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Can we make software that comes to life?

An interesting article talking about the progress, or lack thereof, in evolution of computer “life”.

Can we make software that comes to life?

A few choice snips:

On January 3 1990, he started with a program some 80 instructions long, Tierra’s equivalent of a single-celled sexless organism, analogous to the entities some believe paved the way towards life. The “creature” – a set of instructions that also formed its body – would identify the beginning and end of itself, calculate its size, copy itself into a free region of memory, and then divide.

Before long, Dr Ray saw a mutant. Slightly smaller in length, it was able to make more efficient use of the available resources, so its family grew in size until they exceeded the numbers of the original ancestor. Subsequent mutations needed even fewer instructions, so could carry out their tasks more quickly, grazing on more and more of the available computer space.

A creature appeared with about half the original number of instructions, too few to reproduce in the conventional way. Being a parasite, it was dependent on others to multiply. Tierra even went on to develop hyper-parasites – creatures which forced other parasites to help them multiply. “I got all this ecological diversity on the very first shot,” Dr Ray told me.

Hmmm… starts out complex and then gets simpler and simpler. Yup. That’s how Darwin described it. Right? Oh hold it. That was our side who said life had to begin with all the complexity it would ever have because RM+NS can’t generate CSI.

Other versions of computer evolution followed. Researchers thought that with more computer power, they could create more complex creatures – the richer the computer’s environment, the richer the ALife that could go forth and multiply.

But these virtual landscapes have turned out to be surprisingly barren. Prof Mark Bedau of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, will argue at this week’s meeting – the 11th International Conference on Artificial Life – that despite the promise that organisms could one day breed in a computer, such systems quickly run out of steam, as genetic possibilities are not open-ended but predefined. Unlike the real world, the outcome of computer evolution is built into its programming.

More Darwinian predictions confirmed? Hardly. Front-loading confirmed by computer modeling of evolution. Again.

His conclusion? Although natural selection is necessary for life, something is missing in our understanding of how evolution produced complex creatures.

Truer words were never said! :cool:

By this, he doesn’t mean intelligent design – the claim that only God can light the blue touch paper of life – but some other concept.

Gratuitous disclaimer regarding ID required to get by peer review. Can’t leave that out. :wink:

I don’t know what it is, nor do I think anyone else does, contrary to the claims you hear asserted,” he says. But he believes ALife will be crucial in discovering the missing mechanism.

Dr Richard Watson of Southampton University, the co-organiser of the conference, echoes his concerns. “Although Darwin gave us an essential component for the evolution of complexity, it is not a sufficient theory,” he says. “There are other essential components that are missing.”

Dangerously candid admission with only one ID disclaimer. Does this guy have a death wish or something? :!:

Here’s a clue, doc. The missing mechanism you’re searching for is commonly called “programmer” or “engineer”. Or in a more inclusive form a “designer”. :razz:

One of these may be “self-organisation”, which occurs when simpler units – molecules, microbes or creatures – work together using simple rules to create complex patterns and behaviour.

Yeah, that would be one way. One imaginary way with no empirical support whatsoever. These things somehow just “self-organize”. No intelligence needed. They just poof into existence through some unknown laws of self-organization. Good science there alrighty. :roll:

Heat up a saucer of oil and it will self-organise to form a honeycomb pattern, with adjacent “cells” forming as the oil turns by convection. In the correct conditions, water molecules will self-organise into beautiful six-sided snowflakes. Add together the correct chemicals in something called a BZ reaction, and one can create a “clock” that routinely changes colour.

Ah, the old snowflake argument. The modern version of Darwin’s blobs of protoplasm are ice crystals. Now all that’s left is the minor detail of how snowflakes become complicated machines made of thousands of interdependent components each of which has its specification encoded in abstract digital codes. No great leap there. No sir. Space shuttles and computers, both of which pale in complexity compared to the molecular machinery in any single protozoan, form in same manner as snowflakes. There’s some real science for ya! :shock:

“Evolution on its own doesn’t look like it can make the creative leaps that have occurred in the history of life,” says Dr Seth Bullock, another of the conference’s organisers. “It’s a great process for refining, tinkering, and so on.

What’s this? Someone gets it! Yay! :grin:

But self-organisation is the process that is needed alongside natural selection before you get the kind of creative power that we see around us.” [Bullock concludes]

Crap. Spoke too soon. :oops:

At least he got the requirement for organization right. Maybe Bullock will get a clue and figure out that complex things don’t just “self” organize like a magic origami. What a dope. Where do they find these clueless chuckleheads and how do they possibly get advanced degrees? :sad:

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106 Responses to Can we make software that comes to life?

  1. It really is bizarre how these guys dance all around transparent evidence of design, trying to avoid it with all kinds of fancy footwork, and just can’t seem to bring themselves to admit the obvious.

  2. No, software is just a string of bits that cause state changes in an electronic device.

  3. 3

    A related question that is often being asked today is “can computer hardware/software be built which is ‘conscious’?”. A Darwinist would HAVE to say yes, there is no way you can believe that random mutations plus selection alone could have created consciousness once, and still argue that it could never happen again through randomness and selection PLUS intelligence. And yet, for anyone who has any understanding of what computers actually do*, the answer is so obviously ‘no’, it could never happen, that to ask the question is very useful in understanding the limitations of Darwinism.

    I suspect that some of these people are not as dumb as they appear. I suspect that at least some realize the answer is ID, but know they cannot publish anything yet that acknowledges this, and so add the ID disclaimer to provide cover for themselves and their editors, who may also realize the answer is ID.

    Of course I could be wrong, maybe they really are as dumb as they appear.

    *For example, me**, see http://www.pde2d.com.

    **For another example, Gil Dodgen!

  4. 4

    (continuing my comment #3):

    Some science fiction afficionados see the amazing things done by computers and think, these things are so intelligent, maybe they can be programmed to experience consciousness like we do. To these people I would ask: how about typewriters, will they ever achieve consciousness? Typewriters have written some amazingly clever things too. Computers and typewriters do exactly what they are told to do, nothing more or less.
    {DLH Deleted your 2 comments as requested.}

  5. GilDodgen:
    Apparent limitations of evolutionary mechanisms to explain everything are not evidence for design, just evidence that there are still things to be discovered and understood – yes, maybe a designer, but it is way too early in this field of research to throw up out hands and say “Oh well, god must have done it”

    Granville Sewell:
    No, a Darwinist would not *Have* to say yes about consciousness. We have almost no empirical grasp on the mechanism (if any) behind consciousness so we cannot tell if it relies on specific features of the biological brain that are not present in computer systems – all we know really is that the phenomena exists in biological brains and seems to correlate with activity in certain brain regions.

    Your comparison of a typewriter and computer indicate a poor understanding of computer science. A computer can be programmed to learn, a typewriter cannot – in fact a typewriter can’t be programmed to do anything autonomously at all. Typewriters do only what you tell them to do in the moment, they don’t remember or make decisions based on stored information.

    There is a very interesting question in here (almost completely separate from evolution and OOL) and that is surrounding on-going attempts to build a complete computer model of a biological brain by neuroscientists. If we finally manage to build a complete physical simulation of a human brain and it reports to us that it is ‘aware’ or ‘conscious’ will we believe it? And how will we tell if it is telling the truth, or if it can even tell the difference?

