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Creation: Life and How to Make It Paperback – March 25, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0674011137 ISBN-10: 0674011139
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674011139
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674011137
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #833,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Luis F Lupian on April 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The seemingly impossible-to-deliver promise made by its subtitle ("Life and How to Make It") is reason enough to read this book. And to a significant extent the author does indeed accomplish his task of giving you the recipe to create life. Steve Grand starts by shifting your mindset away from the traditional materialistic assumption that only material objects are real and everything else has an inferior level of existence. He succeeds (at least in my case) in convincing the reader that non-material phenomena are just as real as material objects. He goes further to tell you that you are not the matter that you are made of, but rather a persistent phenomenon in which matter flows in and out renewing every bit of your body throughout your life. And that, in this same way, if you are able to create a persistent phenomenon inside a virtual world (like a computer) whose behaviour is similar to that of living objects as we know them, then what you have produced is indeed artificial life. He will then tell you what are the essential building blocks of his artificial creatures and how they are interconnected. You don't get to see any meaningful computer code (of course) but you do get a very clear ontological picture of his creatures.
If this was not enough, there is a hidden and perhaps even greater value to this book. Steve Grand does not have any post-graduate academic training and despite that he was able to lead the team that accomplished (to a certain extent) the gargantuan task that five decades of academic research has not been able to deliver. Steve Grand is a prime example that science can be made quite successfully outside the confines of the academic world. The fact that he was not tied to any academic circle enabled him to discard (and at times even mock at) most assumptions that prevail in the field of AI and pursue a path of his own that ultimately led his team to success.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By K. Sampanthar on June 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book for many reasons. I have been intrigued by all things artificial life and artificial intelligence for a long time. I have a computer science degree in which I specialized in Artificial Intelligence (Neural Networks, genetic algorithms and parallel computation).
Creatures the game from Cyberlife was something that fascinated me, being able to actually watch these little creatures "evolve", "learn", "think" and react to you and their artificial environment. Ever since I first saw SimCity, and saw what simulations could be, I was wanting a more involved version which touched on artificial life. I have created ant colony simulations, but nothing this complex.
In this book, Grand shows us how he went about creating these artificial creatures. As some others have pointed out, he doesn't go into the nitty gritty of the code involved. This was a little disappointing for some, but what I found more fascinating was his thought process to go about designing this world and its creatures. He goes into the books that he read (see the bibliography at the end), this gives us more insight into his thoughts.
He explains some interesting concepts and makes them look easy. He doesn't try to explain concepts like neural networks and genetic algorithms again at the depth that can be found in other books, but instead explains how he used them.
Creatures is only a simulation, but what a remarkable first step. As others struggled with trying to create complex intelligent behavior, Grand tried to get rid of what he felt was irrelevant when trying to create an intelligent creature and concentrated on some core processes and simulated these. The end result is a creature that shows some complex behaviors that might not have been expected.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By ascetic on June 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is fantastic. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I got it, but was pleasantly surprised. Before this I read 'Digital Biology' by Peter Bentley, and this book was much more interesting. No, they don't cover exactly the same subject matter, and Bentley's book covers a broader range of subjects, but if you're looking at both of them, I think this is a better intro to artificial life and digital biology.
Grand is obviously a great programmer and scientist, and he's an excellent writer to boot. I've never played Creatures (in fact, I'd never even heard of it before reading this book) but now I really want to get my hands on a copy to try it out. I can hardly wait for his next book about his current project.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Brian Hollenbeck on May 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Grand's book isn't that at all, although it tries to be. He starts out with his definition of life, and builds (slowly, oh so slowly you could cry) up to the point where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. At that point, he imply handwaves the entire process of programming a-life.
So in short, there are books out there that do a better job of explaining the application of neural networks. There are better books on the philosophy of consciousness and life. There are better books on game design.
So you don't need this one, because Grand only tells you what you already know, if you're at all interested in the subject, and doesn't add enough best-practice techniques to make his way of building a-life better than any other. It's as though he was so worried about giving away his secrets that he redacted all of the information in the book that would have made it more than 'Here's my philosophy.'
The only thing saving the book from a one-star review is that the first 10 chapters do light a fire in your belly to find out more. But this book isn't going to provide that 'more' that you want to know.
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