Born in 1976 in Adelaide, South Australia, Barbalet developed a series of interpreters, compilers, anti-viral programs and the Schmuck Quest series of graphics/text adventure games in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In June 1996, as an undergraduate Barbalet put a collection of his landscape viewing and cognitive simulation demo programs together and created the artificial life development Noble Ape (originally called the Nervana Project).
The Noble Ape development was attributed to Barbalet's travels around Malaysia and observation of wild monkeys living on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and Penang, and a dare with another student in creating a true cognitive simulation in stark contrast to the academic views of the university Barbalet was attending. The Noble Ape development continues on to this day.
Tom Barbalet also created the I Am Darwin website, where people can post video clips of how Charles Darwin and his teachings influenced their lives.
Barbalet moved to the Bay Area in 1999 following an article by new media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. He moved to the United Kingdom and settled in Wilmslow in 2001. Barbalet lives in the Bay Area with his wife.
Barbalet hosted the Biota.org podcast, which interviewed developers and thinkers in the artificial life community, and narrated the Ape Reality Podcast, which focused on the development of Noble Ape. He also co-hosted the Stone Ape Podcast with Heron Stone, This Comes Next Podcast with Jay Carmona and the Attic Aficionados Podcast with Brandon DiCamillo.
Presently, Barbalet is the host of Model Rail Radio.
In 2011, Barbalet published a compilation of his 1993 writings called Field of Chaos.