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on January 13, 2000
Braitenberg uses simple elecro-mechanical vehicles to demonstrate how very simple rules and designs can create surprisingly complex behavior.
I used the vehicles to teach simple electronics concepts in a college level 'Electronics 101' course. The students were not only fascinated by the vehicles themselves, but could directly experience the effects of electronic components (resistors, capacitors, inductors, etc.)
But the true value of the book comes from the delightful writing and stimulating ideas. After reading it through the first time, I knew it would entrance and motivate students.
There is no need to construct any of the vehicles Braitenberg describes (in fact, I'm sure the author didn't intend that), but if you're a tinkerer, you probably won't be able to resist!
I must respectfully disagree with the first reviewer's comments and rating. Granted, the book is neither a hard science book, nor is it an engineering cookbook. You won't learn any formulas or electronic theory, nor will you learn a new theory of intelligence. Instead, you'll find a wonderful romp through fun ideas drawn from complexity theory, artificial intelligence, perception, and philosophy. You may even see hidden (but not too deeply) a sneaky critique of behavioralism.
I recommend this book highly to students and educators, tinkers and engineers. It's a good book. Definitely worth a read!
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on May 7, 1999
With respect, I think the previous reviewer has missed the point of this excellent book. Yes, Braitenberg "personifies" simple electro-mechanical relationships. But his whole point in doing so is to make us aware of how readily we personify animate objects in our environment, including each other.
With a playfulness not usually found in the writings of neuroscientists, Braitenberg starts with very simple machines or vehicles that respond to their environment. He shows that, despite the simple internal workings of these machines, we would be likely to impute feelings and desires to them. As the book goes on, Braitenberg discusses increasingly complicated machines, although remaining firmly in the realm of things that could potentially be built. The later machines appear to be capable of impressive feats of memory, planning and foresight, and yet they are ultimately made up of "simple electro-mechanical relationships". By the close of the book, one realizes belatedly that Braitenberg has sketched out (in fable-like form) a possible history of the evolution of intelligence.
For all those fascinated by the question of how the complexities of human and animal behaviour arise from the relatively simple world of the neuron, this book is a must.
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on June 27, 2001
Braitenburg could not be more obvious in the subtext of this book. His message is that synthesis is always easier than analysis. Creating something that, on the surface, acts complex is easier than analyzing what, on the surface, looks like a complex system. If we see X, what do we assume are the mechanisms behind what will happen next? The clarity with which the author illustrates the assumptive traps in which we can fall is not only wonderfully insightful, but cautionary. Add this reading to the writings of Braitenberg's contemperary James Gleik ("Chaos") and one can get the AHA! experience that speaks to the richness of simple rules creating bafflingly sophisticated behaviors. "Vehicles" is an amazing book, and in my opinion, one of those that rate up there with those works that not only focus our experience, but are true to it, and take us beyond it. I smack my forehead with my palm, and thank him that he makes it so easy.
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on June 3, 2001
I read "Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology" when it first came out in the 1980's, and I thought it was one of most charming and intellectually stimulating books I have ever read. I had long since lost my original copy, having pushed it on many friends, so I recently bought another. Rereading it some 15+ years later, the book is as good and charming as ever.
I know of no other book that combines such intellectual stimulation with a tone of warmth, wit, and charm. I think Braitenberg has produced a book that deserves to be a classic for the centuries, and not just for our time.
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on December 26, 1998
Braitenburg's book, Vehicles, is both a success and failure. As a philosophy paper, it is full of ideas for AI systems, simple that they may be, to emulate some interesting "behaviors". Unfortunately, Braitenburg's ideas and style of writing would personify very simple electromechanical relationships such as: Shine a light on a sensor, and the vehicle backs away. This could be called "timid". From any hard science or engineering standpoint, the book is stilted and somewhat incomplete.
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on May 17, 1999
This great book is for those not looking for an end but seeking a book that acts as a guide through the world of complexity. It is a starting place for new ideas and has been quoted several times by several people doing important research because it is such a great text.
Once again, no disrespect to the bottom reviewer but they completely missed the point of this fine work. This is not a summation book on the field but a starting point for new and creative ideas.
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on March 1, 2015
I have two copies! Fun book. Really makes me think about my pets and if they have emotions or are some pre-wired circuit simply responding to stimuli.
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on December 10, 2002
to anyone who knows any physics, computer science, or just plain logic, this book is a step-by-step guide in the building of frankenstein's monster. I made a neural-network -- computer brain that learns -- in college (though mine didn't work very well) so i'm familiar with the concpets in this book and know that it is practical to make such things as computer programs, if not actually building them as machines. Although to create such a thing you need a lot of math, and this book has no math, this book is very convining and explains how to create a machine that thinks, learns, and generally behaves just like a living animal or even human, even has unpredictable free will and dreams. If you don't want to see every living thing on Earth as just-a-machine, or if you want to maintain some faith in the human soul, don't read this book. Because this book is very, very convincing.
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