``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 lifeas 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 itselfprimary 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 chartsnot seen.)