I am an associate professor at Earth-Life Science Insitute (ELSI) in Tokyo, Japan. I have an interdisciplinary background that combines computer science, mathematics, ecology, physics and artificial life and applied category theory.
I am interested in understanding the living world at the most fundamental level. This leads me to ask questions such as
What is the nature of goal-directedness? What does it mean for something to be "an agent", and how did goal-directedness first arise on the Earth?
How did evolution itself evolve, and when can evolvability be subject to natural selection?
How and why might chemical systems develop the kinds of complexity we see in living cells?
What does all this tell us about the origin of life on Earth?
Can studying these topics suggest novel algorithms for machine learning?
I approach these questions using computational and mathematical techniques.
I am also interested in applied category theory and the foundations of Bayiesian probability.
Publications and preprints
M. Egbert, M. Hanczyc, I.Harvey, N. Virgo, E. Parke, T. Froese, H. Sayama, A. Penn, S. Bartlett, "Behaviour and the Origins of Organisms", Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, 2023
N. Virgo, "Unifilar Machines and the Adjoint Structure of Bayesian Models", arXiv preprint arxiv:2305.02826, 2023
M. Biehl, N. Virgo, "Interpreting systems as solving POMDPs: a step towards a formal understanding of agency", Third International Workshop on Active Inference, IWAI 2022. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 1721. Springer.
N. Virgo, F. Rosas, M. Biehl, “Embracing sensorimotor history: Time-synchronous and time-unrolled Markov blankets in the free-energy principle”. Commentary in Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 2022
N. Virgo, M. Biehl, S. McGregor. “Interpreting Dynamical Systems as Bayesian Reasoners”, Second International Workshop on Active Inference. In Machine Learning and Principles and Practice of Knowledge Discovery in Databases. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 1524. ECML PKDD 2021.
N. Ay, D. Polani, N. Virgo, “Information Decomposition based on Cooperative Game Theory” Kybernetika vol. 56, no. 5, 979-1014, 2020
N. Virgo “The necessity of extended autopoiesis” Adaptive Behavior 28(1), 23-26, 2019
C. Mariscal, A. Barahona, N. Aubert-Kato, A. Aydinoglu, S. Bartlett, M. Cárdenas, K. Chandru, C. Cleland, B. T. Cocanougher, N. Comfort, A. Cornish-Bowden, T. Deacon, T. Froese, D. Giovannelli, J. Hernlund, P. Hut, J. Kimura, M. Maurel, N. Merino, A. Moreno, M. Nakagawa, J. Peretó, N. Virgo, O. Witkowski, H. J. Cleaves “Hidden Concepts in the History and Philosophy of Origins-of-Life Studies: a Workshop Report.” Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres vol. 49 no. 3, 111-145, 2019
N. Guttenberg, N. Virgo, A. Penn “On the potential for open-endedness in neural networks”, Artificial Life vol. 25 no. 2 145-167, 2019.
N. Guttenberg, M. Biehl, N. Virgo, R. Kanai, “Being curious about the answers to questions: novelty search with learned attention”, arXiv preprint arXiv:1806.00201, 2018
O. Markovitch, O. Witkowski, N. Virgo, “Chemical Heredity as Group Selection at the Molecular Level”, arXiv preprint arXiv:1802.08024, 2018
E Agmon, M Egbert, N. Virgo, “The biological foundations of enactivism: A report on a workshop held at Artificial Life XV”, Artificial Life vol. 24 no. 1, 49-55, 2018.
M. Egbert, Y. Kolezhitskiy, N Virgo. “Steering the Growth of Adaptive Self-Preserving Dissipative Structures”, The 2018 Conference on Artificial Life (ALIFE 2018), 255-262
T. Froese, J. I. Campos, K. Fujishima, D. Kiga, N. Virgo, “Horizontal transfer of code fragments between protocells can explain the origins of the genetic code without vertical descent”, Scientific Reports vol. 8 no. 1, 2017.
N. Guttenberg, N. Virgo, K. Chandru, C. Scharf, I. Mamajanov, “Bulk measurements of messy chemistries are needed for a theory of the origins of life”, Phil. Trans. A, vol. 365 no. 2109, 2017.
N Virgo, C Fernando, E Agmon. “Lineage selection leads to evolvability at large population sizes”, The 14th European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL 2017), 420-427
N. Guttenberg, N. Virgo, O. Witkowski, H. Aoki, R. Kanai, “Permutation-equivariant neural networks applied to dynamics prediction”, arXiv preprint arXiv:1612.04530, 2017
N. Guttenberg, N. Virgo, C. Butch, N. Packard, “Selection first path to the origin of life”, arXiv preprint arXiv:1706.05831, 2017
S. Bartlett, N. Virgo, “Maximum Entropy Production Is Not a Steady State Attractor for 2D Fluid Convection”, Entropy 18 (12), 2016.
T Taylor, M Bedau, A Channon, D Ackley, W Banzhaf, G Beslon, E Dolson, T. Froese, S. Hickinbotham, T. Ikegami, B. McMullin, N. Packard, S. Rasmussen, N. Virgo, E. Agmon, E. Clark, S. McGregor, C. Ofria, G. Ropella, L. Spector, K. O. Stanley, A. Stanton, C. Timperley, A. Vostinar, M. Wiser, “Open-ended evolution: perspectives from the OEE workshop in York”, Artificial Life, vol. 22 no. 3, 408-423, 2016.
