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Creation: Life and How to Make It (2000)

by Steve Grand

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2292119,962 (4.05)None
Working mostly alone, almost single-handedly writing 250,000 lines of computer code, Steve Grand produced Creatures®, a revolutionary computer game that allowed players to create living beings complete with brains, genes, and hormonal systems--creatures that would live and breathe and breed in real time on an ordinary desktop computer. Enormously successful, the game inevitably raises the question: What is artificial life? And in this book--a chance for the devoted fan and the simply curious onlooker to see the world from the perspective of an original philosopher-engineer and intellectual maverick--Steve Grand proposes an answer. From the composition of the brains and bodies of artificial life forms to the philosophical guidelines and computational frameworks that define them, Creation plumbs the practical, social, and ethical aspects and implications of the state of the art. But more than that, the book gives readers access to the insights Grand acquired in writing Creatures--insights that yield a view of the world that is surprisingly antireductionist, antimaterialist, and (to a degree) antimechanistic, a view that sees matter, life, mind, and society as simply different levels of the same thing. Such a hierarchy, Grand suggests, can be mirrored by an equivalent one that exists inside a parallel universe called cyberspace.… (more)
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(My review from: http://www24.brinkster.com/srineet/reviews.html#Creation)

This is a very interesting and thought provoking book. It is about the author's work on simulating life in his game Creatures. It begins with the author describing his thought process and philosophy. He describes how he thinks of life, intelligence etc. not to be a yes/no thing, but a gradation of what he calls persistent phenomena. He describes how the various levels of feedback loops, and the complex systems built out of simple rules of the various constituent parts can lead to emergent behaviour such as life. So if one were to simulate intelligence, the method should not be to to try to teach a computer program the rules of language and to provide rules on how to respond to certain sentences etc. In the author's opinion, intelligence is an emergent property of how life is built and it is the lower level building blocks to be simulated, and let the higher level behaviour emerge, and then it'll be truly intelligent. For example, let's say for a moment that we are able to simulate the laws that govern atoms. These simulated atoms are obviously not real atoms. However, if these atoms get together and form molecules, and furthermore cells and tissues, how is one to deny that they are different than real molecules, cells and tissues? Molecules are patterns that emerged from the behaviour of underlying atoms, and if the same molecules emerge by similar mechanisms from simulated atoms, they are real molecules for all intents and purposes in the simulated world. This in short, is the author's approach towards artificial life.

After such conceptual subject material, comes the author's real work in his computer game where, he builds (very much) simplified building block mechanisms, that nevertheless give rise to creatures for his game that develop some memory, develop their own behaviour and tendencies. Game players are drawn to these creatures whose life they shape, and there is a community developed around this game, which provide ample evidence for some amount of success to this approach. This part is also interesting since it tells us how abstract thoughts can be put to use in real programs.

The last part of the book goes on to further philosphical musings, which also has certain points of interest.

All in all, would recommend the book. ( )
  srineet | Jul 26, 2008 |
Artificial life from a computer-science, pop-philosophy, and (unfortunately) anti-physics standpoint. It's all too fashionable for people to declare themselves "antireductionist" these days.
  fpagan | Dec 28, 2006 |
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Working mostly alone, almost single-handedly writing 250,000 lines of computer code, Steve Grand produced Creatures®, a revolutionary computer game that allowed players to create living beings complete with brains, genes, and hormonal systems--creatures that would live and breathe and breed in real time on an ordinary desktop computer. Enormously successful, the game inevitably raises the question: What is artificial life? And in this book--a chance for the devoted fan and the simply curious onlooker to see the world from the perspective of an original philosopher-engineer and intellectual maverick--Steve Grand proposes an answer. From the composition of the brains and bodies of artificial life forms to the philosophical guidelines and computational frameworks that define them, Creation plumbs the practical, social, and ethical aspects and implications of the state of the art. But more than that, the book gives readers access to the insights Grand acquired in writing Creatures--insights that yield a view of the world that is surprisingly antireductionist, antimaterialist, and (to a degree) antimechanistic, a view that sees matter, life, mind, and society as simply different levels of the same thing. Such a hierarchy, Grand suggests, can be mirrored by an equivalent one that exists inside a parallel universe called cyberspace.

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