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Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology [Paperback]

Valentino Braitenberg
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 7, 1986 0262521121 978-0262521123 First Edition

These imaginative thought experiments are the inventions of one of the world's eminent brain researchers. They are "vehicles," a series of hypothetical, self-operating machines that exhibit increasingly intricate if not always successful or civilized "behavior." Each of the vehicles in the series incorporates the essential features of all the earlier models and along the way they come to embody aggression, love, logic, manifestations of foresight, concept formation, creative thinking, personality, and free will. In a section of extensive biological notes, Braitenberg locates many elements of his fantasy in current brain research.Valentino Braitenberg is a director of the Max Planck Institute of Biological Cybernetics and Honorary Professor of Information Science at the University of Tübingen, West Germany. A Bradford Book.

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Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology + Behavior-Based Robotics (Intelligent Robotics and Autonomous Agents) + Understanding Intelligence (Bradford Books)
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Editorial Reviews


"The small and cheerful book at hand, by a well-known researcher on the brain from Tübingen, has exploited the virtues of the style with unprecedented consistency, originality and aptness. His thought experiments are not analytic efforts to extract what principles lie behind an imagined observation but are instead synthetic constructions. They are little toys of the mind, devised out of simple if fictional components, entirely functionally described.... [A] crisp, cogent book full of intellectual delights." Philip Morrison , Scientific American

About the Author

Valentino Braitenberg was a director of the Max Planck Institute of Biological Cybernetics and Honorary Professor of Information Science at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: A Bradford Book; First Edition edition (February 7, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262521121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262521123
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Idea Book - especially for educators January 13, 2000
Braitenberg uses simple elecro-mechanical vehicles to demonstrate how very simple rules and designs can create surprisingly complex behavior.
I used the vehicles to teach simple electronics concepts in a college level 'Electronics 101' course. The students were not only fascinated by the vehicles themselves, but could directly experience the effects of electronic components (resistors, capacitors, inductors, etc.)
But the true value of the book comes from the delightful writing and stimulating ideas. After reading it through the first time, I knew it would entrance and motivate students.
There is no need to construct any of the vehicles Braitenberg describes (in fact, I'm sure the author didn't intend that), but if you're a tinkerer, you probably won't be able to resist!
I must respectfully disagree with the first reviewer's comments and rating. Granted, the book is neither a hard science book, nor is it an engineering cookbook. You won't learn any formulas or electronic theory, nor will you learn a new theory of intelligence. Instead, you'll find a wonderful romp through fun ideas drawn from complexity theory, artificial intelligence, perception, and philosophy. You may even see hidden (but not too deeply) a sneaky critique of behavioralism.
I recommend this book highly to students and educators, tinkers and engineers. It's a good book. Definitely worth a read!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to challenge your thinking May 7, 1999
With respect, I think the previous reviewer has missed the point of this excellent book. Yes, Braitenberg "personifies" simple electro-mechanical relationships. But his whole point in doing so is to make us aware of how readily we personify animate objects in our environment, including each other.
With a playfulness not usually found in the writings of neuroscientists, Braitenberg starts with very simple machines or vehicles that respond to their environment. He shows that, despite the simple internal workings of these machines, we would be likely to impute feelings and desires to them. As the book goes on, Braitenberg discusses increasingly complicated machines, although remaining firmly in the realm of things that could potentially be built. The later machines appear to be capable of impressive feats of memory, planning and foresight, and yet they are ultimately made up of "simple electro-mechanical relationships". By the close of the book, one realizes belatedly that Braitenberg has sketched out (in fable-like form) a possible history of the evolution of intelligence.
For all those fascinated by the question of how the complexities of human and animal behaviour arise from the relatively simple world of the neuron, this book is a must.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Definite Read For A-Life and Robotics May 17, 1999
This great book is for those not looking for an end but seeking a book that acts as a guide through the world of complexity. It is a starting place for new ideas and has been quoted several times by several people doing important research because it is such a great text.
Once again, no disrespect to the bottom reviewer but they completely missed the point of this fine work. This is not a summation book on the field but a starting point for new and creative ideas.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will see the world differently after "Vehicles" September 9, 2007
How people react to this book tells me a lot about them. Vehicles is one of a half-dozen books that changed the way I see the world. It is not a standard science book. Instead, each chapter presents a small but powerful idea; each elaborates on the prior chapters until a view of a world is build (in thought).

