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Growing Up With Lucy 93

Posted by timothy
from the dream-imagery dept.
sue wilcox, who reviewed Steve Grand's Life, and How to Make It in 2001, has now followed up with a review of his new book, Growing up with Lucy, about Grand's quest to design a humanoid robot. Read on below for her thoughts on the book.
Growing up with Lucy
author Steve Grand
pages 256
publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson
rating 10
reviewer Sue Wilcox
ISBN 0297607332
summary The design and development of Lucy the robot and especially her brain.

Steve's goal is to build an intelligent android inspired by his understanding of the human brain. This book is the story so far of the creation of Lucy the robot (named for the famous fossil hominid). It's an experiment to circumvent what Steve sees as an impasse in current progress in AI which he describes as being "stuck halfway up a dead end creek without a paddle." Now Steve is not a neurologist, or a biologist, nor even an electrical engineer. He describes himself as a 'non-disciplinary' thinker. He's an ex-schoolteacher and a computer game designer, admittedly one so renowned for his advanced thinking that he received the Order of the British Empire in acknowledgement of his work. The game he made is called 'Creatures' and represents a peak in artificial life software- it's about cute little beings called Norns that you raise from eggs and have to teach and train (and if you feel a bit godlike you can tinker with their software genes). But still this is not the sort of background one expects to lead to a career in robotics.

If you read his previous book Creation: Life and How to Make It, also reviewed by me on Slashdot, you'll be aware of how radical his ideas can be. And perhaps not be so amazed at this next step in extraordinary ambition. But as he says, you can't jump to the moon incrementally. Reading this book is like trying to learn neurology and electrical engineering at the same time, with a bit of how to fly a plane thrown in for good measure. But it's so readable you can do it and laugh at the same time. There's something about Steve's writing style that's reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse. This is a book that makes you feel inspired and despairing. Inspired that one man can have so many brilliant insights, the skill to make them into real working mechanical inventions and the courage to go it alone; despairing that our academic and funding resources have been such a failure at support for his endeavors.

His project is to create a robot capable of developing a mammal-like intelligence (an orangutan is the current external model, mostly down to an ugly orange wig and long arms). Yet for most of the development time, Steve says he feels like a passenger on the Titanic, expecting the financial crunch of his life savings running out while still a long way from the end of the journey. He's made time to produce around 250 pages detailing the genesis of his ideas, the physical constraints of producing a robot on the cheap, an outline of his methods for reproducing neurology in software, and a discussion of some of the implications of advanced artificial intelligence and lifeforms. He does not offer us his code to review and as yet has not produced any technical papers to satisfy the curiosity of the professional reader. This book is an overview but one that provides plenty to chew on whatever your customary field of endeavor.

Making an intelligent android is not necessarily a hopelessly overreaching task. Steve believes the human brain uses "general purpose building blocks," each a variation on a basic design, rather than a spaghetti mass of all original wiring such as is found in simpler organisms. So when trying to divine the structure of the brain, it is, as Steve puts it, more like taking apart a lego house than trying to untangle a pile of Christmas tree lights. It could be tougher to model a worm.

But if seeing your brain as simpler than a worm's isn't worrying enough, how about having your whole sense of self undercut: "being of one mind does not imply that all the information passes through a single controlling structure." Steve has no time for the concept of a person sitting inside your head that is "you." In his view it is an illusion that there is either control or controller-- or even free will.

On the other hand, he does believe that emotion is essential for the development of intelligence. And that the very human ability to imagine is key to how the brain models and predicts the way the world will act and enables us to act upon it. We need it to match up our actions to the state of the world and bring it into line with our needs and desires. Two of the things that define us as human are pivotal to Steve's theories of brain structure and intellect.

Then there's the section on why it may be that we dream. Both the REM and the slow wave parts of sleep are explained by Steve's theories of how the brain wires itself up in the first place and then maintains its connections and infrastructure during sleep. His idea of a sort of mental test card signal that enables the wiring to set itself up originally and then reinforce itself later is useful, indeed vital when you realize that without this maintenance function our brains would, in his view, likely revert to mush. It also raises questions about what would happen in the sort of long sleep needed for extended space flights. According to Steve's theory we would have to keep dreaming or we wouldn't still be ourselves when we woke up.

Even if the entire project does not succeed there are the spin-offs: the new ideas about how our brains might work based on how he's making Lucy. Steve has to simplify (or at least ply Occam's razor enthusiastically) in order to cull things he can use from the mass of conflicting writings in neurophysiology. For example he thinks he knows how our visual system does a number of neat tricks. From using fuzzy images to increase visual acuity to extracting the visual essence of an object: a mental image with no rotational, positional, or size data attached to it. That may lead to breakthroughs in image recognition.