  6. Very Good Dave,
    I have a friend who is going to love this (A programmer)

  7. Cool.

    This is somewhat relevent to my demands from ARN postings and this UD comments section(for example):
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ubmarines/

    So, where are the super killer bacteria?

  8. ie. everything should be single celled organisms…

    …super killer single celled organisms. ;)

  9. Unlike the real world, the outcome of computer evolution is built into its programming.

    That’s a quote to keep!!!

    Wonder what happens to all those virtual world programs that “prove” evolution. LOLOLOLOLOL

  10. GCUGreyArea:

    yes, maybe a designer, but it is way too early in this field of research to throw up out hands and say “Oh well, god must have done it”

    So even formulating the mere possibility that there might be a designer is [paraphrasing now] “throwing up our hands and saying ‘God did it’”? Hardly. These guys – and I suspect you as well – can’t even bring themselves to consider the possibility of design. It’s simply rejected out of hand because of their atheistic, secular worldview. Even if all other explanations are exhausted, they still won’t even give the idea of a designer a single thought. Well, at least not publicly. Perhaps someday, one of them will step out of the little box they’ve contained themselves in and say, “Hey, why can’t we consider the possibility of a designer?” And maybe, just maybe, they won’t be immediately and irrevocably ostracized for it.

  11. 11

    GCUGreyArea,

    I think we both understand what computers can and cannot do, our disagreement is over what consciousness is. And I have never figured out how to argue with someone like you who believes his own consciousness could be an entirely mechanical process, such as what goes on in a computer.

  12. We have almost no empirical grasp on the mechanism (if any) behind consciousness so we cannot tell if it relies on specific features of the biological brain that are not present in computer systems – all we know really is that the phenomena exists in biological brains and seems to correlate with activity in certain brain regions.

    ‘An empirical grasp on the mechanism (if any).’ That’s a very interesting statement. Are you saying that consciousness has no mechanism(s)? How does that fit into your naturalistic perspective? A function without a mechanism. A very interesting naturalistic concept there.

    Apparent limitations of evolutionary mechanisms to explain everything are not evidence for design, just evidence that there are still things to be discovered and understood – yes, maybe a designer, but it is way too early in this field of research to throw up out hands and say “Oh well, god must have done it”

    And when does this type of argument ever find an endpoint? Evidence that goes against naturalistic evolution is taken only as “just evidence that there are still things to be discovered and understood…”

    I’m all for this type of research. Let’s start out with some predictions that ID would make and some predictions that naturalistic evolution would make. Let’s run the programs and submit it for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. I’d be willing to make the attempt if anyone else has an interest. I, for one, find the argument tiring, that ID makes no testable predictions, and has no base of evidence in peer-reviewed journals. But truthfully, I have serious doubts about whether the words, “Intelligent Design,” would make it past peer review unless it was a reference in the negative (“No evidence for Intelligent Design Found here!!”) But, we could add it to the database of articles rejected out of peer-review bias. I am a clinical psychologist and have extensive computer programming experience, so, if anyone has an interest, I’d love to explore it further.

  13. jguy

    everything should be single celled organisms…

    Actually they are. After all, we don’t begin life as a multicellular organism. We begin as a single fertilized egg cell and all the additional cells in our bodies are specialized forms of that original single cell. One might rightly call the multicellular incarnation of that first cell a “fruiting body” whose goal is the production and nourishment of new single cells which then carry on the cell line. After the fruiting body has fulfilled its purpose it dies.

  14. I have a BS in CS and a MS in MIS. I used to be a professional programmer. I have never been the super brainy type that can do any and everything in code and this has caught my attention.

    How does this program work? Is it written to split off and mutate but within a survival framework? Is he just letting random mutations happen in the code and not touching it at all? If the first that seems like cheating and the latter seems almost impossible. A single memory leak could cause the whole computer to crash and kill everyone.

    Never really studied this area and wondered what built-in parameters were present in the original code.

  15. GCUGreyArea:

    “Your comparison of a typewriter and computer indicate a poor understanding of computer science. A computer can be programmed to learn, a typewriter cannot – in fact a typewriter can’t be programmed to do anything autonomously at all. Typewriters do only what you tell them to do in the moment, they don’t remember or make decisions based on stored information.”

    Careful– As it happens Granville is a Ph.d in math and has written, over decades, a huge software math application package. You don’t have to have a degree in computer science to understand the field very well which I think I do as an MSEE. It’s no secret that any software based system is ultimately subordinate to rules (complex as they may be) dreamed up by the programmer, the hardware engineers, and arithmetic or boolean algebra. No software system can decide to violate any of these rules. Likewise a typewriter has a set of rules built in by the engineers. They cans twist and turn the plastic ball based on those rules. They can even learn, as some machines will store (“memorize”) the keystrokes if you type faster than the type can be generated. As humans, we can generate endless rules for good purposes, such as in creating machines, or choose to violate any number of rules of social order (or make up false rules) often with tragic results. Just do a search on the “up your alley” festival, find the photos and witness the disintegration of a great American city under rules made up by the superliberal sector.

  16. GCUG

    A computer can be programmed to learn

    The article is about Artifical Life (AL). What you describe is even more ambitious – Artificial
    Intelligence (AI).

    Unless I somehow missed an AI winning the Nobel Prize computers that can learn haven’t lived up to the glorious expectations of decades ago. Intelligence seems to be more than just learning. Someone needs to figure out how to code ambition, desire, insight, and intuition into a computer. Good luck with that. In the meantime the far less ambitious goal of merely coding up something that becomes more functionally complex over time hasn’t worked out either.

    Apparent limitations of evolutionary mechanisms to explain everything are not evidence for design

    Not directly, no. But when there are two theories competing as the best explanation when one explanation becomes weaker the other becomes stronger in comparison. The two theories in question are chance & necessity vs. intelligence & design. This can be stated as a true dichotomy. Either intelligent design is required for the origination & diversification of life or it isn’t. There’s no state that falls in between those two possibilities. It’s a real either/or proposition. Thus when chance & necessity becomes weaker the competitor becomes stronger in comparison.

    Imagine two runners in a race. One is named “Chance” and the other is named “Design”. During the race “Chance” breaks his ankle. Design doesn’t get the advantage because his running speed improved, he gets the advantage because Chance’s running speed declined. Now one may certainly speculate that before the race ends Chance’s ankle will heal and he can go on to win the race but until that actually happens Design has the advantage. One might also speculate that some unnamed runner exists who is faster than either Chance or Design but until he actually enters the race Design remains the leading contender.

    Science is all about identifying the best explanation and it always leaves open the possibility that the best explanation might be superseded by a better one. When the door closes on that possibility science has left the race and a new runner by the name of Dogma replaces him. Chance has become Dogma in this particular race. Our desire is that Dogma be disqualified for breaking the rules governing the race.

  17. “And I have never figured out how to argue with someone like you who believes his own consciousness could be an entirely mechanical process, such as what goes on in a computer.”

    I have made no statements about what I believe on this subject.

    parapraxis

    “Are you saying that consciousness has no mechanism(s)?”

