- Paperback: 152 pages
- Publisher: Springer; 2015 edition (May 5, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9783319155234
- ISBN-13: 978-3319155234
- ASIN: 3319155237
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 30 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective 2015th Edition
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“It is a very nicely written and enjoyable book, aimed at a general readership. It is also surely worthwhile reading for Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers, particularly for those of us working in genetic programming. … I recommend Why Greatness Cannot be Planned. It is definitely unique within the evolutionary computation community.” (Leonardo Trujillo, Genetic Programming and Evolvable Machines, Vol. 16, 2015)
"What is your ultimate goal -- your true objective -- when you pick up a book? The authors of this one believe that there may be no objective at all involved, just a diffuse feeling that a book can change the way you look at the world. They may be right." (Prof. Christos Papadimitriou, University of California, Berkeley and Co-author of the New York Times Best Seller "Logicomix")"One of the original aspirations of Artificial Intelligence researchers was to help all of us, as thinking beings, understand ourselves better. Stanley and Lehman are among the few who have managed to achieve this. In this book they not only shed light on a glaring bias in the way we approach the creation of intelligent machines, but have also identified this bias at work in many aspects of our society. It is not every day that a technical book so clearly reveals something new about how we live our own lives and how we might enrich them. I cherish such a rarity, and I urge others to as well." ( Prof. Josh Bongard, University of Vermont)
"The ideas in this book have revolutionized the field of evolving artificial intelligence. They also help explain why biological evolution, science, and human culture are creative, endlessly innovative processes. Stanley and Lehman's theories are helpful for anyone who wants to foster a culture of innovation in their organization and within their own mind." (Prof. Jeff Clune, University of Wyoming)"Objectives in our lives and careers, and the endeavor to achieve them, can sometimes cause stress and feelings of underachievement. But do we always need objectives? This book challenges common beliefs in our culture and society, revealing indisputable evidence that the biggest discoveries in the arts and sciences are not driven by objectives. The reading provides an uplifting new perspective on creativity, innovation, and happiness." (Andrea Soltoggio, Lecturer in Computer Science, Loughborough University)
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Since first happening upon Lehman and Stanley’s seminal paper on novelty search, I’ve been continuously (yet pleasantly) amazed as further experiments continue to suggest its broad, cross-domain applicability. Even so, until the publication of this book, the capability of novelty search and non-objective search in general was limited to AI sub disciplines. Yet as Lehman and Stanley so eloquently illustrate, non-objective search processes are likely the fundamental under-pinning of creative innovation. From biological evolution to space flight, the “guiding light” of the supposedly omniscient objective is suspiciously absent. What remains are stepping stones branching off in every possible direction through an infinite search space and gradually uncovering unimaginable complexities. The inter-disciplinary applications of this approach are far reaching and the profundity of the ideas presented herein cannot be understated.
However, for the most part the book doesn't go far beyond speculations and reasoning by analogy, trying to generalize from authors' research in a very specific domain to a much wider context. Moreover, the writing is very repetitive, regurgitating the same points over and over again ad nauseam.
Ironically, the book's very "right to exist" is based, in large, on the authors' own thesis that we should allow "publishing space" to ideas that are interesting, even if their development is still raw - I'd say it's a pretty good description of the book itself :)
As the above paragraph implies, the argument Stanley and Lehman make in this book is nothing short of profound. First they delineate between modest objectives, which are generally short-term and small in scale, and ambitious objectives, which are generally grand in scale—they cite curing cancer and creating convincingly-human artificial intelligence as examples of ambitious objectives (p. 5). They then spend the remainder of the book arguing that “objectives are well and good when they are sufficiently modest, but things get a lot more complicated when they’re more ambitious. In fact, objectives actually become obstacles towards more exciting achievements… In other words (and here is the paradox), the greatest achievements become less likely when they are made objectives” (pp. 7-8).
What makes this book outstanding is the scientific evidence that Stanley and Lehman use in support of this argument. Beginning with discussion of the discovery of interesting images within a computer program called Picbreeder, they go on to discuss the results of their own experiments in artificial intelligence. In both cases, merely searching for novel approaches led to fascinating discoveries that could not be replicated (or even achieved at all) if making those discoveries was first set as an explicit objective. For example, in Stanley and Lehman’s experiments robots did a better job of navigating a maze or learning to walk when they were programmed with a novelty-seeking behavioural algorithm than they did when these tasks were set as explicit objectives with algorithms designed to achieve them.
Based on these and several other examples, Stanley and Lehman posit that setting ambitious objectives provides a false compass that actually hinders progress by limiting the options that are pursued by those seeking to achieve them. Using analogies of a treasure hunter seeking anything of value (but not any one specific treasure) and a person attempting to find a way across a very wide lake in fog by exploring as many different stepping-stone paths as possible, they go on to advocate an alternative approach to objective seeking. This approach, which they call novelty search, centres on examining anything that may be interesting, because exploration of interesting things opens up new opportunities. These opportunities may then be seized, leading to the creation of new opportunities to explore even more interesting things.
By the end of the book, Stanley and Lehman have applied this novelty search model to re-evaluate both evolution and artificial intelligence research. Along the way, they convincingly critique both the current delivery of secondary education curricula and the manner in which innovation funding grants are allocated by governments. They offer alternative approaches to secondary education and innovation funding allocation based on their model that, if implemented, would most likely lead to improved outcomes in both areas. Astonishingly, this would be achieved by abandoning objectives and quantitative performance measures altogether in both areas. As incredible as this may initially seem, once one recalls that their recommendations are based on the results of multiple scientifically-proven research projects, their recommendations start to look very credible indeed.
Finally, Stanley and Lehman offer a convincing way to reconsider one’s own life and personal happiness. This is perhaps best summarised in the epigraph to their concluding chapter: “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally” (p. 93, quoting David Frost). In their view, abandoning objectives and instead pursuing creativity and doing what we find interesting may well lead us not only to increased personal happiness, but also to achieving much greater things in life than we would have if we had set out to pursue great achievements as objectives.
In conclusion, I commend this book to policy-makers, academics and even those interested in self-improvement. Due to the ubiquity of objectives in our current (Western) culture, its hypothesis is applicable to a range of fields. Regardless of which you are in, having read this book you may well find your world-view profoundly challenged.
Probably the authors do push a little too far on how broadly this is applicable. If they just said it is a way to think about how interesting discoveries that are more than one stepping stone away happen, they would be on very solid ground. The most obvious overextension was in the chapter discussing evolution. Don’t get me wrong, viewing evolution as a search for ever more interesting complexity with reproduction and competition as constraints is very original thinking. They fall into the objective fallacy of the god of the gap though — god is just a silly superstition that shrinks as scientific understanding increases. In fact viewed differently scientific discovery gives us ever greater appreciation of God, and ever greater humility at how vast the unexplored search space of scientific discovery is.