Books by John L. Casti

X-EVENTS by John L. Casti
NON-FICTION
Released: June 12, 2012

"Despite some flaws, Casti provides thought-provoking speculation on the future of civilization."
Award-winning mathematician and complexity scientist Casti (Mood Matters: From Rising Skirt Lengths to the Collapse of World Powers, 2010, etc.) lays out a series of worst-case scenarios—peak oil, pandemics, global economic collapse, bio- or nanotechnology run amok, nuclear accidents, terrorism, etc.—for the continued advancement of civilization. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: April 1, 1998

A fictional dialogue between five seminal modern thinkers, on the thorny subject of artificial intelligence. Casti (Would-Be Worlds, 1996) postulates that in June of 1949, the British government asks physicist and novelist C.P. Snow to sound out the scientific community on the subject of "thinking machines." In response, Snow throws a special dinner at Cambridge for mathematician Alan Turing, geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, physicist Erwin Schrîdinger, and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. This book is an account of their imaginary meeting, as well as a portrait of these five remarkable personalities. By 1949, Turing's mathematics had laid the groundwork for the idea of a programmable computer, which he explains to the other guests to begin the discussion. At first, the gruff Haldane acts as the voice of "common sense," asking what a simple "Turing Machine" is actually good for. Schrîdinger is quicker to see the mathematical implications, but Wittgenstein questions whether a finite machine can mimic any natural phenomenon at all, let alone one as complex as thought. Over the course of the evening, Turing continues to explain his ideas (including the "Turing test") using various dishes and implements as the dinner progresses, while the urbane Snow acts as host and master of ceremonies. The others offer insights or criticisms of Turing's model, bringing in such familiar concepts as the "Chinese room" (here recast in terms of hieroglyphics) in which a translator merely manipulates symbols without understanding them; can he be said to think? The holes in the various arguments are exposed, and many of the central ideas of today's artificial-intelligence debates are clearly outlined in these discussions. While Casti's attempts to blend exposition and dialogue are wooden, he does a good job of laying out the key philosophical issues raised by artificial intelligence, and of delineating the thought of these five men. Historians of science will enjoy this imaginary meeting of minds; others may find the fare too esoteric. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 18, 1996

Computer simulation has arrived big time, in everything from movie effects to election forecasts; here's an expert's overview. Beginning with an attempt to predict the outcome of a Super Bowl, Casti (Searching for Certainty, 1991) chose a popular but fairly sophisticated computer game program to play a series of simulated games between the 1995 opponents, the 49ers and Chargers. He uses his results (which suggest either that the actual game was a fluke or that the program is flawed) to make several basic points about computer simulations and models. They can be predictive or explanatory; perfect fidelity to the real world is not the sole virtue; and they are often most useful in analysis of complex phenomena that in the real world are either dangerous to meddle with (such as the flight patterns over a busy airport) or very rare (the collision of a meteor with Earth). He then gets down to specifics, describing programs to analyze language, to generate artificial ``life,'' or to forecast the weather. A long and fascinating chapter is devoted to limitations and paradoxes that limit our ability to turn every problem into an easily computable simulation. We get close-up looks at a system modeling the traffic patterns at rush hour in Albuquerque; at neural nets, which attempt to simulate the structure of the human brain; and at ``Sugarscape,'' which extracts basic economic principles from a pure supply-and-demand environment. Casti's subject sometimes leads him into esoteric territory, but he tries to keep it down-to-earth with examples from real life. At the same time, he is not afraid to plunge into such deep waters as Gîdel's Incompleteness Theorem. There is the occasional mathematical formula, but readers without advanced math should be able to follow the argument—especially because of the excellent use of illustrations and diagrams. A very solid and useful discussion of the theory and practice of computer modeling in the physical and social sciences. Read full book review >