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14 Reviews
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Steve Grand's surprising success
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...
Published on April 23, 2002 by Luis F Lupian

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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lots and lots of buildup ... and very little payoff.
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...
Published on May 27, 2004 by Brian Hollenbeck


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Steve Grand's surprising success, April 23, 2002
By 
Luis F Lupian (the Solar System) - See all my reviews
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights from the creator of Creatures., June 19, 2003
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. Some people have pointed out that they felt some of his approaches were cheating. I will leave it up to readers to come to their own conclusions. But as someone who has studied AI, ALife and delved into neural networks and genetic algorithms, I found his approach refreshing and insightful.
I still feel excited about this book and considering its been over 18 months since I read it, that�s pretty impressive.
I think there is scope for another book that can actually show people how they can code their own psuedo creatures. But there are many people out there, including myself who could write this, leaving Grand to make more breakthroughs with his current research efforts.
These are some of the books that are from his bibliography:
The Matter Myth � Paul Davies, John Gribbin
Does God Play Dice � Ian Stewart
Planiverse � A.K. Dewdney
The Selfish Gene � Richard Dawkins
Out of Control � Kevin Kelly
Phantoms in the Brain � Vilayanuar Ramachandran
At Home in the Universe � Stuart Kauffman
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best digital biology/artificial life book I've seen yet., June 20, 2003
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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
2.0 out of 5 stars Lots and lots of buildup ... and very little payoff., May 27, 2004
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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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an absolute must read, November 23, 2001
This book is brilliant and so is Steve Grand!
Using synthetic approache of complexity theory, Steve Grand goes on to describe his first attempt at really making something intelligent. The beings from his game Creatures are made out of simulated neurons and chemicals, that come together in an attempt to simulated real intelligence.
With great wisdom and wit, without wasting a word, in 200 pages Steve Grand does what volumes of books and scientists fail to do - do something, create, get somewhere. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in complex systems & ai. This is how Godel, Escher, Bach moves from philosophy to practice.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overview and philosophy, January 17, 2002
If you're expecting a book full of the computer science of AI or A-Life, this isn't it. Steve Grand spends the majority of the book diving into his philosophy and reasoning behind why he developed A-Life in his fashion, and it works quite well.
He's a generalist by nature (or at least I'd assume so reading the book) and takes a very holistic view of the science. As such, he does a good job of explaining all the pieces he's putting together, and more importantly why he's putting them together in this fashion.
If you're look for conceptual ideas on A-Life or AI, this is a book to get!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Turning the tide on AI research in a sense, July 9, 2004
By 
Dennis Cox (Austin, Tx USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Creation: Life and How to Make It (Paperback)
I must say I enjoyed the book completely. While I don't agree with the author on all points - the book is incredibly thought provoking. I was so glad to see such a book written that after I read the book (in 3 nights - short book) I bought three copies for co-workers who I wanted to read it. Steve Grand is now quite famous (or should I say even more famous) after writing this book. He has challenged traditional thought on the subject of AI and in a way that has made converts out of many.

However, he spends 10 chapters saying "you are all wrong - this is the way to do it" - then doesn't follow up on doing it himself but rather takes enough shortcuts to make the work suspect - but to his credit he does say he's doing going just that :) All in all - if you're a software engineer or software developer I highly recommended the book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Undershot his ability to communicate what he knows., August 3, 2002
By 
Brint Montgomery (Bethany, OK United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The strongest section of this book was in the last quarter, particularly where he has a couple of diagrams on neural nets and discussions of how they work. (These are very general discussions, but insightful regarding implementation.) Otherwise, I was fairly disappointed with Grand's prose. It's clean, and one gets the impression that his style has been worn a bit overly smooth by too many proofreaders. I feel that Grand is a deeply thoughtful programmer, yet he has decided not to let his technical insights into the book. The early discussions on biology were very blase as well.. He also avoids the hard problems of consciousness, though I understand why, since even a cursory discussion of this difficult problem in philosophy of mind demands that a host of other subjects be covered. I think this book would have been greatly enhanced with a couple of chapters on the data structures he favors for artificial creatures and with about half as much doodling on generic biology. My feeling is we have not heard the last from Grand in this area.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Non-technical but this doesn't mean non-inspiring, February 20, 2003
By 
Claudio Martella (milan, milan Italy) - See all my reviews
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Steve Grand, in my opinion, tries, in this book, to educate the new generation of AI or Artificial Life researchers to a new bottom-up approach to reproduce natural phenomena. What emerges from this book is not the technical approach to the problem, but the phylosophical approach we should take, it gives you a new point of view. It starts explaining the natural phenomena principals of alive things, atoms, natural events, undelining the aspects which make them persistent or not. Persistence soon becomes the main aspect of Grand's analisys giving the reader, at the end, new eyes he can use to look at the new world in front of him. Inspiring.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good parts, but patchy, February 22, 2007
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This review is from: Creation: Life and How to Make It (Paperback)
There are some interesting analogies and examples of perceived or emergent behaviour but overall many of the arguments do not hold up to scrutiny. If you are looking for a book written in the form of opinions, as opposed to hard facts, then this book will be more to your liking. Certainly something I would borrow from a friend/library rather than paying for it to sit on my shelf - not something I will go back to in future to read again or for reference. It was a disappointment as I was led to it from Richard Dawkins' excellent "The God Delusion".
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Creation: Life and How to Make It
Creation: Life and How to Make It by Steve Grand (Paperback - May 30, 2003)
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