Artificial Life: A Report from the Frontier Where Computers Meet Biology

Category: Computer Science
Author: Steven Levy
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by EvanAnderson   2021-01-01
I did a similar thing (the evolution of corewars code bit-- not the light fixture bit) after reading Steven Levy's "Artificial Life"[1] in the early 90s. The chapter on Tom Ray's Tierra[2] really excited me.

Some people say that reading Richard Dawkins caused them to become atheist. For me, it was very clearly "Artificial Life" and the code I wrote playing around w/ "evolving" Corewars code.

I managed to eek out a little "evolution" in my experimentation. I was never particularly religious to begin with. My simulation code caused me to deeply consider the power of evolution. Here was this tiny change, evolved from randomness in a minuscule virtual "petri dish", out of a tiny amount of ingredients that were brittle and unforgiving of the slightest change, on a time scale that was the smallest fraction of a fraction of the age of the universe.

Observing the sheer magnitude of the chemical "parallel computing substrate" at the scale of atoms and molecules, interacting in real time, across a space as large as the Earth, in a timescale measuring billions of years, and over a wide variety of temperature and energy gradients made me aside any concerns that all life couldn't have arisen from randomness.

I didn't need an "intelligent designer" after that. Nature, the vastness of space, the minuteness of atoms, and the overwhelming scale of time were enough.



by EvanAnderson   2017-08-19
Great recommendation!

Wolfram's work with cellular automata is definitely interesting, and I really "A New Kind of Science". (Edit: I must also concede that I agree with the review "A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity" cited by another comment here. Wolfram is a good read and a lot of fun, but I question the "science" in the book.)

I haven't re-read it recently to see how it holds up, but Steven Levy's "Artificial Life" ( hooked me as a kid and set a direction for my future thought. It's not a technical book (which was frustrating to a 14 y/o kid with a programming background that wanted to see the technical details), but I think it would be very thought-provoking for someone new to the idea.