    I made no statement either for or against a mechanistic explanation for consciousness, I simply pointed out that from a scientific perspective no specific mechanism has been identified as being required for consciousness to happen – apart from the obvious thing that we have only observed consciousness in biological brains and that brains still function when we are unconscious.

    “How does that fit into your naturalistic perspective? . . . A function without a mechanism.”

    No, there *MAY* be a mechanism, it might be magic or, as some philosophers believe, we may all have misunderstood the phenomena. So what makes you think I have a naturalistic perspective anyway?

    If there is no mechanism and no magic behind consciousness (i.e it is an illusion – as some would have us believe) then there is apparently nothing in the way of a machine becoming conscious because consciousness does not require anything to exist.

    If there is magic behind consciousness (BTW I use the term magic to mean some real thing that cannot be described mechanistically – it is not meant as an insult or as a derogatory term) then again there may not be a barrier that prevents a machine becoming conscious.

    If there is a mechanism then, once we know what the mechanism(s) are, we are left with the question of whether there are other mechanisms that can produce the same effect, and are we able to build them.

    Of course we can also wonder if the brain is a ‘magical mechanism’ in that consciousness has a magic element that can only be ‘invoked’ by the right mechanism (a brain), in which case we still have the question of whether there are other (non-brain) mechanisms that can invoke the same magic and produce consciousness.

    “Evidence that goes against naturalistic evolution is taken only as “just evidence that there are still things to be discovered and understood…””

    Yes, precisely. One of the things to be discovered and understood might be a causal agent. My point still stands though, if I were to theorise that invisible fairies keep aeroplanes and birds aloft then finding a problem with a mechanistic explanation of flight (i.e. aerodynamics) would not be evidence to support the existence of my fairies.

    “Let’s start out with some predictions that ID would make”

    I’ll put my thinking cap on.

  18. GCU,

    So I suppose you might tell me I am incorrect in my assumption??

    So what makes you think I have a naturalistic perspective anyway?

    You either are or you aren’t. Which is it?

    Your frequent reference to ‘magic’ is a typical ploy of naturalistic evolutionists. So, go ahead and state your position instead of just saying that I have made an assumption. Your whole ‘fairies’ reference puts you in the camp with Dawkins. If you are otherwise…state it.

    I’ll put my thinking cap on.

    Will you? I’m looking forward to the results of your ‘thinking cap.’

  19. GCUG

    No need to put on your thinking cap. Just read Michael Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”. ID predicts that random change constrained by the temporal and physical resources of the earth’s environment is unable to produce the novel biological constructs that delineate higher taxonomic classes of living things. Behe tested this prediction by examining what a couple of the fastest, most prolific, and best studied reproducers on the planet were able to do in the way of novel solutions to intense challenges to their survival. What they were and were not able to accomplish fell well within the bounds of what ID predicted are the bounds of unintelligent processes.

    During the period studied P.falciparum replicated more times than all the organisms spanning the evolutionary distance between reptiles and mammals. Even under the most intense artificial selection pressure (manmade drugs) and natural selection pressure (limited geographic range) the organism was only able to conjure up novel solutions where there were 3 or fewer interdependent random genetic modifications.

    Yet despite this we are asked to believe that in far fewer replications where each replication is an opportunity for heritable change to occur, reptiles by chance & necessity alone somehow acquired all the novel biologic structures that separate them from mammals. Non sequitur.

  20. Parapraxis:

    I have no particular preference with regards to naturalism or supernaturalism. Naturalistic science may be able to explain everything in the universe, it may not – I don’t know. Why should I have to decide which side of an imaginary fence I should stand? I much prefer to wander around in the middle.

    I didn’t realise that the word ‘Magic’ was a ploy, it was the first word I thought of that seemed to fit (with the qualification I provided). What word would you use to describe real phenomena that cannot be explained by some naturalistic mechanism? If there is a more politically correct one then I’ll use it instead.
    As for the Fairies reference, well I’m no fan of Dawkins but I was trying to make the point that problems with one theory are not in themselves evidence in support of another theory. As DaveScot pointed out a problem with one explanation can make another explanation look more appealing but it can also make ANY other explanation more appealing.

  21. Dave Scot @16. On chance & necessity vs. intelligence & design.

    —–”There’s no state that falls in between those two.”

    Excellent!

    By invoking the principle of non-contradiction you have made a slam dunk case. It really is an “either or” proposition. The analogy that follows dramatizes the point very well.

  22. Groovamos:

    Ok, I’m always careful; my PhD is in Computer Science, AI and Robotics (with a small dose of ALife)

    Eventually, if you develop the typewriter by adding more features and functions you end up with a word processor. Add some more features and you have a general purpose computer attached to a printing device.

    Yes, you are right; any software system has to work within the rules, as does any hardware system – as far as I know no hardware system can violate the laws of physics, no software system can compute the incomputable. What computers can do very well is perform mathematical operations on stored data. If we can describe a system mathematically at every level then in theory we can simulate it to the same level. IF that system is a human in an environment then the simulated human should be capable of all the things real humans are (except being able to exist outside its own simulated universe).

    Now, if this were possible then the simulated human ought to be conscious. If not then the simulation is flawed, or consciousness is impossible to simulate OR consciousness is of no value (i.e it makes no difference to the ability of a human to function). And of course the other possibility, as I have already hinted, it that only certain substrates can generate consciousness and a computational construct is not one of them. (BTW I’m not claiming we will ever be able to practically realise such a simulation, this is a philosophical thought experiment)

  23. What word would you use to describe real phenomena that cannot be explained by some naturalistic mechanism?

    I’m not sure you need a single word. The way you wrote it out in your question was fine. Or do you mean to assert that the words “magic” and “fairies” have no connotations as to the intent of the person who uses them?

    As for the Fairies reference, well I’m no fan of Dawkins but I was trying to make the point that problems with one theory are not in themselves evidence in support of another theory.

    That’s not what it sounded like to me. If you are wandering around in the “middle” as you call it, you are wandering more towards the purely naturalistic side as your comments elsewhere on the net show.

  24. GCUG :

    “Your comparison of a typewriter and computer indicate a poor understanding of computer science. A computer can be programmed to learn, a typewriter cannot

    Well no, not really. Computers do not learn. Computers execute instructions. Binary instructions are just so many 0′s and 1′s passing through electronic logic gates and ‘memory’. There is nothing like ‘learning’ the way humans learn in binary machines. Computers never get smarter or more knowledgeable, they merely accumulate bits.

    So in fact the computer-typewriter comparison is good. The difference is in logic gates, instruction sets and memory.

    …Typewriters do only what you tell them to do in the moment, they don’t remember or make decisions based on stored information.”

    Computers are exactly the same, they only do what they are programmed to do… and even then.

    It is the programmer that writes decisional code before execution that, underneath, are nothing more than 0′s or 1′s taken as true or false constructs for if-then-else etc. instructions. No matter how complex it gets, it’s still just electrons flowing through logic circuits and memory building coded information that the computer itself has no clue about.

    So no there will never be computer life or consciousness. There can never be ‘will’ and thus personality in mere electricity.

