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

Steven Levy · 5 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "Artificial Life: A Report from the Frontier Where Computers Meet Biology" by Steven Levy.
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Amazon Summary
This enthralling book alerts us to nothing less than the existence of new varieties of life. Some of these species can move and eat, see, reproduce, and die. Some behave like birds or ants. One such life form may turn out to be our best weapon in the war against AIDS. What these species have in common is that they exist inside computers, their DNA is digital, and they have come into being not through God's agency but through the efforts of a generation of scientists who seek to create life in silico. But even as it introduces us to these brilliant heretics and unravels the intricacies of their work. Artificial Life examines its subject's dizzying philosophical implications: Is a self-replicating computer program any less alive than a flu virus? Are carbon-and-water-based entities merely part of the continuum of living things? And is it possible that one day "a-life" will look back at human beings and dismiss us as an evolutionary way station -- or, worse still, a dead end?
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All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
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.



Apr 21, 2017 · EvanAnderson on A Mind is Born
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.

A bit of a belated response, but check out Steven Levy's Artifical Life book:

It's slightly dated, but I thought it was a really good introduction.

No doubt.

I sometimes think we fail to pay enough credit to the early pioneers of the computing field. I was recently reading the "Artificial Life" book by Levy[1], and it starts off with a lot of history about Von Neumann, Turing, and a host of other characters. Fascinating stuff, and that definitely has nudged me to try and make some time to do more reading about the "early days" of computing.


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