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Artificial Life: A Report from the Frontier Where Computers Meet Biology Paperback – July 27, 1993


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (July 27, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679743898
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679743897
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,058,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Writing primarily for readers with backgrounds in science, Levy focuses on the conceptual edge that artificial-life research defines. Photos.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The effort to create artificial life is occurring primarily within computer science, although it brings together physicists, microbiologists, mathematicians, ethologists, and others in addition to computer scientists. The computer's ability to simulate system development is being generalized to study evolution and reproduction. Neural networks, while also used for applications other than artificial life simulation, are the primary form considered. As in his earlier book on computer hackers ( Hackers , LJ 11/1/84), Levy paints vivid images of the people involved in this work and puts a lot of effort into explanation of technical details, but this book is not easy reading. (None of the notes or figures were seen.) For larger specialized science collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/92.
- Hilary D. Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Livermore, Cal.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Not fun scary like Frankenstein, but deep-down scary.
Cantalopian
From the question of the origin of life to intelligence, the book convinced me that a new approach is needed to solve these old mysteries.
Siavosh Bahrami
Whatever your interest in a-life, you will find something of value in this book.
Charles Ashbacher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
While the concept of artificial life has been around at least since humans developed self-awareness, the commensurate decline of religion and rise of the scientific method was necessary for it to become a point of real debate. However, it was not until September 1987 when the event occurred that established a-life as an academic discipline, namely a conference devoted to its study. This work uses that event as a starting point, and does a superb job of presenting nearly all perspectives, including historical.
Like its counterpart, artificial intelligence, the discipline of a-life suffers from a lack of definition. There is no agreement on what life or intelligence are. Additional disagreement arises over the following distinctive descriptions of life.

(a) Objects such as rocks can be assigned a life (intelligence) value of zero and as we move upward to humans and beyond, the measure of life (intelligence) characteristics is described by a smooth, continuous function where the first derivative never becomes very large, but is always positive. There is no clearly discernible boundary between life and non-life.

(b) Starting from the same initial position as (a), the derivative stays close to zero for some time, and then suddenly becomes unbounded, as the matter now possesses the fundamental essence of life (intelligence). That point of the vertical derivative is the boundary point between animate and inanimate objects.

Much of this book deals with cellular automata and the algorithms used to create them. Like so many new, perhaps revolutionary disciplines, the major players tend to be free spirits. Many of the people described here bounced around before finding their ecological niche in a-life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By William M. Rand on January 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book serves as a good introduction to the work many individuals are doing not only in Artificial Life but also in fields related to Artificial Life. If you want an indepth examination then you will probably have to find items written by the individual scientists, but this is enough to get your feet wet and thus allow you to focus your search. If you are interested in these topics I would suggest you also look at Complexity Science and the similar books there like "Complexity" by Waldrop and "Out of Control" by Kelly, though many times the anecdotes in these three stories are very similiar Waldrop and Kelly look more at Santa Fe Institute. Finally though I haven't read the reprint version of this book, the original book seems very gloomy in terms of its attitude on Artificial Life. Levy seems to think that Artificial Life will be created but the entire last chapter seems to indicate he thinks it will be bad. Anyway it's a good book overall especially if you know nothing about the subject. If you know something then it provides a good examination to a lot of different techniques and you can easily learn something you didn't know before.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Siavosh Bahrami on February 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read this more than three years ago, before I started my undergraduate studies. I knew I was going to study computer science, but after reading this book I knew I would forever be drawn to the multidisciplinary fields of biology and computer science. From the question of the origin of life to intelligence, the book convinced me that a new approach is needed to solve these old mysteries.
It's not a masterpiece of literature, but it was interesting enough to forever change my research career.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Cantalopian on November 24, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A report from the frontier where computers meet biology. This is a great book. How else would it make it onto Kwato's select reading list?
About the genetic algorithm. Remember all the fuss about expert systems and artificial intelligence? Well, this is the way ol' Mother Nature figures out how to get things done. Chilling. Terrifying, Interesting. Colonies of light in magnetic and silicate media live, die, reproduce and struggle for survival.
This is the best book of its type I have ever read. It is really, really interesting and Steve Levy puts it all together. Sala'am, Steve Levy (I am making oriental-style bows in my cube right now) Plus is is scary. Not fun scary like Frankenstein, but deep-down scary. The future belongs to RAM creatures.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Librum VINE VOICE on April 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
AL is popular science writing of the first order: informative, clear, fascinating, and entertaining. My only disappointment is that it was published in 1992, and thus does not touch on developments in the field since then. I'd love to know how these have panned out, and whether scientists remain enthusiastic about the possibilities of A-Life. Judging from the textbooks on A-life that have been published since 1992, the field is alive, at least, and I can only assume it is well to boot. I'll have to hunt for bibliography elsewhere. My thanks to Levy for sending me on this hunt. AL is a book to fire the imagination. I'd give it 10 stars!

A note on the metaphysical material in AL that bears on the question of whether present iterations of 'artificial life' are, or whether future iterations may one day be, sufficiently complex that they should be considered true LIFE: throughout, Levy stresses the essential link between an (')organism(') (wet or dry) and its environment. Yet, it seems to me, in discussing the question of the LIFE-status of in-silico 'organisms', he considers the 'organisms' alone. I wonder whether this apparent preference reflects his own bias, or a bias on the part of the scientists he profiles? From the perspective of emergent behavior and the capacity to evolve, etc., AL 'creatures' self-evidently bear a striking resemblance to biological creatures. It strikes me, however, that a key consideration in the wet-life as LIFE versus dry-'life' as LIFE argument -- is that wet-life organisms express emergent behavior and evolve, etc., in environments that are, throughout, rife with other life, whereas dry-'life' 'organisms' do the same in environments that are otherwise sterile (by the standards that A-Life scientists themselves would apply).
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