  25. —–GCUCgreyarea: “Why should I have to decide which side of an imaginary fence I should stand? I much prefer to wander around in the middle.”

    Would you prefer to remain there indefinitely?

    —–”The purpose for opening the mind is to close it on something solid.” G. K. Chesterton.

  26. DaveScot:
    “Unless I somehow missed an AI winning the Nobel Prize computers that can learn haven’t lived up to the glorious expectations of decades ago. Intelligence seems to be more than just learning.”

    Quite right, but in reality we are surrounded by the products of AI research, from the plethora of computer vision systems and voice recognition to banking credit scoring algorithms and signal routing methods in the telecommunications industry. There are plenty of challenges that were regarded as pivotal in AI research that turned out to be a non-essential mechanistic component, and AI research in general has spent a lot of time exploring blind alleys (IMHO). I’m a ‘bottom up’ AI person – I’ll be happy if I can get one of my robots to function as well as an ant.

    I partly agree with your point about two competing theories but it does rather over-simplify the problem. If we stand well back then there are two competing hypotheses, one is that life has an intelligent causal agent and the other is that it does not. We could get deeper into the question though and ask if life has a causal agent that might not be intelligent, or that did not intend to create life. We can develop many theories regarding the scope and nature of a causal agent, all of which are in competition. On the other side we have the hypothesis that the origin of life can be explained naturalistically. From this perspective there can be many theories that explain the mechanisms behind biogenesis, all competing with each other.

  27. StephenB:

    “—–”The purpose for opening the mind is to close it on something solid.” G. K. Chesterton.”

    You have to open your mind first if you want to close it on something. Not that that is a good quote anyway, I don’t think closing your mind categorically on anything is a good idea.

  28. Borne @24: Splendid comments. This is going to be a great thread. All we need is an injection of materialist ideology to prime the pump.

  29. The purpose of opening the mind is to close it on something solid.

    —–GCUGreyArea: “You have to open your mind first if you want to close it on something.”

    Yes, that’s right. There are two choices:

    {A} To open and then close WHEN APPROPRIATE

    [B} To Open and leave open.

    I am proposing {A} and you are proposing {B}.

    —–”Not that that is a good quote anyway, I don’t think closing your mind categorically on anything is a good idea.”

    How about the proposition a thing cannot be and not be at the same time or that a thing cannot be true and false at the same time? Will you close your mind on those two?

  30. GCUG

    Actually, as far as thought experiments go, imagine we are software running in a simulated reality. What possible experiment could be run that would tell us if we’re real or not? Epistemology got a lot more complicated for me when I realized the theoretical extent of artificial reality.

    By the way, I’ve been a professional in the microcomputer hardware/software design business since the 1970′s. My last gig was senior programmer/analyst in R&D (laptop BIOS coder was my occupational specialty there) at Dell computer from 1993 to 2000. I haven’t been particularly involved in any computer development work since then but near as I can tell nothing’s changed very much. Just out of curiosity how long have you had your PhD and what was the subject of your dissertation?

    I was also on the patent committee there for the last couple of years and reviewed about a thousand patent abstracts for value in following up with a PTO filing. We did a lot of original work in factory automation. When I left we were measuring the “human touches” it took us to get from components sitting on supplier shelves to finished products sold and delivered in seconds. Minutes became too coarse of a measure to track it accurately. All of our in-house systems – order entry, accounting, inventory management, were all integrated with our suppliers and major customers in-house systems. Orders were placed on websites customized for each of our major customers and within seconds of placing an order the parts needed to fulfill it came off the loading dock (our suppliers owned the inventory until it came off the truck and we didn’t take it off the truck until it was needed to fulfill an order). The single most difficult challenge in our build-to-order (BTO) system was automated software configuration – loading the proper hardware device drivers, O/S, and all the application software, registered and ready-to-run when the customer turned on the computer. We offered such a wide range of build-to-order options that it was impossible to do what our competitors did which is have pre-built hard disk images for each configuration we offered for sale as our permutations were literally in the millions. We filed and were granted scores and scores of BTO-related patents along the way. In my almost unique position (there were only a dozen engineers on the patent committee) I had rather intimate knowledge of how everything worked even though it was outside my specialty.

    Anyhow, with regard to robotics, here’s something I’d been following but hadn’t checked up on for a few years (I think the last time was prior to the completion of the 2005 race):

    DARPA Grand Challenge

    Are you familiar with it?

  31. Correction on @29:

    There are actually three choices.

    [A] Keep the mind perpetually closed

    [B] Open the mind and close it on something solid

    [C] Keep the mind perpetually open

  32. GCUG:

    “Ok, I’m always careful;”

    A little less so than I would be if I didn’t know about the field of expertise of the person to whom I reply.

    “Your comparison of a typewriter and computer indicate a poor understanding of computer science.”

    Would you indicate such to a person known to you as using the C++ language for many years on a large project? Maybe Granville was too busy to elaborate, but I think what he was saying was a simplistic version of what I was saying about software developers ultimately being rule makers in their specialized areas.

    BTW there are many academics posting to this board.

  33. They just keep on ignoring the actual facts about ID. Transforming material into consciousness is obviously a title belonged to science fiction comics.

  34. GCUG

    We could get deeper into the question though and ask if life has a causal agent that might not be intelligent

    No, we can’t and still have my either/or question remained unanswered. If the agency is unintelligent then the question is answered.

    This of course raises the question of how do we define intelligent agency. I define it as and independent entity with the ability to model reality in the abstract, make probability projections of different possible futures, and then manipulate matter/energy in a way that causes desired outcomes to fall out from the range of possibilities. Thus when we discover functional things which, by law and chance alone, have practically no chance of assembling themselves in a finite universe such as ours without planning aforethought, we have a reliable indicator of intelligent design.

    I concede that’s a problematic definition in that strictly speaking the vehicles which completed the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge would qualify as intelligent agents. But I’d argue that those agents are themselves subservient agents of another intelligent agency and hence don’t strictly qualify with regard to independence.

    Feel free to help remove any ambiguity in the definition of intelligent agency. It’s more difficult than it appears at first blush.

  35. abta

    Transforming material into consciousness is obviously a title belonged to science fiction comics.

    Not really. It happens many times every day when a baby is born or shortly thereafter. We just don’t understand how or precisely when it happens and we can’t cause it to happen artificially. But it does appear that all the materials, near as we can tell, that go into the new consciousness were inanimate chemicals and such. No matter or energy is created ex nihilo. If there’s any additional “stuff” involved in the transformation we have yet to identify it. It doesn’t follow there’s not some unknown component involved and we can’t rule out unknowns until we completely understand it how it happens.

  36. You know, a statement by Richard Lewontin (which I originally found here) says a lot about the “God did it” issue:

    “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

    So after all possibilities have been exhausted, after all avenues have been explored, even then, they still won’t even simply consider the possibility of a designer. That says a lot.

  37. Ok, groovamos

    As far as being careful about what I say, if that is because the person I am arguing with likes to hurt people who disagree with them then I’m afraid I don’t respond well to threats. But I suspect you meant that I shouldn’t argue with people who have qualifications – rubbish! What my academic mentors taught me was not to be afraid to argue a point – if you think someone is wrong then don’t be afraid to say so, even if they are a world renowned professor – or your own PhD supervisors. Fortunately the people who helped me through my various degrees encouraged critical, robust debate.

