larger, slower, more heavily defended creatures that will be able to monopolise a consistent source of food, and a few predator creatures that cruise the space looking for easy prey. As successive generations of creatures evolve to adapt to their surroundings they form models of their universe that will help them survive and predict the changing seasons that wash through their world. The evolution of the creatures is open ended and we have no idea how sophisticated they may become ﾐ perhaps eventually creatures may evolve who will attempt to predict where the trading will occur before it happens.
The creatures evolve from first principles - the first creatures that were able to move appeared after a couple of days. After three months a wide range of species developed in the dome - from some very sophisticated creatures that actively searched for food using primitive "eyes", others which "hibernated" until food passed by, then sprung to life and swarmed over it and others which were unable to move, but simply spawned thousands of offspring and "threw" them in all directions in the hope that one of them landed on a source of food