Steve 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. Perhaps this is the explanation for the endless monologue that runs in everyone's head. And the visual day dreaming we do in vacant moments. Without these our brains would have to micromanage to keep busy or lose their connectivity as the circuits fade out from disuse.

At the stage where this book breaks off the saga of Lucy, she is a one-eyed, legless agglomeration of springs and servos perched on a desk full of computers. She can only grunt and on a good day point at a banana if you ask her to. Yet she is one of the most advanced research robots in existence. With so many breakthroughs in understanding how our brains work in phase one, I'm sure there are going to be plenty of people out there rooting for Steve to get enough funding to continue his work.

It would be excellent if a Brit could be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. But for the time being Steve is subsisting on the dregs of a NESTA (the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) grant to him as a 'Dreamtime Fellow' more on the artistic merits of his work than on its scientific promise. How weird is that?


You can learn more about Steve's work on his website. This book is available for now only through amazon.co.uk.

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Growing Up With Lucy

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @02:46PM (#7964626)
    ...that show in the 50's called "I Love Lucy." Maybe it's time to hand in my geek membership card.
  • Yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by W32.Klez.A (656478) * on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @02:47PM (#7964629) Homepage
    If there's one thing Steve Grand is, it's a digital god.

    I'm not just exclaiming that as some sort of personal hero worship or as a glowing
    reccomendation of this book (since I haven't read it yet) but because he concieves and gives birth to binary creatures, imbuing them with life.

    As said before, Steve Grand begat the Norns - the impossibly cute, wide eyed inhabitants
    of the game Creatures (and all its sequels). The review didn't really touch on them all that much, but to further explain it, Norns were not just some
    slightly more complicated Pokemon or NeoPets, nor were they a clever hack designed to appear
    sentient-like while the Wizard behind the screen pulled all the
    strings - Norns were designed, simply, to be alive.

    It's for these reasons that I am eager to read this book. He may stretching a bit of his expertise, but I think it should at least make for a highly interesting read, especially after reading this review. However, Amazon didn't give any results for it, so I'm not sure where to get it, though I'll admit I haven't looked that hard. Anyone know offhand?
    • I think it should at least make for a highly interesting read, especially after reading this review. However, Amazon didn't give any results for it, so I'm not sure where to get it, though I'll admit I haven't looked that hard. Anyone know offhand?

      From the article:
      You can learn more about Steve's work on his website. This book is available for now only through amazon.co.uk.
    • "Norns were designed, simply, to be alive"

      They were, simply, annoying, and that's probably close enough.

    • I've never found anything *new* to what he says --let alone some good psychologist-- but he surely had a lot of time/money to spend on new toys, and i envy him for that one. I never played creatures, but for the reviews it should be a realy enjoyable game, while on the design papers it seems to be not so special that people should deitify(sic) him.

      i personaly think that civ/sim city or even more ancient games like Shadow President [the-underdogs.org] have more complexes AI. And still, you don't see people hiring Sid Meier to
    • I'd probably read the new books, simple because his last one was great. Creatures was great for the reason which you called "no clever hacks used". In most modern games you get a lot of really good graphics - which don't have any meaning. You could use a singlecolored polygon for nearly anything without losing any game depth (the game would get worse - but you would not lose any information about the way to play the game). Creatures worked the other way round - the graphics (which were nice but technically
  • Luuuuuuucy! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    You've got some 'splainin' to do!

    -- Ricky

  • creatures (Score:5, Informative)

    by hyperstation (185147) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @02:50PM (#7964668)
    like everyone else who read the review, i wanna play this game. apparently there's a free (beer) version to play here:

    http://www.gamewaredevelopment.co.uk/creatures.php ?id=C0_4_6 [gamewarede...ment.co.uk]
  • by D-Cypell (446534) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @02:55PM (#7964718)
    Steve's goal is to build an intelligent android inspired by his understanding of the human brain

    Ok, ive seen this played out before. Eventually the android becomes self-aware and, along with its android pals, declares war on humanity. The world is saved a few times due to some ingenious time travel causing a couple of minor paradoxes which largely go unnoticed.

    Finally the android settles down to a cushy political job which no-one seems to mind, despite its poor speech sythesis, tendancy towards sexual harrassment and the fact it is vastly underqualified...

    been there, done that.
  • by skinfitz (564041) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @02:55PM (#7964719) Journal
    ...suddenly takes on a WHOLE different meaning...
  • Shucks. Or more correctly

    Lucy me point Ba-na-na
  • by gwernol (167574) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @02:58PM (#7964742)
    ...for the time being Steve is subsisting on the dregs of a NESTA (the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) grant to him as a 'Dreamtime Fellow' more on the artistic merits of his work than on its scientific promise. How weird is that?