    Yes I realise there are many academics posting o this board, I am one of them.

  38. StephenB @29:

    [A] Keep the mind perpetually closed

    [B] Open the mind and close it on something solid

    [C] Keep the mind perpetually open

    Agreed but _I_ will decide when to close my mind, it is not up to you or anyone else to dictate it to me, or for me to dictate it to anyone else.

    Actually on second thought I would go for a function of BC – always entertain the possibility that you are wrong!

  39. DaveScot:

    “Just out of curiosity how long have you had your PhD and what was the subject of your dissertation?”

    I’ve had my PhD less than a year (but spend may years ‘in the wild’ before returning to academia) As for my PhD thesis I’m afraid I’ll keep that to myself. Unfortunately I once provided a route to my identity on a blog discussing these topics and got my in box (and university snailmailbox) inundated with religiously themed abuse and assumptions about my morality/sexuality/religion etc. Whilst I don’t think anyone contributing to this discussion will stoop that low, you never know who is watching ;)

    Just to make a general point to everyone, I didn’t enter this debate to brag about the length of my thesis, or admire the girth of other peoples experience, I regret even mentioning that I have a PhD as it should have no bearing on the strength or otherwise of mine, and other peoples arguments – half the fun of these discussions is not having your preconceptions clouded by what you know about other people’s background, and not being subject to cheap attempts at character assassination (or being tempted to do it yourself) I prefer to go on what you say, not what you have done.

  40. Borne:

    “Computers do not learn. “

    Are you making a semantic point? A computer can learn if it is running software that has been written to learn. There LOTS of software applications out there that learn but of course it depends on how you define learn. I built a robot many years ago that ‘learnt’ to avoid obstacles.

    I designed a control program (I used a simple neural net) and gave the robot two types of sensor, one for proximity and the other for tactile contact (i.e rangefinders and bumpers). When the bumpers were active the neural net parameters began to randomise (a crude simulated annealing algorithm). Eventually (most of the time!) the robot would find a configuration that mapped proximity sensors to motors in a way that turned it away from obstacles before the bumpers made contact. Ok so it wasn’t the most intelligent robot but it did the job.

    Many of the neuroscientists I know use computers to model neural systems involved in learning with plenty of success – i.e. the software ‘learns’ in the same way that the biological system learns.

    Semantics aside, the computer is a substrate on which various computational systems can be instantiated. Physical matter is also a substrate upon which computers and humans are instantiated. If a purely materialist stance is taken then under us is just a mass of atoms, electrons and nuclear forces – perhaps we just do what we were designed to do, just like the computer only much more complex.

  41. DaveScot:

    “We just don’t understand how or precisely when it happens and we can’t cause it to happen artificially.”

    Of course one problem is that we may already have caused it artificially but we just don’t recognise it. Without an identifiable mechanism or ‘signature’ all we can rely on is the reporting by an individual of a phenomenological experience, and we can only get that if we have a conscious ‘thing’ that can talk to us in a language we can understand (and we still might not believe it – I can program my computer to say ‘I am conscious’)

  42. GCUG:
    “rubbish! What my academic mentors taught me was not to be afraid to argue a point”

    Oh really? And I’m sure this phrase ranked among the favorites of your coming up the academic ladder and helped open doors:

    “Your comparison of … indicate a poor understanding of….”

    Hey dude– (assuming a woman would have been more diplomatic) — I’m suggesting a little less arrogance.

  43. parapraxis @23

    “you are wandering more towards the purely naturalistic side as your comments elsewhere on the net show.”

    Don’t assume that because my user name is taken from an Ian.M.Banks novel that other people have not done the same. I don’t always use the same name for every discussion forum. (partly because this one is in already in use elsewhere)

  44. groovamos:

    “I’m sure this phrase ranked among the favorites of your coming up the academic ladder and helped open doors”

    Fair enough, I was rather abrupt and acerbic so I apologise. It can be a bit to easy to type harsher words in an anonymous forum than you might say in public.

    “(assuming a woman would have been more diplomatic)”

    Not quite sure what you meant by that … what has gender got to do with it?

  45. CGUG

    Don’t assume that because my user name is taken from an Ian.M.Banks novel that other people have not done the same.

    We don’t assume anything. We do make design inferences.

    For instance when I google your name I find a dozen or so blog comments where a person going by your name, involved in AI and robotics, interested in evolution and ID, even mentioning Bill Dembski.

    That’s a complex specified combination. You’re busted. :razz:

  46. Agreed but _I_ will decide when to close my mind, it is not up to you or anyone else to dictate it to me, or for me to dictate it to anyone else.

    I wasn’t dictating. I was simply proposing a couple of laws of logic that will not admit of open mindedness. The principles of right reason are not mine, so I can hardly impose them on anyone.

    —–Actually on second thought I would go for a function of BC – always entertain the possibility that you are wrong!

    Well, I can understand keeping one’s mind open on matters of science, since science is always provisional. That, however, is not the same thing as keeping our mind open about the principles of right reason that make science possible. Are you saying that we should also keep our mind open about both.

  47. CGUG

    “Not quite sure what you meant by that … what has gender got to do with it?”

    Oh—I did address you as “Dude”, meaning I assumed you are a dude based on what I said about women vis a vis diplomacy.

  48. DaveScot wrote:

    Unless I somehow missed an AI winning the Nobel Prize computers that can learn haven’t lived up to the glorious expectations of decades ago. Intelligence seems to be more than just learning. Someone needs to figure out how to code ambition, desire, insight, and intuition into a computer. Good luck with that.

    Not only that, but there is emotion, irrationality, mental representation, symbolic thinking, multiple memory systems (semantic, episodic, and implicit), levels and dissociation of consciousness, defense mechanisms, arousal systems, autonomous and continuous regulation of all hardware functions (the body), sensation, perception, circadian rhythms, and on and on!!

    I think it’s actually pretty important that the AI be able to be irrational. I don’t know why I think that, I just do! :)

    Now, to think that a human programmer and a computer engineer could get together and design an AI agent this complex is patently absurd. Yes….for all those who are philosophically inclined, I am making an ‘argument from incredulity.’ And for the record, I plan to continue making that type of ‘illogical’ argument. ;)

  49. Dr. Seth Bullock: “But self-organisation is the process that is needed alongside natural selection before you get the kind of creative power that we see around us.”

