I’m funded!!!! Yippee!!!!

Today has been a bit thrilling, I have to say! Pledges to my Kickstarter project had begun to tail off a bit, as expected, although amazingly I was still on target to reach my goal in a couple of days. And then someone posted about it on slashdot and all my fellow geeks, many of whom happened to be leaving the Games Developer’s Conference at that moment, suddenly got to hear of it. Whoosh!

So I’m funded! My life’s work can continue! I get my chance to show you all what I’ve been thinking about this past 15 years, and I promise it’s really rather interesting.

People have already pledged more than I asked for and pledges are still coming in, so if that continues for a little while yet I’ll feel a lot more comfortable about the future and able to buy the tools I need to do a good job. It will also help plug the gap between releasing the software and seeing any new revenue from it.

Not only am I funded, but I’m funded by some incredibly nice people, who are doing it because they believe in the same things that I do, and they want to get the chance to play with the results, not because they want to make money out of me. That feels really good. When things go wrong now, as they surely will from time to time, it’ll be my fault, and not because investors are getting nervous, or people don’t deliver on time, or a publisher is interfering with the design. It may seem perverse but I’m really much happier when it’s my fault and therefore something I have control over.

Anyway, the Kickstarter period is not over yet. There are still 34 days to go! When I started I wasn’t at all sure that this would be enough; now it seems hilarious that we all have to sit here and wait!Β I’ll say my thanks properly after the project closes, but for now, thank you all so much for your support, whether it was (or will be) money, publicity or good wishes. Love and gratitude to my old friends and hello and thank you to my new ones.



About stevegrand
I'm an independent AI and artificial life researcher, interested in oodles and oodles of things but especially the brain. And chocolate. I like chocolate too.

27 Responses to I’m funded!!!! Yippee!!!!

  1. Sean says:

    So happy for you Steve!

    Really excited at the moment too. Had a massive grin on my face looking at how much your funding has increased by. Hopefully that’ll continue for a while yet!

    I stuck the link from Slashdot up yesterday, been editing a few of the Creatures wikia links to generate some more traffic, of course, only where it is appropriate to talk about your new project. For example, Google reports that 2 400 people search for Creatures 4 every month, whilst this isn’t Creatures 4, the article seemed like a relevant place to mention you had a new project. You’ve got an unedited page on Wikipedia too, which might be helpful. The links of the Wikis are nofollow, so they don’t help you rank in the search engines naturally, but they should help a little with getting relevant traffic. More interested people can’t be a bad thing, right?

    There are a few more social media sites and project directories that might help. WIll take a look at those and see if you can get a few more links, when work and study allows. Beyond that, mainly it comes down to whatever else is happening on the blogosphere and looks like there are already loads of people talking about you there. I’ll see if there is anything else that can be done that has escaped my mind, though; as long as you are happy with that.

    Can’t wait to see where you are by April. Very excited for you and the project.

    • stevegrand says:

      So that was your shlashdot piece? I think a few people submitted something but only one went live. If it was yours then thank you very much! It made a massive difference. Thanks for all the other plugs too.

      Encouraging to know that people search for Creatures 4!

      • Sean says:

        Might have been accepted due to having friendlier tags and that the link pointed to the interview first, rather than the project. Or it could have just been a slower day at Slashdot. Awesome to see the difference it has made for you. Checked the project just a second ago and its just brilliant to see you’re now almost $10 000 over the original target. Will try and get some more relevant inbound links for you over the coming weeks.

        I had a suggestion involving the video you have on the Kickstarter page. If you upload that to Youtube and link back to the Kickstarter page, you’re looking at some more exposure. Youtube is the second biggest search engine out there. Of course, it is just an idea, make of it what you will.

        Looking at some of Google’s search results, there is a lot of interest in AI related terms. That in itself isn’t too surprising, but it seems there are a lot of people that still look for content related to the games. Been a little surprised at the volume of some of them, just goes to show how much you and the Creatures game have touched people’s lives.

