Sue Wilcox has been writing and speaking for years about ALife (Artifical Life), virtual worlds, and other technologies that define (and question) the fringes of life. The seemingly intractable question of whether there can be artificial life doesn’t seem to bother Wilcox one whit: she asserts that there can be, and is. Here, she Reviews a book on making life, but not as we know it. An artificial life. “Steve Grand’s challenge to himself,” Wilcox points out, “was to make life within a computer, not just unchanging, low-level life, but intelligent life. In this book he describes how to do it from first principles.” A review of Steve Grand’s book entitled, Creation: Life and how to make it, follows within.
If God wrote a book about the way he put the universe together, why the laws of physics were the way they were, how he came to design humans and all the other life forms on Earth, and why they are interdependent with each other and with the planet, it would be a lot like Steve Grand’s Creation: Life and how to make it.
Steve is a self confessed digital god — and he can prove it: there are over a million lifeforms created by him running around in computers all over the world. They live in their own world of Albia within the computer game Creatures. These are not the run-of-the-mill scripted non-player-characters common in computer games. These little creatures aren’t simply programmed to behave: their behavior emerges from the way they are. They are artificial life — ALife.
This is a lightly written but mind-bendingly deep book. “When you realize you have been smooth talked into abandoning the last fifty years of AI research and development along with the majority of current thinking behind ALife you know the Steve Grand philosophy has gotten into your blood.”
Creation isn’t just about the inhabitants of a game; it’s about existence, the nature of life, and perhaps more important to humans, the nature of intelligence. What is a conscious mind, and can machines have one too?
This is not a book about exactly how to write the code behind Alife; instead it’s about how to think about both simulations and actual living organisms, so that there’s some point to writing the code.
Explaining how to think about the world, starting with understanding subatomic particles, then moving onto items of greater complexity — atoms, then molecules, then autocatalytic networks, self-reproducing systems, adaptive systems, intelligence and mind — is something Steve is very good at. It must come from all the thinking he does. He says that sitting in a darkened silent room and just thinking is one of his favorite occupations. It’s left him with an almost Buddhist sense of detachment from reality as most people conceive of the world.
He’s pushing for a paradigm shift in our view of reality, and like others before him who’ve tried that — Copernicus, Gallileo, Newton, and Einstein — he’s finding it hard work standing the world on its head. But as with his predecessors once the ground has moved under your feet the new place you’re standing seems completely right and obvious. It’s a new way of seeing that is vital to continued progress.
If there has to be a God, I wouldn’t mind letting Steve have a go at the job — as long as he isn’t answerable to another marketing department controlling what his creatures look like.
Author: Sue Wilcox
News Service: Slashdot