    For Dr. Bullock:

    Abstract

    Self-ordering phenomena should not be confused with self-organization. Self-ordering events occur spontaneously according to natural “law” propensities and are purely physicodynamic. Crystallization and the spontaneously forming dissipative structures ofPrigogine are examples of self-ordering. Self-ordering phenomena involve no decision nodes, no dynamically-inert configurable switches, no logic gates, no steering toward algorithmic success or “computational halting”. Hypercycles, genetic and evolutionary algorithms, neural nets, and cellular automata have not been shown to self-organize spontaneously into nontrivial functions. Laws and fractals are both compression algorithms containing minimal complexity and information. Organization typically contains large quantities of prescriptive information. Prescriptive information either instructs or directly produces nontrivial optimized algorithmic function at its destination. Prescription requires choice contingency rather than chance contingency or necessity. Organization requires prescription, and is abstract, conceptual, formal, and algorithmic. Organization utilizes a sign/symbol/token system to represent many configurable switch settings. Physical switch settings allow instantiation of nonphysical selections for function into physicality. Switch settings represent choices at successive decision nodes that integrate circuits and instantiate cooperative management into conceptual physical systems. Switch positions must be freely selectable to function as logic gates. Switches must be set according to rules, not laws. Inanimacy cannot “organize” itself. Inanimacy can only self-order. “Self-organization” is without empirical and prediction-fulfilling support. No falsifiable theory of self-organization exists. “Self-organization” provides no mechanism and offers no detailed verifiable explanatory power. Care should be taken not to use the term “self-organization” erroneously to refer to low-informational, natural-process, self-ordering events, especially when discussing genetic information. [Boldface added]

    (D.L. Abel, J.T. Trevors, Self-organization vs. self-ordering events in life-origin models, Physics of Life Reviews, 2006)

    “Self-organisation” is a nonsense term.

  50. Dear Dave

    “It happens many times every day when a baby is born or shortly thereafter.”

    But it happens inside a living body, from living organisms (“stuffs”). Even if you are about to say something like “artificial child”, I would like to know if we can keep everything ‘completely’ away from “living” “stuff” and create a “living” thing?

    BTW, my name is AMir

  51. Don’t miss the Kauffman’s keynote video on ALife XI conference, I was there.

  52. Edge of Evolution seems to become more and more relevant every day.

    It seems to be going through the same cycle as “Darwin’s Black Box:”

    1. It is considered by critics to have been poorly researched and refuted.

    2. More findings show up to support his work.

    3. People begin to realize that much if not all original criticisms of it were bulls%#& (cough: Ken Miller)

    4. After some time the issues it brings up become debated ’till the brink of dawn.

    Seems like we skipped to step four already. :D

  53. A computer can learn if it is running software that has been written to learn.

    I have yet to see any kind of software that can become more complex then itself without the aid of intelligent intervention.

    Do that and I will become just a tad bit more neutral towards ID rather then viewing it as primary truth.

  54. GCUGreyArea

    Are you making a semantic point?

    Yes, I suppose so if by that you mean a comment based on the meaning of the word learn.

    A computer can learn if it is running software that has been written to learn. There LOTS of software applications out there that learn but of course it depends on how you define learn.

    Indeed. Learn, as per humans, means to comprehend or understand by accumulation of knowledge, information and reason. So no computers do not learn. And neural network applications do not learn either. Not in the true sense of learning.

    Programming a machine (your robot) to detect and avoid obstacles is not making a learning machine.
    The robot has zero ‘understanding’. It ‘knows’ nothing but the results of coded instructions. It merely follows instructions, no matter how complex they may be, the robot will never have will and personality. Robotics does not create anything that truly learns.
    Just some minor self-adjusting of pre-selected parameters – and that on extremely limited scales. Like obstacle recognition and avoidance.

    Did your robot learn to play poker and cheat? Does it know how to go buy groceries? Can it drive the car? Can it learn to make design inferences or deduce abstract philosophical concepts from visual data?
    I’m not trying to put down your program or anything, just clarify what the reality involved.

    A machine (program) that truly learns, would theoretically be able to ‘learn’ anything.

    You could probably program a robot (it’s computer) to play poker. But will the robot ever really understand poker?
    Of course not.
    Understanding is far greater than accumulating bits of information for decision making algorithms.

    Yeah I studied CS in university too. It’s been my job since around 1991.
    My robotics professor laughed at the sci-fi ideas about artificial life and learning computers etc.

    He had a good grasp of the true complexities involved and said (back then) that the science was light years away from anything like producing a Star Trekkie ‘Data’.

    That’s still true.

  55. I’d like to see the creation of a simple word processor using a true random voltage source connected to an analog to digital converter connected to a computer running any software.

    Start out with all 0s.

    Then start XORing in AD readings at addresses specified by a different AD.

    Run it, evaluate as a word processor.

    Replicate, repeat.

    I don’t think we need to crunch the numbers to see how astronomically long it will take to get MS word, or whatever your favorite word processor is.

  56. DaveScot:

    “That’s a complex specified combination. You’re busted. “

    Yup, some of those comments may well be from me. Why is it so important to you to find out who I am? I haven’t felt the need to Google any of the other usernames on this forum. Why does identifying other comments that might be from me on the web mean I am ‘Busted’. I get the impression you think I am involved in some great swindle or something. All I wanted to do was debate the issue – or is that not allowed?

  57. Parapraxis:
    “Not only that, but there is emotion, irrationality, mental representation,…”

    Fortunately for those of us working in the field we don’t define the term ‘intelligent’ to mean something that can do everything that a human being can do. As I said before some of us would be would be happy to get a machine to show the same level of adaptability as an ant. One of the big problems with earlier AI research (sometimes called GOFAI or Good Old Fashioned AI) is that it concentrated too much on abstract reasoning as the key to making an intelligent robot.

    Personally I think there are many levels of AI, from the relatively simple pattern recognition devices to a machine that presents as a highly intelligent human. To assume that to be classed as Artificially Intelligent means you must have intelligence and behaviour to match a human being is to grossly over simplify the issue.

    “Now, to think that a human programmer and a computer engineer could get together and design an AI agent this complex is patently absurd.”

    As you said, you are incredulous, I am not.

  58. F2XL:

    “I have yet to see any kind of software that can become more complex then itself without the aid of intelligent intervention. “

    I would need to know what definition of complexity you are using before I could debate the point.

  59. Borne:

    “Learn, as per humans, means to comprehend or understand by accumulation of knowledge, information and reason. “

    I was using the term in the same way psychologists use it. Simple conditioning (Operant and Pavlovian conditioning) can be fairly easily replicated in a machine and are defined as a form of learning. If you want to set the bar for which behaviour qualifies as ‘learning’ so it is just above what we can produce on machines then that’s fine, but I suspect you will have to keep changing your definition – and I think almost every scientist I have ever met would disagree with your current definition anyway.

    “Did your robot learn to play poker and cheat? Does it know how to go buy groceries?”

    Of course not, and neither can a pet cat or dog – are you going to claim that dogs are incapable of learning?

    “A machine (program) that truly learns, would theoretically be able to ‘learn’ anything.”

    Can a pet dog learn anything; can a human for that matter. If the computer that the learning software runs on has finite computing power and storage capacity then there is an upper limit to the amount of data is can acquire. It can’t learn everything there is to know in the universe if it only has a 60GB hard drive. It is also limited by the nature and scope of the learning system (and to a large extent by its morphology) if it only has a keyboard and a screen then it can’t ‘learn’ to ride a bike. If its leaning software is based on semantics (i.e. abstract symbol manipulation) then it can’t learn to recognise someone’s face.

    “…science was light years away from anything like producing a Star Trekkie ‘Data’.”

    Yes, he was right and still is. We are a long way away from machines like that, like your professor I haven’t assumed they are impossible.