  2. A supporter says:

    Someone who caught the /. link here and added a small portion πŸ™‚

    I played the original creatures when I was quite young, skipped C2 but did play C3…and though I loved the games, I sort of lost track and fell away from the communities for a long while. Glad to see you’re at it, and I’ll look forward to tinkering with the new toys when those become available.

    (Honestly, I liked the 2D ones better. Low (technical) quality 3D, or even just 3D in general, /can/ have an art quality to it… but it’s much rarer, and so presumably harder, and I tended to enjoy the worlds just as much as the creatures themselves. But enough nostalgia– in the end, it is the brains that count πŸ™‚

  3. Norm says:

    Again, congratulations, Steve. We all believe in you, and know that Grandoids will be an exceptional piece of work. To help assure your success I popped off an email to Dawkins thorough his website; don’t know if it will get to him, but I thought it was worth a try. The more people that know about your project the better, as we all want to see you succeed. Count me as among those who can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  4. 3kul says:

    Congratulations on reaching your goal Steve! I’m a huge fan of the Creatures series and really wanted to pledge money but don’t have a credit card! Is there any way to make a donation or something using Paypal? I know that you’ve already reached your goal but I’m sure that you’ll be able to put the extra money to good use too πŸ™‚

  5. Dranorter says:

    And the number keeps going up, even in the middle of the night! I feel like I’m witnessing a bit of history, at least a bit of the history of gaming, probably of neuroscience too. I’m already picturing things as if what follows is inevitable, and the game exists fully formed waiting to be plucked from the aether. I’m definitely getting a bit over-enthused about it all. πŸ™‚

    It seems quite appropriate that there’s still plenty of time on the kickstarter project to me. I’m sure there are still plenty of people who will want to be beta testers! A month should be enough time to let most of them realize what’s up.

  6. Bob Mottram says:

    Well it’s about time *somebody* got funded. I’ve often thought that much of the funds going into AI projects is wasted on militarism or things which aren’t very interesting (like spying) or on people with muddled beliefs about the topic (like what SIAI spends its funds on – but that’s another rant entirely).

  7. Don says:

    I wonder what the final figure will be πŸ™‚ I’m thinking it might be enough to bring the little fellows out the virtual world and into ours πŸ˜€

  8. Jamie says:

    Don’t you even think about closing the kickstarter page early. Given another month I won’t be at all surprised to see it double from it’s current 36k figure (36k! Good god!).

    Now if you’ll excuse me, my pay check has gone through and I need to go make my contribution πŸ˜‰

    So, do I want access to the special develop tools or is the beta enough? Hmmm…I think the development tools…:P

    • stevegrand says:

      πŸ™‚ I’ll try to suppress my embarrassment about how high the total is going! Good God indeed! The more the merrier, it has to be said. I asked for the bare minimum, because I didn’t want to fail to reach my goal and end up with nothing, but I’m feeling a lot more comfortable about it all, now that we’ve gone well over that figure! I’m so excited to know that I can continue with this.

      Oh, thanks for the pledge!

  9. Pete says:

    Great to see Steve, I really enjoyed playing creatures when I was young, and the moment I found that you were planning on writing a successor and had a kickstarter page, I was donating whatever I could to get this going.

    Can’t wait for some results.

  10. Tay says:

    Congratulations! I’m so excited for this project.

    I just want you to know, your Creatures series has deeply influenced my life. I love the original game, I love Albia, and I love my Blueberry doll. I’m a self-proclaimed artist, world-builder and character designer with a fascination with “cute” but intelligent aliens, so you can imagine that most of what I come up with is, at least on a visual level, somewhat Norn-based. I’d personally love to see some of the creatures in this new game have some kind of throwback design at least loosely based on Norns. πŸ™‚

  11. stevegrand says:

    Thanks guys! @Tay, if I don’t make a norn myself (I don’t want to get into trouble with the copyright holder) then I’m sure someone else will. Maybe you!

  12. econunddrum says:

    I’m so pleased to see this got funded, unfortunatley I heard about it too late to pledge, just read your first book and as a biologist and programer myself I found some of your ideas really exciting and belive you are onto something big in future AI development.