    Well, given:

    He does not offer us his code to review and as yet has not produced any technical papers to satisfy the curiosity of the professional reader

    Then I don't think its weird. Publishing technical papers on your work is a reasonable requirement for gaining public funding of scientific research. If the public is funding it, the public should have access to the work. Peer-review of published work, while not a perfect system, is a proper requisit for ensuring that claims made are substantiated and sustainable.

    He's been working on this for at least 3 years, probably longer, and hasn't produced a single paper? I wouldn't fund him, and I'm glad that the government isn't either.
    • It may be that he hasn't spent the time and effort to put into words what he's been praticing and developing.

      Being someone that sounds like an abstract sequential thinker, it's likely not far from the truth that he probably comes up with many ideas and designs and simply has no explanation for how they work.

      He knows they do, but couldn't explain it without much more time spent on the explanation than the furthering of the design.

      Genius with a touch of insanity, it's what great thinkers are made of
      • It may be that he hasn't spent the time and effort to put into words what he's been praticing and developing.

        He doesn't have enough time to write a single academic paper, but has managed to "dash out" two books? That theory doesn't hold water, IMHO.

        Being someone that sounds like an abstract sequential thinker, it's likely not far from the truth that he probably comes up with many ideas and designs and simply has no explanation for how they work.

        He knows they do, but couldn't explain it without much m
    • He's been working on this for at least 3 years, probably longer, and hasn't produced a single paper?

      There are several reasons people fail to publish, including:

      • Not knowing they must (uneducated, beat over head with deadline until educated)

      • Trying to make a profit off of public money refusing to acknowledge they must - AKA ignorance, refuse to fund until they get dollar/pund signs out of eyes)

      • Unable to write such papers (unqualified/scared, hire a secretary/technical writer/real researcher)

      • Unmotiva
  • Confusing English? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jared_hanson (514797)
    I think Slashdot should make a policy that the people who review the books cannot be the authors themselves. It seems biased or something.
  • by huxrules (649822) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @03:01PM (#7964776)
    Im building myself a robot- a GIRL robot..... ...this is going to be the best prom ever.
    • Im building myself a robot- a GIRL robot..... ...this is going to be the best prom ever.

      Flexorina: "I have searched my databanks for criteria often used to select and keep sexual partners. My analysis is that you are too flawed and that I can do better elsewhere. Thus, goodbye Bob. Nice screwing ya."

      Bob: "Damn! I knew I should have skipped that CPU upgrade."
    • Gary: Should we give her a brain...?

      Wyatt: Sure! We can play chess with her!
  • by StefanJ (88986) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @03:03PM (#7964786) Homepage Journal
    At the stage where this book breaks off the saga of Lucy, she is a one-eyed, legless agglomeration of springs and servos perched on a desk full of computers.

    "FA-THER! GIVE ME LEGS!"

  • ... a battery operated girlfriend/boyfriend? I'd start to worry if one gets intimate with anything stamped, "Panasonic", or has a 90 day warranty.
  • by CrackedButter (646746) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @03:15PM (#7964865) Homepage Journal
    ... I love you too PHILLIP-J-FRY.
  • Heeeeeyyyy Lucy! I'm home!

    (Grunt)

    Aren't you glad to see me Lucy?

    (Grunt)

    Would you like Reecky to geeve you a banana, Lucy?

    (Point)
  • But as he says, you can't jump to the moon incrementally.

    I think there are some Apollo people who would disagree. Let's see...what milestones were there along the way...

    1. Flight (balloons)
    2. Flight by a heavier-than-air craft
    3. Solid-fuel rockets
    4. Low earth orbit
    5. Getting to the moon
    6. Landing on the moon

    (Obviously I skipped many more; there are some huge gaps in years there.)

    My point is that if you can't break something apart into milestones, I think you're just not trying hard enough.

  • But as he says, you can't jump to the moon incrementally.
    But you can get to Mars incrementally, using the moon... Article [slashdot.org]
  • If Asimov had described the first intelligent robots as being invented by a guy named "Steve" his stories would have been filed away as being too unbelievable, even for science fiction.

    Go Steve, Go!
  • If anything, as far back as RUR or Frankenstein, to more modern "creation" stories go (Pokemon the Movie - "Mew 2"), the idea is simple: 1) People wish to procreate, beyond simple flesh reproduction, our *MINDS* wish to create life. 2) LOVE whatever you create. In all these stories the key is care and love is left because the scientist is more concerned with "the experiment". Just like making a kid, if you create a life - you are responsible for raising that life in a loving environment. 3) 1+2: Creation
  • The Name Chain (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bowling Moses (591924) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @03:53PM (#7965206) Journal
    The android isn't named after "I Love Lucy," it's named after Lucy [asu.edu], a 40% complete hominid skeleton a bit older than 3 million years found by Donald Johanson and Tom Gray in Ethiopia in 1974.

    Lucy, as the above link mentions, was named becuase the paleontologists were listening to the Beatles "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" over and over again and eventually someone called skeleton Lucy.