  60. William Wallace:

    “Run it, evaluate as a word processor. … Replicate, repeat.”

    You are correct, a random search like this might never come across a good configuration – The problem with an unguided search is that there is always the possibility that it will generate bad systems an infinite number of times and thus even with an infinite amount of time you might never get a result you want, even if it is among some of the random possibilities. Equally there is a small (Very Very small) chance that the first few configurations you generated produced a workable word processor.

    With enough time it is possible to get a computer to produce all the information you could possibly want, the problem is storing it, and sorting through all the useless stuff. It is all down to the fact that they can iterate.

  61. Yup, some of those comments may well be from me. Why is it so important to you to find out who I am? I haven’t felt the need to Google any of the other usernames on this forum. Why does identifying other comments that might be from me on the web mean I am ‘Busted’.

    I think the reason for this is obvious to anyone who has read the comments to this post. It’s also obvious in the above question. You counter statements with “You’re making an assumption,” without challenging the assumption. You seem to have a problem with being honest about your beliefs. All you had to say was, “I lean more towards naturalism. You’re right, I’m a guy.” And nobody would have felt the need to check you out. You try to make intelligent arguments, and play dumb at the same time. It makes people question your honesty. So, I’d recommend to you going forward, that you’d drop the charade , and just be yourself. We understand you don’t believe in intelligent design, and we are okay with that. I think most of us don’t buy that you are sitting right in the middle. We also don’t think that the words ‘magic’ and ‘fairies’ were randomly generated by your mind, but imply something about your true beliefs. So, while your attempts at obscuring your beliefs may fly with fellow naturalistic evolutionists, they don’t fly with folks who perceive design. Go ahead and be yourself, we’re mature adults around here, we can handle it.

  62. GCUG wrote:

    Fortunately for those of us working in the field we don’t define the term ‘intelligent’ to mean something that can do everything that a human being can do.

    Indeed. That is extremely fortunate.

    You seem to think that a calculator with memory is intelligent. And if you truly ever replicate the behavior of life so ‘simple’ as ants, or even bacteria, I will be impressed. And I’m not just referring to the overt behavior of establishing a domicile, but the collection of food for the group, repairing and self-healing of wounds, cooperation, and all of this without a helluva lot of processing power, I assure you, I will be impressed.

  63. GCUG

    I googled your handle here because you implied that there were others using the same name. I wanted to see for myself if that was true or an attempt at obfuscation. While there may be a few blog comments under that name that aren’t obviously you there are some that obviously are you. You were “busted”, or found out, in the attempted obfuscation.

    Kind of you to admit it after the fact but no admission was required. Design inferences are quite reliable in the cases where sufficient information is available to make them.

  64. GCUG

    Fortunately for those of us working in the field we don’t define the term ‘intelligent’ to mean something that can do everything that a human being can do.

    Of course you don’t. If you did then nothing accomplished in the field of artificial intelligence could be called intelligent.

    Our position here, or at least mine, is that it has been sufficiently demonstrated that humans can invent abstract codes that both specify and drive complex machines. Furthermore, there has been no demonstration that anything else in the universe has this capacity.

    I’m quite willing to concede that AI and AL is possible through human invention. In fact I consider it inevitable in the not too distant future if technology continues to progress at the current accelerating pace. FYI, I’m a fan of the technologic singularity hypothesis.

    But all that does is provide additional evidence of what, for all the empirical evidence we have, are inescapable laws of nature:

    1) life comes from life

    2) intelligence comes from intelligence

    The AI and AL, primitive as they are in comparison to human mind and body, that exists today would not exist without a preexisting intelligent mind to invent them and a preexisting body to instantiate them.

    Of course this raises the question of either a first intelligence (first cause) or an infinite regression of intelligence begetting intelligence. I’m sorry I don’t have an empirical answer for that. Be that as it may the empirical evidence I do have all supports the two laws described above with absolutely no known exceptions.

    In any science except evolutionary biology when a great body of observation and with no known exceptions exists it is the basis of promoting theory to law. At this point in time the laws I described should be accepted as law but instead, due to dogmatic exclusion, what should be laws are not even granted the status of hypotheses. If find this a totally unacceptable corruption of science.

    I concede there is the possibility of exceptions to the laws but these must be demonstrated rather than imagined. In the meantime the laws remain unbroken.

  65. And even with every adult human being on Earth spent all their days evaluating a new proposed mutant word processor for fitness, it will still not happen.

    It is clear that random mutation and a fitness filter, is inefficient (to say the least) compared to intelligent design of a computer program.

  66. GCUGreyArea

    Simple conditioning (Operant and Pavlovian conditioning) can be fairly easily replicated in a machine and are defined as a form of learning.

    Ok fine. Narrowing down to ‘a form of learning’ will get you through.

    Conditioning can be applied to plants, have they also learned?

    You mention scientific consensus? Thankfully, life goes on without it and it’s not only scientists that define the meaning of words.

    Even with your definition, they still aren’t really learning anything. Do they consciously know something in themselves? No, they do not have a self. Knowledge is more than data storage. Otherwise your hard drive knows a lot. Can you agree with that?

    My point is that machines will never be conscious learners, egos with will and personality. They will never be alive (the OP’s point).

    We must not conflate the learning of living conscious things with software decisional matrices. That’s tantamount to calling all living things with mind mere matter and energy. The atheist materialist dogma. A whole other issue.

  67. DaveScot says,

    1) life comes from life

    2) intelligence comes from intelligence

    Are you tired of hearing about regresses? Will I get myself banned if I go this route?

  68. Parapraxis @ 61

    I pointed out an assumption, so what? I don’t have a problem being honest about my beliefs and I think I was being checked out well before I made any statements on my beliefs.

    “and just be yourself.”

    Ok, I’ll carry on being myself. So in what way was I playing dumb?

    “We also don’t think that the words ‘magic’ and ‘fairies’ were randomly generated by your mind, but imply something about your true beliefs.”

    So you assume. The word magic is used by some of my friends to refer to things they believe are real but that science can’t deal with, it is also used by some philosophers in a similar manner. I was trying to avoid the words ‘supernatural forces’ because I thought it would spark precisely the controversy that Magic did.

    “So, while your attempts at obscuring your beliefs may fly with fellow naturalistic evolutionists, they don’t fly with folks who perceive design.”

    Ok then, although it is none of your business and it is not dishonest of me to keep some or all of my beliefs to myself if I choose, I’ll try and elucidate. I believe that an intelligent origin for the universe, life etc (all or in part) is entirely possible; I believe that a natural origin for those things is also entirely possible. I have yet to be convinced that the diversity of life as we see it cannot be explained in mechanistic terms, or that living systems cannot come about through natural processes, or that we are at all close to being able to understand and explain these things assuming they are at all understandable. I am quite happy with the idea that the universe was designed to produce life, or that life was designed.

    If that means that “I lean more towards naturalism” in your view then so be it but I would not describe myself in those terms. Personally I would prefer that the universe had been created, and in particular that there is an afterlife – I really hate the thought of everything just coming to a stop when I die.

  69. Parapraxis @ 62

    “You seem to think that a calculator with memory is intelligent.”