    I just wanted to wish you luck, it may be too late to pledge through kick starter but I will pledge to buy the product of your project. seriously you should finddd a way for people to pledge on going funding. I can’t aford much myself at the moment but would be happy to make a small donation.

    • stevegrand says:

      Thanks! It’s difficult to know what to do about post-kickstarter donations. Kickstarter provides a nice “legitimate” and clear framework for what otherwise would be rather ambiguous. But I’ll get the game finished as quickly as I can and be after your money then! πŸ™‚

  13. jim says:

    Hi Steve – With a solid interest in AI / perception / recognition (I guess like most contributors here) I have followed your work for many years / read your books etc – & I have dipped in to the cyberliferesearch site on a regular basis over the years to read your comments. Each time I have looked recenty it has hinted at new developments that you couldn’t yet reveal, but mentioned that things were progressing well.

    Sadly, similar to econunddrum’s comment above, I am now very frustrated to discover that I have missed the Grandoids funding announcement by a few weeks – so have now lost my opportunity to access the “reveal” info on the recent development of your ideas / proposed solutions to some of the issues outlined in your Lucy book (& my chance to show my support by throwing a small contribution in your direction).

    I appreciate that you have achieved your initial kickstarter goals – but is there a way that you could consider a short second round of basic voyeur or tester membership – or just some form of restricted area web access membership (maybe via a “donate” paypal button) for folks like me who have frustratingly missed the advert / bus as it were? At least it could keep you in a few more biscuits and a nicer brand of coffee as your work develops :o)

    On a different note, I’d be interested in your thoughts on Stephen Wolfram’s “A new kind of science” work (which I haven’t dug into deeply enough yet) on how to simplify computing complexity & its relevance to perception – http://www.wolframscience.com/nksonline/toc.html

    Keep up the good work!

    Cheers, Jim

  14. Darian Smith says:

    I would like to suggest some basic overview be included in the final game, perhaps in a collector’s edition? Or a future book.

    Very curious too about how your ideas have evolved. Missed the kickstarter funding period too, but will certainly buy the game.

  15. hotmatrixx says:

    Not quite related, but i saw this review on creatures 3, thought you might like it…
    One of a kind – a work of genius!

    Posted on 2009-11-19 14:51:59 by Wolfox’s avatarWolfox:

    WOW. My head just exploded. If there is any really unique game around, with real educational and scientific value beneath the surface, that game is Creatures. At first sight, this game might look as some Tamagotchi Plus, or a "cute alien" edition of The Sims. However, it’s much, much more than that.
    Want examples to back that statement? Here’s a link describing the AI used in the Creatures series:
    And another article describing its take on biochemistry:
    Yes, that’s right – it simulates DNA and genetics, including mutation and evolution; it simulates biochemistry in a variety of levels; it simulates brains with several "lobes" containing adaptive neural nets. And what do you have with all that? Emergent behavior all around. Your Norns really "feel" alive. And they pretty much are alive, within the constraints of a computer simulation wrapped in a game.
    If you look beyond the (brilliant) Artificial Life simulation aspect, you also have a variety of environments in which your creatures can live (and die), all sorts of machines and gadgets (that you can connect in order to make them work together, with the possibility of emergent behavior as well), and lots of things to do.
    Creatures can be a game, or a lab, or both, depending on how you look into it. Still, it’s probably the most unique game ever created, still unmatched in its ability to succeed in providing a realistic simulation of life – with all its ups and downs. It can be a powerful learning tool, a great game, a brilliant experiment – and, in the end, it’s truly a masterpiece, in more ways than one.

    • stevegrand says:

      Haha! That’s more related than you might think, given that I was just screwing my face up trying to unravel the complexities of loosely coupled servomechanisms in multidimensional space and it was all getting a bit disheartening. Now you’ve cheered me up again and made me feel it’s all going to be worthwhile! Thanks! πŸ™‚

  16. Kurtis says:

    I wasn’t able to find a way to contact you, but I’m interested in the development of artificial life myself so if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask your opinion on a couple things.

