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The Trek Nation - Artificial Life Possibilities: A Star Trek Perspective

Artificial Life Possibilities: A Star Trek Perspective

By Jacqueline Bundy
Posted at February 1, 2006 - 11:27 PM GMT

Title: Artificial Life Possibilities: A Star Trek Perspective
Author: Dr. Penny Baillie-de Byl
Release Date: January 2006
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 1-58450-414-5


Have you ever fantasized about having your own Holodeck someday? Ever wondered if artificial beings like an android could be reality in the future? Are you curious about the theory behind the artificial life forms seen on Star Trek? Dr. Penny Baillie-de Byl has pondered those questions and more in Artificial Life Possibilities: A Star Trek Perspective a book that does a marvelous job of combining her obvious enthusiasm for Star Trek with her academic research in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, A-Life and Robotics and presents it in an easy to understand way.

Dr. Baillie-de Byl teaches computer programming in the Department of Mathematics and Computing at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia and has been researching in the area of artificial intelligence for ten years. In Artificial Life Possibilities she translates current academic research and practices into layman's terms, allowing anyone with an interest to explore and understand the technology behind the artificial life forms seen in Star Trek. The book compares the artificial beings most associated with Star Trek, Data and the EMH, with current technology to see if such advanced life forms could be created.

The book is organized into three parts: Body, Mind and Soul. Part 1, Body, explores the physical nature of potential artificial beings. Part 2, Mind, examines the theory behind programming intelligence into machines. Last but not least, Part 3, Soul, delves into the more metaphysical aspects of AI machines and whether or not such life forms could develop relationships, emotions and the ability to be creative.

I enjoyed the author's use of episode titles for the headings of the sections within each chapter and the text is liberally sprinkled with references to both episodes and the movies. But you don't need to be a Star Trek fan to appreciate the subject matter. As an individual almost totally unfamiliar with the fields of AI and Robotics what I did appreciate was how each chapter starts with the basics and progresses at a pace that didn't leave me feeling overwhelmed by too much information. For those wanting to delve a little deeper into the subjects presented, suggested sources are provided.

After reading this book I may not be able to claim that I fully understand the concepts it comments on but at the very least I have a better idea than I did. Artificial Life Possibilities isn't a light read, but if the subject matter appeals to you, it is an excellent read.


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Jacqueline Bundy reviews Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, writes monthly columns for the TrekWeb newsletter and the Star Trek Galactic News, and hosts the Yahoo Star Trek Books Group weekly chat.