Sebastian Kirsch: Blog

Saturday, 26 November 2005

Gary William Flake: The Computational Beauty of Nature

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 16:36

[cover]This is one of those rare, wonderful science books. It covers lots of fascinating and advanced subjects. It treats them in such a way that an amateur can understand and appreciate them, while giving more advanced readers enough material to further explore the subjects. The descriptions do not gloss over details. And in addition, there exist example implementations of all the concepts presented in the book, allowing the reader to play with the topics.

Flake tackles a number of topics which count among the most interesting, but also the least accessible in computer science today. Among others, he talks about Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and incomputability, fractals, chaotic systems, cellular automata, self-organizing systems, neural networks, and adaptation. All material is presented with precise formulas and derivations, as well as examples and motivational sections. Every chapter is accompanied by a “Postscript” which expands the topic of the preceding chapter.

I’d already known the author from his work on self-organization of the web and detection of communities on the web. After reading this book, I must say that I have the utmost respect for him, not only for his technical abilities, but also for his writing skills. In all the technical discussions, he never loses his voice; his personality always shines through the subjects he discusses. He manages to excite and interest his readers, because of his own passion for the subjects. It’s a marvelous book.

This book would have been the perfect companion to the lecture on artifial life I took a couple of years ago. It contains a description of most of the topics we covered, and the software would have given a hands-on experience of the topics, without having to re-implement everything.

For further information about the book and its author, visit the book’s homepage, and the author’s homepage.

Ona related note, the book’s title reminds me of “The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants", a seminal book in artificial life by Aristid Lindenmayer and Przemyslav Prusinkiewicz. I’ve been coveting this book for years, and today I finally found it for an acceptable price on abebooks. So when it arrives, you will get a review of this classic book.

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