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Darwin's Devices

What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology

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Description

What happens when we let robots play the game of life?   The challenge of studying evolution is that the history of life is buried in the past—we can’t witness the dramatic events that shaped the adaptations we see today. But biorobotics expert John Long has found an ingenious way to overcome this problem: he creates robots that look and behave like extinct animals, subjects them to evolutionary pressures, lets them compete for mates and resources, and mutates their ‘genes’. In short, he lets robots play the game of life.   In Darwin’s Devices, Long tells the story of these evolving biorobots—how they came to be, and what they can teach us about the biology of living and extinct species. Evolving biorobots can replicate creatures that disappeared from the earth long ago, showing us in real time what happens in the face of unexpected environmental challenges. Biomechanically correct models of backbones functioning as part of an autonomous robot, for example, can help us understand why the first vertebrates evolved them.   But the most impressive feature of these robots, as Long shows, is their ability to illustrate the power of evolution to solve difficult technological challenges autonomously—without human input regarding what a workable solution might be. Even a simple robot can create complex behavior, often learning or evolving greater intelligence than humans could possibly program. This remarkable idea could forever alter the face of engineering, design, and even warfare.   An amazing tour through the workings of a fertile mind, Darwin’s Devices will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about evolution, robot intelligence, and life itself.

Publishers Weekly Review

Feb 27, 2012 – Long, director of Vassar’s Robotics Research Laboratory, describes a wonderfully creative series of experiments conducted with autonomous fishlike robots that, among other qualities, can search for food and avoid predators. In short, these “tadros” (tadpole robots) can compete with each other in a mock evolutionary battle for survival. Long begins with first principles, his three simple rules of evolution: you score points for every child you create; bonus points for a child with offspring; and you use any means necessary to keep your offspring alive. Long’s process of designing the “tadros” and experiments are fascinating and give unique insights into high-level science. For example, he designs his “tadros” to swim fast, an evolutionary advantage that results in a “wobble,” thought to be an evolutionary disadvantage. But surprisingly the combination of wobble and speed confers an evolutionary advantage. Long deciphers these unexpected results with a delightful sense of humor and an infectious awe at, and enthusiasm for, discovery and the elegant mechanisms of evolution. For readers who like serious science, this is a captivating tour of the marriage of technology and biology. B&w illus.
Darwin's Devices
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  • $17.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Science & Nature
  • Published: Apr 03, 2012
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Seller: The Perseus Books Group, LLC
  • Print Length: 288 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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