REVIEW - Fourth European Conference on Artificial Life

Title:

Fourth European Conference on Artificial Life

Author:

Phil Husbands, Inman Harvey

ISBN:

0262581574

Publisher:

MIT Press (1997)

Pages:

583pp

Reviewer:

Francis Glassborow

Reviewed:

February 1998

Rating:

★★★☆☆

To be honest books like this one make me wish I was forty years younger. I find the material exciting and full of potential but I doubt that I will be around to see much of it realised.

There are some very interesting developments happening in the field of Artificial Life. Those of you who read such publications as The Scientific American will know that ongoing work includes historical research by experimenting with artificial worlds wherein the inhabitants have a limited number of qualities and objectives. The emergent behaviour (complex behaviour resulting from the application of simple rules--Dr Conway's Game of Life is a good example) that we are discovering is very revealing.

I only mention this to emphasise that the study of Artificial Life is not just an interesting leisure pursuit but is something that is deepening our understanding of ourselves and the World we live in.

This book consists of the 63 papers that were presented at the Fourth European Conference on Artificial Life. I would be lying if I suggested that I read them all. Some I skipped because the subject matter did not interest me. Some I browsed and abandoned in frustration because the authors followed the academic practice of obscuring a difficult topic by usingan overly formal academic style. Others I simply skimmed for an overview while a few grabbed my interest and made me wish I had more time.

The discipline of Artificial Life is one of those new ones that owe their existence to the ready availability of powerful desktop computers. Without such tools even those with the imagination to consider such topics would simply lack the tools to pursue them. Now we have the tools such subject areas are rich areas for firing the imaginations of the young and the young in mind. What we need now is people who can spend time taking such material as that found in this book and digesting it so that it can be re-presented in a more palatable and approachable form to the benefit of others.

This is not a book for the full time programmer because they are unlikely to have the time to explore the contents in sufficient depth to reap any benefit. On the other hand hobbyists and the students looking for new fields in which to develop their programming skills and willing to work hard would find much to interest them and to challenge their programming skills. In addition much of the material can have applications elsewhere and that means that those looking for ideas (perhaps for new products) could find browsing this book rewarding.

To be honest books like this one make me wish I was forty years younger. I find the material exciting and full of potential but I doubt that I will be around to see much of it realised.


Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.