I have been seriously remiss in my intellectual (and wifely) support! I haven’t even urged you to buy, read, and comment on hubby’s book – The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and the New AI (Bradford Books, MIT Press)!
Preview The Allure of Machinic Life at Google Books.
I’m a little annoyed about the title, since I preferred “The Lure of Machinic Life” to “The Allure of Machinic Life.” However, the absolutely wonderful bit on me me me in the acknowledgments almost makes up for it. The book cover is extra-special, too, because it features a suggestive artwork by our friend Joseph Nechvatal.
The book is a philosophically-minded constructive analysis that answers Heidegger’s critique of technology in subtle and completely unexpected ways. It builds on the understandings of such thinkers as Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Baudrillard and Kittler, but it’s also a very original tour through areas of research that haven’t been connected or critiqued from this kind of perspective. It’s worth the read if only for the interpretive history of research on (and ideas about) artificial life.
I’m biased, but I’m also a pretty good critical reader – and this book is fantastic. I think it’s been mislabeled by the marketing people, so I’m afraid that it won’t be read – and that would really be a shame.
“John Johnston is to be applauded for his engaging and eminently readable assessment of the new, interdisciplinary sciences aimed at designing and building complex, life-like, intelligent machines. Cybernetics, information theory, chaos theory, artificial life, autopoiesis, connectionism, embodied autonomous agents—it’s all here!”
—Mark Bedau, Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Reed College, and Editor-in-Chief, Artificial Life
In The Allure of Machinic Life, John Johnston examines new forms of nascent life that emerge through technical interactions within human-constructed environments—”machinic life”—in the sciences of cybernetics, artificial life, and artificial intelligence. With the development of such research initiatives as the evolution of digital organisms, computer immune systems, artificial protocells, evolutionary robotics, and swarm systems, Johnston argues, machinic life has achieved a complexity and autonomy worthy of study in its own right.
Drawing on the publications of scientists as well as a range of work in contemporary philosophy and cultural theory, but always with the primary focus on the “objects at hand”—the machines, programs, and processes that constitute machinic life—Johnston shows how they come about, how they operate, and how they are already changing. This understanding is a necessary first step, he further argues, that must precede speculation about the meaning and cultural implications of these new forms of life.
Developing the concept of the “computational assemblage” (a machine and its associated discourse) as a framework to identify both resemblances and differences in form and function, Johnston offers a conceptual history of each of the three sciences. He considers the new theory of machines proposed by cybernetics from several perspectives, including Lacanian psychoanalysis and “machinic philosophy.” He examines the history of the new science of artificial life and its relation to theories of evolution, emergence, and complex adaptive systems (as illustrated by a series of experiments carried out on various software platforms). He describes the history of artificial intelligence as a series of unfolding conceptual conflicts—decodings and recodings—leading to a “new AI” that is strongly influenced by artificial life. Finally, in examining the role played by neuroscience in several contemporary research initiatives, he shows how further success in the building of intelligent machines will most likely result from progress in our understanding of how the human brain actually works.
Language is not only a virus (grin) but also an essential bit of the block of the discourse network that co-evolves with technological change and human action to give rise to the computational assemblage; or, machinic life is always already within you (and without you) but here are some of the details.
Now – go forth and buy many copies, and tell all thine friends (and thine enemies as well) to read and discuss.
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