Interview with Steven Grand Games Malkin | 5/6/2013|| 1|
An interview with Steven Grand by HomeCreatures.
Full Name: Stephen "likes to think he's a god" Grand.
Personal Quote: David Lloyd George said "you can't cross a chasm in two small jumps".
Steve Grand was the first to have the vision of Creatures, since then he has moved on to Robotics in CyberLife but his name still is a legend now as the community moves on to C3/C3D.
HC: What did you do before CyberLife?
Steve: My goodness, was there life before Cyberlife?? Starting from the top: I was born, then I got told by my teachers that I was stupid, and then I trained as a teacher myself. I didn't do this for revenge (honest!), but it was still a big mistake - it turned out that I was really lousy at standing up in front of people and talking. I think the real reason I took up education was that I was fascinated by the way children's minds develop. Anyway, I dropped out of college and spent six years as a housewife and mother, looking after our son. During this time I started writing educational software to help make ends meet, and this led (though I still don't really know how) to a spell as a games programmer. I wrote a couple of games using some A-life-like techniques that I'd developed over the years, and this led to the opportunity to write Creatures. When my colleagues started to realise that Creatures had some exciting potential, we set up Cyberlife.
HC: Why was CyberLife created, and what is your vision for it?
Steve: I have always believed in the importance of a biological approach to artificial intelligence, and foresaw a future when all technology had a life of its own. It's not easy for a non-academic to get a chance to explore this possibility but writing computer games gave me a unique opportunity to do so. Nevertheless, I honestly thought that a game would be treated as something trivial and unimportant. However, a couple of A-life scientists (John Daugman and Dave Cliff) came to see Creatures and got pretty excited by it. Then, after we'd published it, we got a lot of visits from really heavy-duty people like aerospace companies. Even though Creatures was just a game, many industrialists (as well as the Creatures community, of course) could see through to the technology potential underneath. Once we'd been asked to see if a norn could fly a fighter jet, it was pretty obvious that we were on to something significant. My vision for Cyberlife is to become "the Hoover of the Android Business". In other words, to become synonymous with artificial life forms, just as Hoover is synonymous with vaccuum cleaners. What I want to see us do is "put the life back into technology". Once upon a time, all technology was driven or steered by a living thing. Then automation took over and technology became cold, harsh and lifeless. In the future, machines will live again, and technology will become intelligent, adaptive, robust, flexible and, above all, personable and friendly. That's my hope.
HC: Had you heard of or experienced any A-Life before CL, thoughts?
Steve: I first heard about A-life shortly after I started writing Creatures, and it was a great relief to find that I wasn't the only crank who thought that way! I'd been experimenting with artificial brains and evolving creatures since the late Seventies, but I had very little idea that other people were interested in these things too, or that they thought about them in a similar way to me (I only knew about old-fashioned Artificial Intelligence techniques, which seemed entirely wrong to me). In the past couple of years I've been privileged to get to know most of the senior A-life people and am really happy that they've welcomed me into the fold. The high spot for me was our Digital Biota conference last year. All my intellectual heroes turned up, and it was really quite something to stand up in front of such a concentration of brainpower, I can tell you!
HC: Were you happy with Creatures?
Steve: Is anybody ever happy with their creations? I was pleased that Creatures actually turned into a finished (?) product, and thrilled that people responded to it in a way that I'd only dreamed they would. However, I would have liked to have achieved more. Partly I failed to get the vision across as well as I'd have liked, although so many people in the Creatures community obviously managed to see what I was trying to get at. I also found that my ambition was running ahead of my achievements - every problem I solved made me bolder and more ambitious. I ended up chasing a rainbow to some extent, and never quite got to where I really wanted to go. That job has now fallen to the C2 and C3 developers.
HC: Can you describe a typical day in your life?
