Creation - Life and how to make it by Steve Grand
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 'Creation - Life and how to make it' by Steve Grand. 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 your run-of-the-mill scripted non-player-characters common in computer games - these little creatures aren't programmed to behave - their behavior emerges from the way they are. They are artificial life or ALife.
This is a lightly written mind-bendingly deep book. As light and refreshing as sparkling wine but with a kick like a mule. 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 on ALife you know the Grand philosophy has gotten into your blood.
'Creation' isn't just about the inhabitants of a game, it's about what makes something exist at all and what it is to be alive and even more important to humans, what is intelligence? what is a conscious mind and can machines have them too? Steve's challenge to himself was to make life within a computer, not just low life but intelligent life. In this book he describes how to do it from first principles. It's not a book about exactly how to write the code instead it's about how to think about simulations and about living organisms so that there's some point to writing the code. Explaining how to think about the world, starting with understanding subatomic particles, atoms, then molecules, then autocatalytic networks, self-reproducing systems, adaptive systems, intelligence and mind is something Steve is very good at. 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. For example his idea of a law of nature is: "Things that persist, persist. Things that don't, don't." Note the resemblence to Newton's: "A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest." After a few of Steve's thought experiments you find yourself coming round to his point of view.
He's pushing for a paradigm shift in our view of reality and like the others before him: Copernicus, Gallileo, Newton, and Einstein, to name a few of these scientific revolutionaries, 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. Those cutesy Norns ugh!
Sue Wilcox bio: Sue Wilcox writes about ALife virtual worlds and other other technologies that define the edges around and between lifeforms. She chaired the Biota ALife conference in San Jose in 1999. She has spoken about the future of Alife inside and outside the computer at international conferences for several years.