Books

Short works

Books : reviews

Margaret A. Boden.
Artificial Intelligence and Natural Man.
Harvester. 1977

(read but not reviewed)

Margaret A. Boden.
The Creative Mind: myths and mechanisms.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1990

(read but not reviewed)

computer artists, including AARON

Margaret A. Boden, ed.
The Philosophy of Artificial Life.
OUP. 1996

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 12 September 1997

A mixed bag of papers on artificial life, some previously published elsewhere, some written especially for the book. Like all collections of this kind, it is difficult to maintain a coherent story: some areas are ignored or assumed, others get repeated in many chapters, and the level of treatment varies. But the introduction is excellent, and some of the papers are classics.

Naturally, these papers stress the overriding importance of evolution, genotype and phenotype for A-Life. One other recurring thread is that much of the complexity of an organism's behaviour is due to the complexity of its environment, and that evolution is open-ended and that emergent properties occur only because the environment is open-ended. Hence artificial computer-based environments must be open-ended; the big question is, is that possible? If it is, computer-based A-Life could be possible, if not, A-Life must be embedded in robot bodies in the physical world.

The papers are gathered into five parts: • background and introductory material • specific examples of A-Life research • specific explanatory strategies • views of past philosophers on life in general • functionalism, and 'strong' A-Life

The part I found least satisfying was how the views of past philosophers relate to A-Life. Personally, I find that I don't really care where Great Names were close to current thinking, and where they were way off beam -- I just want to know what are the currently best available thoughts and ideas. But this is only a small part of the total collection, and each with their different preferences should enjoy some part of the whole.

Contents

Introduction to The Philosophy of Artificial Life. 1996
The central concept of A-Life, excepting life itself, is self-organization. Self-organization involves the emergence (and maintenance) of order, or complexity, out of an origin that is ordered to a lesser degree. That is, it concerns not mere superficial change, but fundamental structural development. This development is 'spontaneous', or 'autonomous', following from the intrinsic character of the system itself (often, in interaction with the environment) instead of being imposed on the system by some external designer.

The behaviour of flocks of birds, for instance, must be described on its own level, although it results from the behaviour of individual birds. [emergent properties are] not expressible in terms of --- though explicable by means of --- [the lower-level properties]

Species can evolve more quickly in the presence of predators because the predator displaces prey from sub-optimal ... local maxima.
Christopher G. Langton. Artificial Life. 1996
[An updated version of his paper in Artificial Life I.] Background, history and overview of the subject area, with a whistle-stop tour of 18th century mechanical automata, von Neumann's self-reproducing cellular automaton, Lindenmayer systems, flocking 'boids', genetic algorithms, Dawkins' biomorphs, the 'tit for tat' strategy in Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma, and Ray's Tierra.
Autonomy and Artificiality. 1996
The implications of A-Life for our understanding of human autonomy, or freedom.
[the artificial sciences] help us to see how autonomous behaviour ... is possible, and to appreciate the awesome complexity of much human choice.
Thomas S. Ray. An Approach to the Synthesis of Life. 1992
A description of his virtual Tierra environment, for studying artificial open-ended evolution
Richard M. Burian, Robert C. Richardson. Form and Order in Evolutionary Biology. 1996
A critique of Stuart Kauffman's The Origins of Order
John Maynard Smith. Evolution --- Natural and Artificial. 1996
A short overview of the current state of evolutionary biology
David J. McFarland. Animals as Cost-based Robots. 1996
An analysis of animal behaviour in terms of cost functions, with the aim of making robots more animal-like:
(1) animal behaviour is governed by mechanisms no different in principle from those that could be put in a robot; (2) these mechanisms are optimized (through evolution) with respect to the real costs ... of the animal's ecological niche; (3) similar design principles could be used in robotics
Michael Wheeler. From Robots to Rothko: The Bringing Forth of Worlds. 1996
An analysis of animal behaviour in terms of cost functions, with the aim of making robots more animal-like:
(1) animal behaviour is governed by mechanisms no different in principle from those that could be put in a robot; (2) these mechanisms are optimized (through evolution) with respect to the real costs ... of the animal's ecological niche; (3) similar design principles could be used in robotics
David Kirsh. Today the Earwig, Tomorrow Man?. 1996
A critique of 'moboticist' Rod Brooks' position that "97 per cent of human activity is concept free, driven by control mechanisms we share with insects"
Andy Clark. Happy Couplings: Emergence and Explanatory Interlock. 1996
Using dynamical systems theory as a means of understanding emergent properties.
As the complexities of interaction between parts increases, so the explanatory burden increasingly falls not on the parts but on their organisation.
Horst Hendricks-Jansen. In Praise of Interactive Emergence, Or Why Explanations Don't Have to Wait for Implementation. 1996
Using situated robotics to help explain human intentional behaviour and thought
Gareth B. Matthews. Aristotle on Life. 1996
Peter Godfrey-Smith. Spencer and Dewey on Life and Mind. 1996
Mark A. Bedau. The Nature of Life. 1996
The offer of 'supple adaptation' as the essential principle of life, and a statistical measure of the supple adaptation of a population, which can be used to determine whether it is alive.
The essential principle that explains the unified diversity of life seems to be this suppleness of the adaptive processes — its unending capacity to produce novel solutions to unanticipated changes in the problems of surviving, reproducing, or, more generally, flourishing. ... supple adaptation involves responding appropriately in an indefinite variety of ways to an unpredictable variety of contingencies. ...
A changing environment (or fitness function) is also a crucial part of supple evolution:
When selection is based on a fixed fitness function, the resulting adaptive dynamics eventually stabilize rather than continually produce adaptive novelty.
Elliott Sober. Learning from Functionalism --- Prospects for Strong Artificial Life. 1996
... a machine might have a mind, but beliefs and desires so different from those of any human being that interrogators would quickly realize that they were not talking to a human being. The machine would flunk the Turing test, because it cannot imitate human response patterns; it is another matter to conclude that the machine, therefore, does not have a mind at all.
Howard H. Pattee. Simulations, Realizations, and Theories of Life. 1989
Many of the controversies in AI result from the multiple use of computation as a conceptual theory, as an empirical tool, as simulation, and as realization of thought. AL models will have to make these distinctions.

... it was also clear that the environment was too simple to produce interesting emergent behaviour.