    You say the creatures in Grandroids will truly be alive because they will think. However do you necessarily believe that thought and consciousness are vital for an artificial being to be considered alive? After all, we can agree that a bacterium is alive and it is certainly not conscious in any way. Would a complete simulation of a single-celled organism be considered a truly living thing?

    This leads to my next question. How much abstraction is acceptable for an artificial being to be considered alive? What I mean is, must we simulate all the quantum particles of a cell? Or can we start at the atomic level? Or at the molecular level? Or even at the behavioral level? This is something I find very problematic. At what level of abstraction does life start? Does it even matter?

    • stevegrand says:

      Hi Kurtis. BTW, my email is steve at cyberlife hyphen research dotcom. I noticed your blog the other day, for some reason. Maybe you followed me on twitter or something.

      No, I don’t think consciousness is at all necessary for life. I think there are several kinds of consciousness, and different creatures share them to different degrees. Consciousness is a vexing question, as you’ll know. Life is less vexing, I think. I don’t there’s any such thing! I think there is a cluster of very interesting phenomena in the universe which show some or all of varying degrees of persistence by metabolism, reproduction, evolution, adaptation and intelligence (by which I mean predictive adaptation). We can usefully draw lines around this cluster and call them life, but I don’t think there’s any such thing as “truly” alive, and exactly where you draw the line depends on why you want to draw it. Viruses might sometimes be counted as life and sometimes not. Sometimes you might even want to include crystals, although that’s stretching a point. Sometimes people want to reduce the set to include only animals, which is also stretching a point. But basically life is what you make it!

      The abstraction question is a tough one and I don’t know a definitive answer, but given the above paragraph you’d be right to assume that I think it’s a choice, more than a clear-cut set boundary. What I don’t think (and it sounds like you don’t either) is that a simulation is merely and inevitably some kind of pale pastiche. I think under the right circumstances it can contain a real instance of life, albeit in a different universe to ours. Program a computer to behave AS IF it is alive and that won’t be real. But if you make some virtual components and assemble them into a network that is capable of reproducing or reassembling itself from other components then I think that network has as much right to be called an organism as a (so-called) physical one does. Your question, I think, comes down to practicality more than ontology. It’s obvious that not all networks act like living things and some abstractions are more “powerful” than others. So the question is, what level do you need in order to get the properties you’re looking for? I don’t think it needs to go as low as the molecular level. Nor need it even resemble biology, although copying biology helps, because we already know that enzymes and DNA, etc. are powerful enough to make self-replicators. I don’t believe the behavioral level is low enough, though, because that’s too close to just “emulating” life, in much the same way that a portrait emulates a person. It just appears to solve the problems of metabolism, etc. instead of really solving them. It’s much the same way that a chatbot appears to know and understand things but doesn’t really. So, somewhere higher than atoms and lower than explicit rules! πŸ™‚ Personally I work at several levels, trying to capture the highest point at which I get the right kinds of properties. So enzymes are a stunningly clever idea but I don’t need to simulate them at the level of individual molecules, because I can get all the key clever tricks out of a simulation at the more abstract level of concentrations and templates. Similarly with neurons – sometimes you can simulate the behavior of a large population of neurons without simulating the individual cells. It’s an art to pick the right level, I think. The aim is to capture the elegance – the simplest system capable of producing the most complex behavior. The standard electronic components are a good example – there’s only four of them and yet they can be put together to make vast numbers of very different systems.

      So, no definitive answers there, but I hope it helps to know that someone else finds the questions problematic too! πŸ™‚

      • dranorter says:

        As a kid I thought behavior emulation was enough to count as ‘real’. I had an intermittent fascination with puppets because I believed they had something which any attempt at really creating life ought to have. I thought of it practically as a spirit of animation.

        Now of course I think even atoms have a bit of the stuff of life. Presently I’m trying to resume a project I had a messy start to a couple of years ago: namely making a mathematical formulation of the idea that a program (or other object) is simulating something. Because the problem is, many attempts at defining this idea either don’t include cases we find obviously count, or they turn out to be trivial, counting practically any system as simulating any other.

