July 24, 2002
Machine and nature are not often used in the same sentence. The title of this book may seem, at first glance, to be an oxymoron. For what is natural about a machine? Our collective consciousness is filled with “unnatural machines,” frightening Frankenstein monsters that lead their human creators into frozen wastelands of hubris. It is time to move beyond these dusty concepts of natural creation – as ancient as the Greeks’ Prometheus – and take a fresh look at the nature of the machines around us.
In Machine Nature, computer scientist Moshe Sipper takes us on a thrilling journey to the terra nova of computing for a compelling look at cutting-edge computers, robots, and machines. Marvels of human ingenuity, computers have extended our reach far beyond the wildest dreams of our grandparents. Yet, for all of their amazing complexity, computers are notoriously bad at learning new things and dealing with new situations. Researchers at the frontiers of computer science have turned to Nature for solutions to this fundamental problem. By applying models of complex biological systems to the realm of computing machines, they have given rise to a new breed of adaptive software and hardware.
Undaunted, Sipper guides us through this brave new world – in which machines and computers adapt, evolve, learn, heal, reason, and more – as he explores the very latest technologies. He takes us into engineering labs to investigate “embryonic” chips that self-heal; bridges, artwork, and computer programs that evolve; fuzzy systems that tolerate human imprecision; robots that learn to walk; artificial immune systems that function like their biological counterparts to fight off computer viruses; DNA computing that it is hoped will replace silicon-based computing; and cellular computing, in which millions of tiny computers work in concert, like living cells. Finally, Sipper asks the question that quivers in all our minds when faced with such Promethean marvels: “Can our creations one day take on a life of their own?”
Standing at the front lines of computer theory and practice, Sipper speaks not just to the issues of today, but to the ideas that will bear fruit in generations to come, and is unafraid to tackle the deeper questions arising from the arrival of machines that are adaptive, autonomous, lifelike, and perhaps – one day – living.
Moshe Sipper, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Ben-Gurion University in Israel and a Visiting Professor in the Logic Systems Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Dr. Sipper has published close to 100 scientific papers in the field of bio-inspired computing, and is the author of Evolution of Parallel Cellular Machines: The Cellular Programming Approach. His website is www.msohesipper.com.