    "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" apparently was named after the title of a painting [snopes.com] by Julian Lennon, the then-4-year-old son of John Lennon, not LSD.

    If you don't believe John Lennon's explanations, then the most popular position was that it was named after the hallucinogenic drug LSD. LSD is the abbreviation for Lyserg-saure-diathylamid, or to us English speakers lysergic acid N,N-diethylamide. First synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938, the "interesting" properties were discovered [bris.ac.uk] by the same in 1943.
  • by JonyEpsilon (662675) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @04:26PM (#7965515) Homepage
    [feeds troll under table] Now I'm not an AI professional, but I do know a little about Steve Grand and his work, and feel compelled to balance the article's adoration a little. You should know that I haven't read the book.

    Having followed Steve Grand's work for the last few years, and having seem him speak a couple of times, I'd warn potential readers/purchasers not to expect any 'real' content. Lots of speculation, sure. A few good ideas, almost certainly. Any substantial scientific content, probably not.

    A lot was made of the Norns (as featured in Creatures). A lot of hype, and a pretty fun game. But I still haven't seen Norns flying fighter planes into combat as was promised, or replacing conventional AI constructs wherever they appear. Nor have the ideas made a significant impact on the academic AI community.

    Like I say, I haven't read the book, and may be surprised if I do. But I just felt I needed to say caveat lector/emptor.

    • While i won't argue that it might not be exactly real science (whatever that is) he seems to do in AI, i think he at least CAN show a program where he'd implemented his ideas - that's rather unusual (you might even call it un-scientific). And about his ideas, mhm, yes a lot speculation - but good enough specalution for me to get the book. I read his last Book and it did not use proofs, samples, etc... it really is speculation, but on a high level and with very good argumentation. AI is no field there anyone
  • How weird is that? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by djeaux (620938) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @04:47PM (#7965774) Homepage Journal
    It would be excellent if a Brit could be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. But for the time being Steve is subsisting on the dregs of a NESTA (the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) grant to him as a 'Dreamtime Fellow' more on the artistic merits of his work than on its scientific promise. How weird is that?
    I confess up front to not having read the book & further confess that I don't plan to...

    That said, I think "dreamtime" funding is perfectly appropriate for a mind that can imagine the cumulative work of 50 million years or so of mammalian evolution can be replicated in a lab in a few years.

    Reading down the replies here, I'd have to think that this "Lucy" supports the thesis that John Lennon was really talking about LSD.

    So... Can I write a bunch of lucy-in-the-sky & get some funding from the British gummimint?

  • I think the way she would always pull the football away aat the last second was quite rude. This quite clearly violates the first rule of robotice and therefor Lucy needs to be shut down. I have started an internet petition for this purpose and will post shortly.
  • the creation of Lucy the robot (named for the famous fossil hominid)

    Here we have a humanoid robot named after an ancient hominid female was named after a famous Beatles song [pbs.org].

    I think it would be really cool, as a homage to the Fab Four, to give this female robot kaleidoscope eyes. :)

    Well, that or make her dispense LSD.
  • All these robots are cool and all, but I think we need to delve more into a more computer contained AI, one that can reliably interpret something like a search request, (e.g. when I search for my hometown, I get stuff like my hometown's web site and not some stupid real estate web site... stupid people jamming Google with fake pages...), etc. Something like Cortana from the Halo game, for example, instantly able to take a request, interpret it, and turn it into orders to control the Pillar of Autumn. We sti
    • Not to put too fine a point on it but... I'd imagine Steve Grand doesn't give a rat's ass what you think. It's not his thing and therefore someone else can tackle it from the end you're suggesting. It's not an either or situation. In fact, I'm sure he'd pat you on the back and say 'get to it'.

      There's absolutely no reason for him not to take his route and someone else take another. It's not like he's somehow taking away from anyone else doing research. In fact, he's helping as is everyone since they can see
  • I turned just in time to catch the shadow of her robotic arm as it struck the back of my head. There was no warning and no sound. Like the Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor, Lucy had simply decided on a plan and then acted at the earliest opportunity. Unlike Tokyo, however, Lucy had no doubts as to the outcome of her actions.

    When I awoke, Lucy was standing quietly across the room, gazing down at me...waiting. I tried to move my hands and feet, but something told me they were no longer connected to my body.

  • There was a documentary about this. [imdb.com] Apparently, they had to change the names to protect the innocent.
  • I really liked Grand's last book. He has an extraordinary knack for taking concepts too remote for most and making them accessible. Creation is actually my favorite book to give to non-scientific types to introduce them to AI, autocatalytic sets, etc.

    However, I do think it would do him well to publish in some academic journals in order to receive funding. Great ideas can come from outside academia, but the world of academia is where you get funding for 'thinking for the sake of thinking.' It seems his

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