        Not very far yet, but the basic idea is that all we can really see about our Universe is the causal interactions, and a simulation should preserve the structure of what affects what. When two structures have a shared subset, they’re both simulating the same thing. Seems life is a case like this, where the Universe has an interesting causal subset and we’re trying to simulate just that part.

      • stevegrand says:

        I’ll be interested to see how that thinking develops! Try to keep the math simple, so that I’m not too stupid to understand it πŸ™‚

        I can see the difficulty. I mean, a UTM is, by definition a simulation of some other Turing Machine, so all programs are simulations, even if they simulate something that doesn’t otherwise exist. But there’s a certain qualitative structure to the space of simulations and I’d be very interested in understanding those qualities better. Keep me up to date on your thoughts!

        I’ll take you to task on the “atoms have a bit of the stuff of life”, though! That’s a truly fundamental fallacy, but I forgive you because virtually everybody in the world falls for it, especially physicists and mathematicians. It’s our intuitive way of looking at the world (at least since the 17th Century) but I think it’s inside-out – life is a kind of organization and stuff is another kind of organization. Organization, by definition, is not a property of the things being organized. There’s not a little bit of oscillation inside a transistor, nor a little bit of radio. Yet transistors can be arranged into oscillators and radios. These are true emergent phenomena (with one proviso) that don’t exist until they are arranged the right way. The same was true of matter – it didn’t once exist. It’s an ARRANGEMENT of something. The thing about matter (and life) is that once the right arrangement had been “discovered” by the universe, it didn’t go away. It’s not just an arrangement but a persistent arrangement. Oscillators and radios haven’t gone away since we helped the universe discover them, but that’s a weaker kind of persistence, hence the proviso. My point is, it’s a terrible mistake to think that if a system has a property then the components of that system must have a little bit of that property. I’ve known several senior professors who don’t get this. All properties are relationships. Even things like mass and size and position – they only exist if they’re in relation to something else. Create new relationships and you create genuinely new properties. Create a relationship that has the ability to sustain itself and it will become a “thing.” Life is one such property.

        Anyway, excuse the little rant – you probably didn’t mean it quite like that anyway – but it’s the Number One message I want to tell the world, so I tend to climb on my soapbox about it! πŸ™‚

      • dranorter says:

        Heh, no, all I meant was that atoms are a persistent arrangement, which is one of the things we look for in life. πŸ™‚ It is interesting how the early atomists would assert that some properties had to be due to arrangement – color, I think? – but then go on making the mistake, saying the presence of heat suggested heat-atoms exist, etc.

        Anyway, the basic problem as I see it is that the Turing machine formalism is very literal. We would like to say, for example, that a particular cellular automaton either is or is not Turing complete. But when we say Turing machines can implement any computable function, what we mean is that they take the input on the tape and mess around with it, and once they have the result, they clean up any extra cells so that all that’s left on the tape is the output. Turing machines have complete control over the tape. Proving something like a cellular automaton to be Turing complete involves creating a particular structure which simulates the cells and states. I would argue that this proves the structure you’ve created within the automaton is complete over its own states, but the automaton at large doesn’t have the degree of exact control over itself that a Turing machine has over its tape. I think making that kind of distinction is necessary if we want to be able to ignore parts of a Universe’s physics which the inhabitants will never have access to or experience of. But it’s also important to limit how we try to create a structure which can act like a Turing machine. If we want to assert “A physics is Turing complete when we can build a Turing machine in it” we have to carefully define what it is to build a Turing machine, so that our method of recognizing and reading the result isn’t secretly doing the calculations. We want the result to be read ‘in order’; but we can’t require the machine’s tape stays exactly in place since reasonable laws of physics, such as our own, might not have an absolute reference frame. I want to find a mostly objective way of tracking the tape’s cells throughout the simulation so that I can say they’re really the same cells.

        Of course, I want to examine simpler simulations too, but the point is that there’s a lot more simulation going on in a UTM than the single, literal simulation of whatever it’s currently programmed for.

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