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Machines Like Us

Machines Like Us interviews: Steve Grand

Monday, 27 August 2007

An honorary research fellow at Cardiff University's School of Psychology and NESTA Dreamtime fellow, Steve Grand, OBE, has carved himself a reputation at the cutting edge of artificial life. He is Director of Cyberlife Research Ltd. and was formerly Technical Director of Creature Labs, where he was responsible for the architecture and programming of the artificial life game, Creatures. Currently Grand is developing artificial life applications as well as an intelligent living machine that embodies a set of hypotheses about the neurological mechanisms present in various species of animal.

He theorizes that every cortical map must be thinking about something all the time, and if there are no signals demanding its attention then the map will generate some itself. He feels this is the explanation for the endless monologue that runs in everyone's head, and the visual day dreaming we do in vacant moments. In his book, Creation: Life and How to Make It, Grand explores what constitutes the conscious essence of existence, what is intelligence, even "how we can make a soul." In Growing Up With Lucy: How to Make an Android in Twenty Easy Steps, he describes his progress building a robot capable of developing a mammal-like intelligence. Steve is currently working on an even more ambitions artificial life simulation, tentatively called Grandroids.

Interview conducted by Norm Nason.

MLU: Thank you for joining me, Steve. It's great having you here.

SG: Hi Norm, thanks for the invitation, and particularly for all your work running this site -- I wouldn't have a clue what was going on in the world without MLU!

MLU: It's an exciting time in the field of Artificial Life: last August a team from Vanderbilt University published a detailed blueprint for assembling a synthetic cell from scratch (Molecular Systems Biology, DOI: 10.1038/msb4100090). It includes 115 man-made genes which would be combined with various biochemicals to make a self-assembling cell able to live under carefully controlled lab conditions. As of this writing, other scientists and industrialists are meeting in Switzerland amidst claims that the world's first entirely human-made genome may be only weeks away from creation. Swiss and international civil society groups are calling for swift action to control this technology but the scientists themselves are advancing preemptive proposals to evade regulation. As scientists meet in Zurich, the UK's Royal Society and the Swiss government announce plans to investigate synthetic biology. What do you think about this news?