Virtual Organisms: The Startling World of Artificial Life

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Harmless artificial life forms are on the loose on the Internet. Computer viruses and even robots are now able to evolve like their biological counterparts. Telecommunications companies are sending small packets of software to go forth and multiply to cope with ever-increasing telephone traffic. Protein-based computers are on the agenda, and a team in Japan is building an organic brain as clever as a kitten. Welcome to the startling world of Artificial Life.

Artificial Life ...

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Virtual Organisms: The Startling World of Artificial Life

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Overview

Harmless artificial life forms are on the loose on the Internet. Computer viruses and even robots are now able to evolve like their biological counterparts. Telecommunications companies are sending small packets of software to go forth and multiply to cope with ever-increasing telephone traffic. Protein-based computers are on the agenda, and a team in Japan is building an organic brain as clever as a kitten. Welcome to the startling world of Artificial Life.

Artificial Life scientists are taking inanimate materials such as computer software and robots and making them behave just like living organisms. In the process they are discovering much about what drives evolution and just what it means to say that something is alive. Virtual Organisms traces the origins of this field from the days when it was practiced by a few maverick scientists to the present and the current boom in Alife research.

Leading technology correspondent Mark Ward presents a fascinating survey of current ideas about the origins of life and the engines of evolution. Through interviews with leading developers of Artificial Life, and through his own compelling research, Ward shows how the convergence of technology with biology has enormous implications.

In an accessible, entertaining manner, Virtual Organisms reveals an unexplored avenue in predicting the future of Artificial Life , and whether new forms of Alife may be evolving beyond their designer's control.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Artificial intelligence research has tried to make machines that think; the newer and in many ways more exciting field of artificial life ("ALife") seeks computers and computer-driven machines that work like--or arguably in some sense are--living things. ALife "encompasses software simulations, robotics, protein electronics and even attempts to re-create the world's first living organisms." This compelling and easy-to-follow volume from the Daily Telegraph (U.K.) tech journalist Ward picks up where Steven Levy's Artificial Life (1992) left off, surveying recent and classic ALife work in all its subfields. Bell Labs researcher Andrew Pargellis's "computer simulation of a primordial soup" produces "working, replicating programs" analogous to the self-replicating molecules that colonized the early Earth. John Horton Conway's computerized "Game of Life" produces "Cellular Automata," self-perpetuating, evolving patterns that model biological evolution. Cambridge scientist William Walter's 1950s robots "Elmer" and "Elsie," he claims, chased each other like cats and learned tricks like dogs: inspired by them, MIT's Rodney Brooks makes robots that can explore the real world, "solving the same problems that animals face." Programs that replicate, mix with other programs and generate somewhat different successors mimic the sexual reproduction that has made possible much of our evolution: these programs, called "agents," may someday run telephone networks and other large electronic systems--with catastrophic consequences if they evolve in ways that are bad for us. Though he includes some scary scenarios, Ward is largely upbeat about the scientific and practical future of ALife in all its manifestations. After his sometimes exciting, always accessible exposition, his satisfied readers may learn to love it, too. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Scientists are using computers and robots to mimic the behavior of living organisms. In the process they claim to be discovering the processes that gave rise to life itself and drove evolution. They might be right. Technology journalist Ward ( Wice, Paul RUBIN"HURRICANE" CARTER AND THE AMERICAN JUSTICE SYSTEM Rutgers Univ. (240 pp.) Nov. 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312266912
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/1900
  • Edition description: 1st U.S. Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.76 (w) x 8.64 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Ward has managed to make a career out of writing about technology. He is the technology correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and he has been a reporter for Computer Weekly magazine and New Scientist. He lives in England.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii
Introduction 1
Chapter 1 First Stirrings 17
Chapter 2 The Game of Life and How to Play It 53
Chapter 3 Rise of the Robots 107
Chapter 4 Smaller is Smarter 188
Chapter 5 Living Machines 240
Chapter 6 The Machine Stops 271
Notes and References 281
Bibliography 291
Index 301
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