Steve: The short answer is that I get up, sit in front of a computer, then go to bed! I wear two hats - one makes me technical director of Cyberlife, and therefore a businessman; the other makes me Director of the Cyberlife Research Institute and therefore a scientist (perhaps that's a lab coat, not a hat?). I spend far more time being a businessman than I'd like, but then we all have our cross to bear. In amongst meetings, email and administration, I sometimes snatch a moment to do some thinking. My colleague Owen and I are currently thinking seriously about the topic of artificial consciousness, and our ideas are starting to feel really exciting. We are also working sporadically on robotics, which helps give the airy-fairy ideas a solid foundation. My ideal day would be spent taking walks on the local hills, thinking deeply about how to make artificial brains. Unfortunately, people keep interrupting me with requests for interviews ;-)
HC: Where do you see yourself in three years time, and where do you see CyberLife?
Steve: It's really difficult to say. My horizon stretches out to maybe ten years from now, when I think some amazing things will be happening. The biggest headache is finding a route from here to there that keeps us all employed in the mean time. My colleagues are working on products and services that we hope will lead us in the right direction. Meanwhile, my advanced research team is charged with developing the technology yet to come. It's going to be an interesting ride, and as long as we can all stay on the horse, we're going to go to some exciting places.
HC: Is there a member of the team who has a habit that really annoys you that you would like to get of your chest?
Steve: Oh yes, I'm afraid so! I've been having enormous trouble with Jeremy. He doesn't respect my authority, and I'm not overwhelmed by his initiative or competence. As for his bad habits, the worst is that he just never shuts his mouth. My feeling is that he'll have to go. We can't support dead wood right now. I guess it's not his fault, though - most Purple Mountain norns have flaws in their character.
HC: What is your life ambition and why?
Steve: To be the first person to create an artificial conscious being and be insulted by it. I'm supposed to say that I want to do this in order to create new kinds of technology that help people. When I'm in business meetings I'm supposed to say that I want to make lots of money for our shareholders and make myself rich. The honest truth, though, is that I want to understand what makes life tick. Life is such an odd concept, and minds are such strange things - I've got one of each, and I don't understand them at all! What more can any of us want than to understand ourselves and each other? My feeling is that the best way to understand life is to create it. Building things is a great way to ensure that you've got your ideas straight. Fancy words can hide sloppy reasoning, but a computer will never let you get away with anything.
HC: Using one sentence can you describe yourself?
HC: Do you have any interesting Norn stories?
Steve: Zillions, thanks to the fine people in the Creatures community! Two that have a personal significance are as follows: First comes Kelly. Kelly was sent to me in an email a long time ago now, by an Australian family who were worried about her. Kelly was sick from birth, and just stood there, starving slowly. It took me over a day to figure out what was wrong with her and cure the genetic fault that had mis-wired her brain. I sent her back and the family sent me a Christmas card to tell me how she was getting on. I had to wonder: who was the biggest mug - them for worrying about the health of a data file or me for spending so much time curing it? The truth is, I don't think either of us were being mugs at all, and that observation meant a lot to me! The second one is Boris.
Last year I was asked to give a keynote talk in Zurich, at a conference on adaptive behaviour. Talks make me very nervous, so, the night before, I set up my Powerpoint slides to practise what I was going to say. I imported a couple of norns that I'd downloaded from the Web. Brunhilde was going to help me give some demonstrations during my talk, but I also imported Gaston, just to keep Brunhilde company so that she didn't get bored while I was going through my slides. However, Brunhilde and Gaston seemed to hit it off, and the next thing I knew, Brunhilde was pregnant. A little while later, she gave birth to a son, who I called Boris. The next day I went to give my talk, and imported Brunhilde into Albia for the demo. I couldn't bear to separate her from her child, so I imported Boris too. Unfortunately for me, Brunhilde was so keen to show Boris around Albia that they went off for a long trip in the submarine, right in the middle of my talk, and so I couldn't get Brunhilde to demonstrate anything. You just can't get the assistants these days! Happily, the audience didn't seem to mind!
HC: If there was anywhere in the Creatures universe (Albia & Ark) you could go where would it be, and why?