I personally think it should be on the list of "anti-intelligent design" books -- it shows you that complex visible behavior may originate from much simpler sources than we usually think. It is not a long book, but it is a big book in it's own way. A must-read for anyone interested in AI, cognitive psychology, animal behavior, or evolutionary behavior. I would love to see a follow-up by the author on what he's learned since then.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Building is Easy; Deconstruction is Hard June 27, 2001
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Braitenburg could not be more obvious in the subtext of this book. His message is that synthesis is always easier than analysis. Creating something that, on the surface, acts complex is easier than analyzing what, on the surface, looks like a complex system. If we see X, what do we assume are the mechanisms behind what will happen next? The clarity with which the author illustrates the assumptive traps in which we can fall is not only wonderfully insightful, but cautionary. Add this reading to the writings of Braitenberg's contemperary James Gleik ("Chaos") and one can get the AHA! experience that speaks to the richness of simple rules creating bafflingly sophisticated behaviors. "Vehicles" is an amazing book, and in my opinion, one of those that rate up there with those works that not only focus our experience, but are true to it, and take us beyond it. I smack my forehead with my palm, and thank him that he makes it so easy.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming and intellectually stimulating June 3, 2001
By A Customer
I read "Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology" when it first came out in the 1980's, and I thought it was one of most charming and intellectually stimulating books I have ever read. I had long since lost my original copy, having pushed it on many friends, so I recently bought another. Rereading it some 15+ years later, the book is as good and charming as ever.
I know of no other book that combines such intellectual stimulation with a tone of warmth, wit, and charm. I think Braitenberg has produced a book that deserves to be a classic for the centuries, and not just for our time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun read, fascinating, accessible.
I love this book. I lend it to friends/family to give them a window into my geeky interests in AI/cybernetics/neuroscience/computer play. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Chris Gough
3.0 out of 5 stars Only theory
in my opinion, the book consisted of only mostly theory and did not give much useful information or work examples.
Published 5 months ago by sean
4.0 out of 5 stars high-lights.
The book contains several high-lights and the seller described it as Good without telling me anything about the high-lights. But the shipping speed is OK.
Published 7 months ago by Ziqing Zhao
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey
A great easy introduction into emergent behaviour. Kicks off with your simple 'if then' logic structures and following a line, and then shows how adding simple additional pieces... Read more
Published 16 months ago by glinkot
5.0 out of 5 stars a classic
This is a wonderful set of thought experiments leading the reader thorough the process of building a seemingly intelligent little car out of simple sensors and logic elements. Read more
Published 16 months ago by M. Schippling
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Resource
This book is novel, enlightening, and a joy to read. The writing style is coherent and not at all pretentious. A must-read for anybody interested in artificial intelligence.
Published on May 27, 2012 by Peter
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing read
It is an epitome of "how a complex idea can be conveyed with the most ease". I read this book as my mentor suggested me once and have become a big fan of it ever since. Read more
Published on April 13, 2012 by nikhil
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book on the spectrum and functional elements of autonomous...
Technology agnostic, the principles described could be implemented in your preferred development language or even in entirely analog, transistor driven circuits. Read more
Published on September 10, 2011 by Antfriend
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic text in AI
I'm a relative newcomer to AI studies, but sensed that I was reading a classic text in the field. The book has a LOT of deep connections to computational cognitive and neuro... Read more
Published on May 21, 2007 by David Gibson
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish i never read this book
to anyone who knows any physics, computer science, or just plain logic, this book is a step-by-step guide in the building of frankenstein's monster. Read more
Published on December 10, 2002 by SpaceRaven
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