Creation: Life and How to Make It
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“If you’ve heard about A-life but aren’t quite sure what it is or where it’s going, Grand’s book is an excellent place to enter one of the more exciting areas of twenty-first-century science.”―John L. Casti, Nature
“When Steve Grand developed his artificial-life computer game Creatures nine years ago, he never dreamed that 1 million people would play it and come to care deeply about the lives of their virtual pets. Creatures allowed players to design these pets, or norns, and observe how they interacted with their environment and with other norns. The norns have computer-simulated hormones and DNA. They eat and breed. They fall in love. According to Grand’s book Creation…‘Creatures was probably the closest thing there has been to a new form of life on this planet in four billion years.’ That’s a pretty startling claim, but as Grand explains in his strangely accessible and consistently surprising book, whether or not you believe it depends on your definition of what’s alive. Grand―now two years into building a 4-month-old robot orangutan named Lucy―argues that our traditional notion of life is just now beginning to change.”―Suzy Hansen, Salon
“Grand’s entertaining but highly educational, historical, and intensely philosophical book on artificial life takes readers inside the mind of the creator of one of the more popular games, Creature[s], and its follow-ons. This personal account of the developmental steps of the game and its lifelike artificial creature in a rich cyberworld not only highlights the magic of how the creatures are programmed, but also provides a glimpse into the philosophy, implications, perspectives, and dilemmas in making them. This book is written not only to detail the highly technical aspects of the inner world image of the game, but also to enrich, incite, and promote the general awareness of synthetically generated beings… Delightful to read, easy to understand, and interesting to gamers and nongamers alike.”―J. Y. Cheung, Choice
“[Creation is] the latest word on computer intelligence, from the designer of a popular computer game… On the whole, Grand succeeds in providing useful hints to computer-savvy readers without drowning laymen in details of programming. At the same time, he gives an entertaining glimpse of the game itself, with descriptions of ‘Ron,’ the first creature he programmed for the computer game. Smoothly written and thought-provoking―worth a look for anyone curious about computer intelligence.”―Kirkus Reviews
“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] 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 might be off-putting, he explains his terms clearly and carefully, guiding the reader comfortably through various levels of discussion… [E]njoyable and thought-provoking.”―Publishers Weekly
“Very occasionally somebody from outside academia comes along and shows us academics how to do something we’ve been working on for years. Steve Grand showed us how to build a universe of evolving creatures, without the prevailing academic biases. This delightful book is a fresh and inspiring account of how to succeed in creating artificial life.”―Rodney Brooks, Director, Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT
“A giant leap forward into a new and unknown world…awe-inspiring.”―Douglas Adams, on the computer game Creatures
About the Author
- Publisher : Harvard University Press (May 30, 2003)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0674011139
- ISBN-13 : 978-0674011137
- Item Weight : 12.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.13 x 0.6 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #179,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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It's highly readable though, requiring no technical knowledge, and one of those titles (like Dawkins' Selfish Gene) that makes the reader feel like a genius as the layers unfold. It focuses on the details of making a single individual as sophisticated as possible rather than the approach taken by most comparable researchers, who hook together 'creatures' driven by a few simple rules, apply those to a large population and let 'emergent' processes do the rest and generate complex outcomes. It's true - looking at ants in the real world, and various a-life programs created, you do indeed get interesting and unforeseen complexities from a large population of super simple organisms. But every increase in the sophistication of the individual creatures will have exponential benefits in how rich the outcomes will be from a population of them!
Steve Grand is still at work developing a new version of his beloved creatures, called 'Grandroids'. This is a great insight into his thought processes and an exciting peek at what the next generation of intelligent artificial creatures may be like.
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.
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.
Top reviews from other countries
He does towards the end of the book start talking about real implementation but then only in the context of his game Creatures, which doesn't really do much in terms of showing intelligence.
The book does what it says it does, but it was not for me.
All of which increases the satisfaction when you find one of the gems.
Creation is a book in 2 parts - firstly Steve Grand demolishes your view of the universe, and then he explains how he created 'life' in the computer program Creatures.
Without the early groundwork, the second part would be interesting but in a 'so what?' kind of way. But viewed as a whole, the Creatures program emerges as a very clever approach to artificial life.
In passing the book also looks at other approaches to artificial life, but not in great detail, and as such this book is quite narrow in scope, but not annoyingly so.
Creation makes you look at the world slightly differently and opens up a whole load of new possibilities, which is exactly what popular science books should do.