N. Virgo, T. Ikegami, and S. McGregor, “Complex Autocatalysis in Simple Chemistries,” Artificial Life, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 138–152, May 2016.
N. Virgo, “Thresholds in Messy Chemistries,” presented at ALife XV: The 15th International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems, 2016, pp. 598–599.
C. Scharf, N. Virgo, H. J. Cleaves, M. Aono, N. Aubert-Kato, A. Aydinoglu, A. Barahona, L. M. Barge, S. A. Benner, M. Biehl, R. Brasser, C. J. Butch, K. Chandru, L. Cronin, S. Danielache, J. Fischer, J. Hernlund, P. Hut, T. Ikegami, J. Kimura, K. Kobayashi, C. Mariscal, S. McGlynn, B. Mernard, N. Packard, R. Pascal, J. Pereto, S. Rajamani, L. Sinpayen, E. Smith, C. Switzer, K. Takai, F. Tian, Y. Ueno, M. Voytek, O. Witkowski and H. Yabuta “A Strategy for Origins of Life Research,” Astrobiology, vol. 15, no. 12, pp. 1031–1042, Dec. 2015.
N. Virgo and N. Guttenberg, “Heredity in Messy Chemistries,” Proceedings of the European Conference on
Artificial Life 2015, (ECAL 2015) 325-332.
L. Sinapayen, A. Masumori, N. Virgo, and T. Ikegami, “Learning by Stimulation Avoidance as a Primary Principle of Spiking Neural Networks Dynamics,” presented at ECAL2015: the European Conference on Artificial Life, 2015, pp. 175–182.
N. Virgo, S. McGregor, and T. Ikegami, “Self-Organising Autocatalysis,” ALIFE 14: Proceedings of the Fourteenth International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems, 2014, pp. 498–505.
N. Tomko, I. Harvey, N. Virgo, and A. Philippides, “Many Hands Make Light Work: Further Studies in Group Evolution,” Artificial Life, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 163–181, Jan. 2014.
N. Virgo, and T. Ikegami, “There Can Be Only One: Reversible Cellular Automata and the Conservation of Genki,” presented at the Artificial Life 14: International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems, 2014, pp. 530–531.
E. Simoncini, N. Virgo, and A. Kleidon. “Quantifying drivers of chemical disequilibrium: theory and application to methane in the Earth’s atmosphere,” Earth System Dynamics, vol. 4, 317–331, 2013
T. Froese, N. Virgo, and T. Ikegami, “Motility at the origin of life: Its characterization and a model,” Artificial Life, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 55–76, Nov. 2013.
N. Virgo and T. Ikegami, “Autocatalysis Before Enzymes: The Emergence of Prebiotic Chain Reactions,” The 12th European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL 2013), 2013, pp. 240–247.
N. Virgo and T. Ikegami, “Possible dynamical explanations for Paltridge's principle of maximum entropy production,” presented at the 33rd International Workshop on Bayesian Inference and Maximum Entropy Methods in Science and Engineering, 2013, vol. 1636, no. 1, pp. 172–179.
N. Virgo, T. Froese, and T. Ikegami, “The positive role of parasites in the origins of life,” presented at the 2013 IEEE Symposium on Artificial Life, 2013, pp. 1–4.
N. Virgo, “A Bayesian perspective on Markovian dynamics and the fluctuation theorem,” presented at the 32nd International Workshop on Bayesian Inference and Maximum Entropy Methods in Science and Engineering, 2013, vol. 1553, no. 1, pp. 262–269.
N. Virgo, C. Fernando, B. Bigge, and P. Husbands, “Evolvable Physical Self-Replicators,” Artificial Life, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 129–142, Apr. 2012.
T. Froese, T. Ikegami, and N. Virgo, “The Behavior-Based Hypercycle: From Parasitic Reaction to Symbiotic Behavior,” presented at the International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems, 2012, pp. 457–464.
DPhil thesis: "Thermodynamics and the Structure of Living Systems", University of Sussex
S. McGregor and N. Virgo, “Life and Its Close Relatives,” presented at the European Conference on Artificial Life, 2011, vol. 5778, no. 29, pp. 230–237.
N. Virgo, M. D. Egbert, and T. Froese, “The Role of the Spatial Boundary in Autopoiesis,” presented at the European Conference on Artificial Life, 2009, pp. 240–247.
N. Virgo and I. Harvey, “Adaptive Growth Processes: A Model Inspired by Pask's Ear.,” presented at the International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems, 2008.
N. Virgo and I. Harvey, “Entropy Production in Ecosystems,” presented at the European Conference on Artificial Life, 2007, pp. 123–132.
T. Froese, N. Virgo, and E. Izquierdo, “Autonomy: A Review and a Reappraisal,” presented at the European Conference on Artificial Life, 2007, pp. 455–464.
N. Virgo, “From Maximum Entropy to Maximum Entropy Production: A New Approach,” Entropy, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 107–126, 2010.
N. Virgo, R. Law, and M. Emmerson, “Sequentially assembled food webs and extremum principles in ecosystem ecology,” Journal of Animal Ecology, vol. 75, no. 2, pp. 377–386, Mar. 2006.