Hi honey, I’m home…
June 3, 2009 22 Comments
Well, sort of. I’m back in the land of the living, anyway, and I’ll try to get back to blogging here again now. The recent sad storms in my life have washed me up, more or less at random, on the metaphorical beaches of Flagstaff, Arizona, where I now have an apartment, furniture, food, a bank account and a bicycle. And broadband, lovely broadband. For the past five weeks I’ve been relying on motel wi-fi, frequently stolen from the parking lot of a motel better than the one I was staying in, so most of my normal connections to the world have been a bit fractured.
But now I can get back to work. I don’t have anything better to do, although having said that I like Flagstaff so far and look forward to getting out and meeting a few people once I have a car. The scenery round here is wonderful and I love being up in the crystal-clear air of the mountains. It’s a great outdoor sports area and Flag has a nice network of urban trails that I can run on, one of which starts right outside my apartment and meanders through parkland, meadow and forest to the airport. Not that I have the energy for running at the moment because I’m having to cycle everywhere, which is quite demanding at 7,000 feet. But it’ll be nice to get back to running once I can rely on a car to carry the groceries.
Anyway, work. What work? That’s a tricky one. Sadly I can’t do any more on Grace, our humanoid robot, because although I still have my machine tools I don’t have a workshop to use them in. It’s a pity after all those months of hard work, but humanoids aren’t really my thing from an AI perspective and Grace was designed for a specific project that doesn’t have a point any more, so I’ll just sit her on a stool in my bedroom and chat to her occasionally.
I’ve spent years, off and on, working on Sim-biosis, which is a simulator for building aquatic artificial life-forms by plugging together “cells”, such as sensors, actuators and simple computational units. It’s close to Alpha now, but to be quite honest I’ve lost my faith in it, for one reason or another. Because of my change in circumstances I need to do something that will bring in a real income, starting in 18 months, and I think Sim-biosis is perhaps a little too “techie” to be commercial and grab people’s attention. And it doesn’t tap into some of the things I’m good at and became known for with Creatures. I haven’t looked back at it yet (it’s many months since I did any work on it, what with Grace and other disasters), so I may change my mind, but at present I think I’d prefer to start a new project to go with my new life.
In the 17 years since I first started to program Creatures I’ve learned an awful lot and started to develop a bunch of interesting ideas about the brain (and hence biologically inspired AI), so I think perhaps it’s time to write a successor to Creatures. I can’t call it that, of course. Maybe I’ll repurpose “Sim-biosis” because I like the pun, or perhaps I should make use of the Grandroids name that was intended for Grace and her successors – yes, that sounds better. Anyway, my plan is to open a pet shop on the internet and sell a variety of species of interesting artificial life-forms – each being a product of my developing research.
And before you offer, thank you very much but no, I don’t want help. I appreciate the many offers I’ve had over the years but I simply can’t do teamwork. I never have been able to. The way I work relies on being able to hold the whole of a concept in my head and produce something that’s very tightly integrated, and as soon as I try to break it up into sections and other people start adding their own ideas it invariably all falls apart. I’ve learned this through bitter experience. So I have to do this on my own. It’s a tall order in 18 months but like I say, I have nothing better to do, so as long as my RSI doesn’t flare up too badly I have a shot at it. And if it doesn’t work out it won’t hurt anyone else.
But I will blog about it. I think best in print, and even if no-one ever reads it, it’ll still help me sort out my ideas. So expect the coming months to bring posts about artificial biochemistries, morphogenesis, kinematics and neuroscience. Creatures was a reasonably brave attempt at artificial life, but computers and my own ideas have come an awful long way since then and it’s about time I put my money where my mouth is and attempted another grand synthesis.