This is the startling story of a new science: the science of artificial life. Computer scientists, microbiologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and evolutionary theorists have succeeded in making creatures that look and act very much like living organisms. They grow, eat, reproduce, mutate, fight with each other, die--and do all this spontaneously, without interference from their human creators. Artificial Life is also the story of a new way of doing science, one arising not out of the laboratory but ...
This is the startling story of a new science: the science of artificial life. Computer scientists, microbiologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and evolutionary theorists have succeeded in making creatures that look and act very much like living organisms. They grow, eat, reproduce, mutate, fight with each other, die--and do all this spontaneously, without interference from their human creators. Artificial Life is also the story of a new way of doing science, one arising not out of the laboratory but out of the computer. The power of the computer to depict--and create--emerging systems has transformed our understanding of evolution, the origins of life, and the essential dynamics of natural phenomena, enabling scientists to move beyond life-as-we-know-it to life-as-it-could-be. In the hands of a-life researchers, the computer is not merely a tool but a breeding ground. The artificial organisms that emerge will not only perform our labors but will help us crack nature's toughest codes. Eventually, we may come to grant them the autonomy due other living creatures. From one of our premier chroniclers of the computer age, the author of the classic Hackers, comes a dazzling journey into the heart of artificial life: software that utilizes the force of evolution to solve complex problems, insectlike robots designed to pave a landing area for a manned Mars mission, the use of natural selection to "train" molecules to fight the AIDS virus. Steven Levy portrays the scientists and how their dreams and obsessions have led them to a new way of looking at life. By making life, we may finally know what life is.
``A-life'' research--the creation of artificial systems with natural behavioral traits of their own--has preoccupied computer theorists since the 1950s. The theory of automata--self-regulating computer programs--is all but inherent in computing, and the last 10 years have brought artificial intelligence to the verge of becoming a real algorithmic sorcerer's apprentice. Science reporter Levy ( Hackers ) writes for readers with extensive interdisciplinary backgrounds in science, although he includes such popular sensations as an artificially ``live'' foot-long robot cockroach. But his focus, and the real excitement of his subject, remains in looking over the conceptual edge that A-life research defines, where the science is not only original, but perhaps more original than we know. (June)
The effort to create artificial life is occurring primarily within computer science, although it brings together physicists, microbiologists, mathematicians, ethologists, and others in addition to computer scientists. The computer's ability to simulate system development is being generalized to study evolution and reproduction. Neural networks, while also used for applications other than artificial life simulation, are the primary form considered. As in his earlier book on computer hackers ( Hackers , LJ 11/1/84), Levy paints vivid images of the people involved in this work and puts a lot of effort into explanation of technical details, but this book is not easy reading. (None of the notes or figures were seen.) For larger specialized science collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/92.-- Hilary D. Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Livermore, Cal.
Science journalist Levy (Hackers: heroes of the computer revolution) tells the fascinating story of how scientists from many fields--chemists, physicists, computer scientists, microbiologists, and evolutionary theorists--are harnessing the powers and possibilities of the computer to depict and create biological processes like natural selection, adaptation, and reproduction, previously associated only with organic life forms. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Levy again reports from the front lines of technology in this exploration of the history and future of the creation of artificial life—as impressive and illuminating a work as his memorable Hackers (1984). Colonies of light on a computer screen compete, learn, reproduce, and die; "viruses" committed to self-preservation adapt to new environments, search computer systems for food, replicate themselves, and destroy; tiny "bugs" swarm out of a vacuum cleaner to suck up dirt beneath sofas and carpets, then return to deposit the dirt at home base; a mechanical cockroach sees an object in its path, adjusts its legs to crawl over it, and continues in its explorations. The question of which of these creatures, if any, are alive has stimulated a storm of controversy concerning the definition, underlying structure, and necessary characteristics of life itself—primary concerns in the creation of "alternative life forms," an endeavor that has also led to insights into the workings of flocks of birds; the mechanisms behind the evolutionary process; the origin of life; and more. As Levy methodically traces the development of "A-life" studies from John von Neumann's interest during the 1940's in the similarities between computers and nature to today's soul-searching by researchers into the spirituality, civil rights, and destructive power of future artificial life forms, he also highlights the other lure of such research: the eventual production of robotic servants; cheap planetary pioneers; more efficient, virtually immortal bodies for our human descendants; and even, some scientists believe, a successor species to our own. Ringing with echoes of Faust, Frankenstein, and the historyof the atom bomb, the field of A-life research is fertile ground for Levy's articulate, probing journalism. This thought-provoking inquiry may be the most comprehensive yet on the subject. (Eight pages of color illustrations; 20 b&w drawings and charts—not seen.)