Steve: That's an interesting question! I think I'd have to go to the tree and find Mimir's well. I stole the giant tree and the well from ancient Scandinavian and English myth. The tree is Yggdrasil - the pole that holds up the sky, and the source of all modern Christmas trees and maypoles. Mimir was one of the three old hags called Nornir (from where I get norns) who sat around the tree spinning out men's fates (as if they had nothing better to do!). The town where I live has a coat of arms showing a large tree surrounded by three wells, and I'm sure Mimir's well is one of them. Since I adore the green and ancient countryside around where I live, I'd love to go to the same place in Albia and see what it is really like.
HC: If you had to be a breed of Norn, Grendel or an Ettin which would you be and why?
Steve: That's a harder one, because I've spent so much time over the last four years wearing my businessman's hat that I've never really got to know the characteristics of all these wonderful new breeds that people have created. To be honest, I think I'd want to be a Side (Shee). (For those that don't know, the "d" is really an obsolete letter called "eth", which is why it's pronounced "shee", with a very slight "th" sound at the end.) I stole the Side from the ancient pre-Celtic people of Ireland (another country I love), but never got round to including them in Albia. If there are any Side in Creatures 1 I'd be surprised, since I haven't invented their brains yet! The semi-mythical Side were tall, slender, wise people who enjoyed playing games and who lived under the megalithic burial mounds. I'm not tall or wise, but I am slender and I'd hope the Side would welcome me into their midst.
HC: There was a lot of talk that as you became less involved with Creatures products it stemmed towards more game and less A-Life, and that CyberLife itself is going to make money alone, how would you tackle this statement ?
Steve: You don't pull your punches, do you?! There are two issues here. Let's start with the money. Cyberlife exists to fulfill a dream - something that most of us in the company share in some form or another. However, companies are not charities and we have to return value to our shareholders for all the money they have lent us in order to get the business running. Obviously, nobody wants to wait five years or more before they see any profit, and so we have to make sure we're in a position to make money in the short term too. Such is the nature of business life. Rest assured, however, that we're not losing sight of our dream - we just need to make sure that what we do is sound, practical and something that enough people want to buy today. As for the game, well to some extent that is both inevitable and probably a good thing.
Firstly, I didn't have time to add much of the gameplay that I should have put into C1, and so the C2 team added these missing elements. Secondly, new technology inventions take time and risk. I had five years to develop the creatures for C1, but the C2 team were trying to get a new product out to the clamouring public in very much less time than that, so they had to be fairly pragmatic about the new A-life elements. I think they did an excellent job under pressure and added as much new technology as anyone could be expected to in the time, but their focus was on improving the experience, not the technology. What are your thoughts of Creatures 2 and 3, and the alife power behind them. What? You think the C3 team would let me in on their secrets? I'm as much in the dark as you are!
HC: STEVEN GRAND! JUSTIFY YOUR EXISTENCE
Steve: Aw, come on Darth! I haven't had a life yet! I'm not sure I *can* justify my life thus far, but I plan on making it all worthwhile in the end. And if I don't get there, perhaps my son will; and if he doesn't, maybe his daughter will... Anyhow, if I want to be remembered for anything, then I think it would be as proof that people should stick to what they believe, and should try to believe what nobody else believes. Isaac Newton talked about "standing on the shoulders of giants". In truth, he did this to take the xxxx out of his enemy Robert Hooke, who was rather short, but he was ostensibly trying to claim that he'd merely taken an incremental step beyond the work of his predecessors. This modesty was utterly false - his achievements were a result of his determination to think things through for himself, and pay no attention to the ideas of others. Good for him! I'd like my epitaph to be "he ignored the giants and went his own way".
HC: And your final say to the community....?
Steve: Final? What is this? A condemmed man's last words?
HC: Yeh, we have to kill every person who we interview, it is in the small print you know! :-)
Steve: Oh well, before I die, let me say this: thank you, thank you, thank you, Creatures fans everywhere. You believe what I believe, and you have done far more to make it all happen than I ever did. Some people fear that artificial life forms will take over the world and destroy humanity. How can they turn out that bad when they've got teachers and guardians like you lot, to guide them in the right direction? And with those noble words I bid you adieu - executioner, make it swift and painless!
Thank you very much for the interview Steve
An interview by HomeCreatures.