Though its title brings to mind the hubris of Frankenstein, Steve Grand's Creation: Life and How to Make It
is just humble enough to keep its readers hooked. Best known as the developer of the Creatures series of artificial-life software, Grand has quite a following among devotees of playful complexity.
The book ranges from deep ruminations on the nature of life and mind (artificial and biological) to fairly concrete advice for future creators, and his writing is just as elegant and compelling as his software. Sometimes his cleverness gets the best of him, but for the most part, his wordplay is used to serve his ideas, which are thought-provoking even for readers who have no intention of creating life.
Many will be surprised at the strength of Grand's antireductionism, but he makes his case vigorously and may win a few converts to the emergent-phenomena camp. Creation is essential reading for those of us who want to think through the consequences of our actions before we imitate Frankenstein's mistake. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
Blending aspects of philosophy, computer science, artificial intelligence, biology and computer gaming, Grand attempts to define life, discuss the nature of the human soul and demonstrate how it is possible to create entities that demand to be called both living and intelligent. A tall order indeed, and to wonderful effect, Grand draws heavily on his experience writing computer code (he developed the popular computer game Creatures, e in which cyberbeings "live," learn and reproduce). He is at his best describing the problems encountered and the solutions used to animate his virtual universe. While at first glance Grand's definitions of life ("patterns that persist by metabolizing and reproducing" or "high-order persistent phenomena, which endure through intelligent interaction with their environment") might be off-putting, he explains his terms clearly and carefully, guiding the reader comfortably through various levels of discussion. He argues persuasively that life, both real and artificial, is an emergent property, arising inevitably from the interactions of its component parts and, as such, is something much greater than and qualitatively different from the sum of its parts. This view leads Grand to assert that most scientists working in the field of artificial intelligence are taking the wrong tack when they attempt to program intelligence into machines. Published last year in England, this is an enjoyable and thought-provoking volume.
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