Darwin's Devices


Here’s what critics are saying about Darwin’s Devices:

Michael White in Science.  “Accessible and thought-provoking, Darwin’s Devices provides an exemplary account of scientific practice for the general reader. … and reading Darwin’s Devices is like listening, over drinks, to a voluble, engaging, and funny scientist tell you about his work.”

Noel Sharkey in Nature.  “I read this book for the robotics, but I learned more about fish and the evolution of their bodies. Darwin’s Devices represents a step forward in biomimetics. And, cleverly hidden among the discussions and the humour, gems of scientific philosophy shine.”

Laura Miller in Salon.  “Darwin’s Devices is part Descartes, part MacGyver and part Douglas Adams, turning from rumination on the possibility of intelligence residing in a brainless body to tips on making artificial fish vertebrae out of coffee stirrers to the dopey yet endearing jokes that seem to flourish in laboratories all over the world… One of the most intriguing and important aspects of Darwin’s Devices is the way it places the reader in the lab, at the shoulder of people doing hands-on science, sharing in their frustrations (over disappointing data, recalcitrant grant committees and astutely critical colleagues), their successes and their failures. And Long does this so lucidly that you find yourself caught up in the process, grasping the basics and eager to learn the results. It’s the best depiction of how science really works that I’ve ever read.”

Josh Bongard in New Scientist.  “Though [Long] is a gifted storyteller, this is no simple fish tale. The engineering draw of robots is clear, but Long also emphasises the value for science, showing how robots can serve as physical models of biological organisms; evolving biorobots can shed light on why organisms evolved as they did; and robot interaction can illustrate coevolutionary dynamics, as between predators and prey…. With Darwin’s Devices, Long reminds us that science is always an adventure, and that new technology only drives us faster and further into the unknown.”

Jones Atwater in January Magazine “Robotics viewed through a biologist’s lens, that’s a bit of what Darwin’s Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Tell Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology (Basic Books) boils down to. But with scientific precision from a professor/author with a poet’s soul. It’s intensely exciting stuff.”

Robert Burke Warren in Chronogram.  “Overall, Long maintains a wide-eyed optimism and tireless fascination with the mechanics of life, in all its unpredictability, messiness, and glory. If you’re interested in cutting-edge science, or eager for a behind-the-scenes look at the tireless minds who both decode our past and shape our future, fix yourself up with Darwin’s Devices… Long also gives us a peek at the arduous task of applying for grants, and extols the thrills of discovery as a team effort. In these sections, he’s at his best; chatty, breezy, and jocular. And even when he delves into thickets of algorithms and waxes on in Mensa-level code, he is never far from a reference to Metallica, C. S. Lewis, or Grand Theft Auto.”

D. Wayne Dworsky of San Francisco Book Review and Sacramento Book Review.  “The book’s contents are a rich world seldom seen in science. Albeit a little scary, robotics is here to stay and Long is a driving force behind it. Long’s eye-opening work may explain the behavior of extinct species and pave the way for the future. We can glean insight into evolution by ‘letting robots play the game of life.’ The book is invaluable, readable, and intellectually stimulating.”

Frank Fish in Integrative and Comparative Biology.  “[Darwin’s Devices] changes the way we think about the use of biomimetic robots… As autonomous robots, however, the Evolvabots do much more. They behave. The addition of this dimension takes biomechanical testing to a whole new level… Overall, the book is an engaging look into a future in which biology and engineering intersect. Biologists and engineers can take away practical information as well as expand their horizons about biomimicry. The book is highly readable for both the professional and the student.”

Publisher’s Weekly, starred review.  “Long’s process of designing the ‘tadros’ [tadpole robots] and experiments are fascinating and give unique insights into high-level science…. Long deciphers [the] unexpected results with a delightful sense of humor and an infectious awe at, and enthusiasm for, discovery and the elegant mechanisms of evolution. For readers who like serious science, this is a captivating tour of the marriage of technology and biology.”

Rob Hardy in The Dispatch.  “Long is a clear and amusing writer, calling in surprising jokes and references to Lewis Carroll, Monty Python, Buckaroo Bonzai, and Bringing Up Baby. There is also a good deal of goofy, clunky humor that, well, geeks like Long and his pals around the Tadro tank are famous for. It’s a good book for anyone interested in robots or in evolution or in science in general.”

Troy Jollimore in the Boston Globe.  “”[Long] manages to balance fairly detailed and frequently entertaining accounts of the nuts and bolts of robot research with occasional forays into big picture, what-does-it-all-mean thinking…. [H]is discussion was both intelligent and philosophically informed, a rare thing in contemporary science writing…. Darwin’s Devices is mostly devoted to pure scientific research, the author’s enthusiasm for which is apparent and infectious. The book ends, though, with a sobering chapter on the possible military uses of robot technology, an endeavor in which Long acknowledges his complicity.”

Booklist Reviews.  “[A] lucidly written description of [Long’s] research…. Using ingeniously engineered devices called evolvobots that mimic carefully selected animal features, Long and his team have been probing such mysteries as how the flexible spines of fish and mammals developed, and whether or not brains are really necessary for some species’ survival. Especially inspiring is Long’s demonstration that biorobotics is not only revolutionizing the study of biology but also providing new enthusiasm for engineering technology’s value in novel applications. A must-read for aficionados of both evolutionary theory and cybernetics.”

GeekWire reviews the Coroware roundtable VideoCast of 4 April 2012, which featured Darwin’s Devices.

Kirkus Reviews.

Rin Kei Kobashi of Polar Bear Reviews.  In Japanese.

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