    I don’t remember saying that… I will also be impressed if I ever managed to replicate the behaviour of something as complex as an ant.

    “…repairing and self-healing of wounds,…”

    No amount of clever programming can get a desktop computer to repair its own circuitry, I would have thought that was obvious. With some clever material science and a bit of engineering you can make materials that self-repair without the need for any processing at all. That said, quite a lot of work is going on into re-configurable computing including one strand that uses genetic algorithms to generate functional logic systems using damaged parts of re-configurable chips (FPGA’s) Other strands use other techniques but they are all concerned with making more damage tolerant systems that can either repair or adapt to damage. A huge amount of work in robotics, AI and ALife is actually about engineering and hardware, not just general purpose computers and their software.

  70. DaveScot @ 63

    As you discovered, there are others using the same handle as me. Stating this is not obfuscation. When I googled it myself I discovered many comments by me, a few that looked like me that I have no memory of making, and others that weren’t by me, along with a few other things like an e-bay username that is defiantly not me.

    I don’t understand how this relates to design inferences? Where is the design in this? I don’t recall claiming that those other comments on the web occurred spontaneously.

    @ 64

    I agree with you on the possible future of AI and ALife. I don’t see why your laws should be accepted. For the first one, fair point, we currently can only observe living systems producing living systems and work on understanding the possibility of a-biogenesis is slow – is that reason enough to declare that because we have not observed the origin of life that therefore life cannot have a naturalistic origin – how long should we wait before giving up in our attempts to answer the question. Your point has some validity but I don’t think we have done nearly enough work on the OOL question to give up just yet.

    On the second law, a big chunk of modern biology is about how intelligence may come about in living systems that are descendants of other living systems with less intelligence. Whilst you may disagree with the scientists’ interpretation of the evidence to support this, this is not enough to get your law accepted, or to demonstrate its inescapability.

    “I concede there is the possibility of exceptions to the laws”

    So, to borrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, they are more like guidelines then?

  71. Borne @66

    I’m quite happy with the idea of certain plant behaviour being classed as learning – actually I think it already is. I don’t remember mentioning a scientific consensus though. Most of the people in my field spend a fair amount of time arguing over what qualifies as learning, as opposed to adaptation, and will frequently qualify their terms because of the various definitions out there. My point was that your definition is so narrow that many things that are considered to be forms of learning would require the invention of a new word to describe them. All your definition seems to do is make the statement “Non-human systems can never learn” logically true according to your definition. Of course it can be easy to do the opposite and define learning in a way that makes the erosion of a river valley qualify as ‘learning’ but as I already said, scientists and philosophers working in the field do actually debate these definitions and refine our understanding of what can qualify as learning, rather than making dogmatic statements like “… machines will never be conscious learners, egos with will and personality.”

    I agree that knowledge is more than data storage, I never said it was. One definition of learning with regards humans is the acquisition of knowledge; another definition is the acquisition or modification of behaviour. When you learn to walk you are not developing an intellectual skill, you are modifying and refining parts of your nervous system. If a robot learns to walk it is, in my opinion, doing exactly the same thing – acquiring and modifying behaviour.

    As far as calling all living things with mind mere matter and energy, the idea that this is atheist dogma is utter rubbish. It is quite possible that we and the entire universe are governed entirely by rules that can be described in scientific (i.e. mechanistic) ways, and that this universe, and every living thing were intelligently designed. It is also entirely possible (given all the things we don’t know about consciousness yet) that certain types of AI software can be conscious, or that it requires the right kind of hardware but not specifically biological hardware. Consciousness, life and supernatural creators are not all the same thing; consciousness doesn’t have to be supernatural and even if it isn’t that doesn’t mean that our world wasn’t created.

  72. GCUG wrote:

    I pointed out an assumption, so what? I don’t have a problem being honest about my beliefs and I think I was being checked out well before I made any statements on my beliefs.

    You say so. I think the readers will decide for themselves.

    Ok, I’ll carry on being myself. So in what way was I playing dumb?

    Recursive. You’re a programmer, figure it out.

    I agree that FPGA’s are cool. They are extreme simplifications of the design of neural networks. But quite interesting nonetheless. And you are quite right, that these designed perspectives are quite cool.

  73. GCUG ; “As far as calling all living things with mind mere matter and energy, the idea that this is atheist dogma is utter rubbish”
    And that is ‘utter rubbish’.
    If anything is clear under atheist dogma it is that mind is mere matter and energy. Indeed, they have no other choice.

    If anything is also clear it’s that humans are not ruled by purely deterministic, mechanistic laws. We have free will, volition, self-determination. Mind is not matter. It is necessarily metaphysical at any rate and different from the brain.

    Otherwise, as Francis Crick stated in “The Astonishing Hypothesis”,

    “You are nothing but a pack of neurons”

    But if that were true, why should anyone trust what any given pack of neurons has to say? Or as Darwin expressed, why should we trust a monkey brain?

    And mentioning that this or that is possible is simply speculating for the sake of argument. Whatever.

    I suggest you take up the matter with Denyse O’Leary on the whole consciousness and mind thing before talking of conscious machines. Read her book “The Spiritual Brain” with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard.

  74. Borne @ 73

    I’m not an atheist. There is a difference between believing that supernatural forces do not exist and believing that they are required for consciousness and free will. I’m agnostic all the way.

    Mechanistic does not necessarily imply deterministic, it all depends on whether genuine randomness is a feature of the universe. With any genuine random influences a system can never be described as purely deterministic because the random influences are, by definition, un-predictable.

    We don’t appear to know for certain (and maybe are incapable of knowing) if a mechanistic set of rules can produce free will.

    “why should anyone trust what any given pack of neurons has to say?”

    Why shouldn’t we? If that is all we are then it appears to be doing the job most of the time. As I already indicated the idea that an intelligently created universe might be mechanistic or even deterministic seems to me to be just as valid as hypothesising that it might not. Surely this is an important part of any scientific inquiry into the concept of Intelligent Design, not just speculation for arguments sake – or have you already decided what the designer would have or has done?

  75. GCUG

    Try reading Mike Gene’s “The Design Matrix”. I did. It’s written by and for agnostic engineers like us.

    FPGAs never had the speed I needed in any of my hardware designs. I fell in love with PALs in the early 1980′s and when they became electrically erasable several years later it was a match made in heaven as I didn’t need tubes of fresh ones to get the logic debugged. I once did all the core logic for an i80486 motherboard in 22 discrete PALS (mostly 24 pin) and a handful of F-series TTL logic chips. I had no choice as the CPU was so new at the time no one had a core logic chip ready for it. All anyone had at the time was 80386 core logic that would work with it. I also didn’t have room or budget for an L2 cache so I had to do my own DRAM controller. I coupled the CPU tighter than bark on a tree to the main memory, used CAS-only access for successive reads (prefetch and L1 cache misses) along with a bank width wide enough to fill the prefetch queue or an entire cache line. As I recall I eschewed the traditional methods of refresh and did it using a non-maskable interrupt off a timer where the interrupt handler scanned through the proper row addresses under software control. Man did that puppy fly through big-ass databases where the database was bigger than anyone’s L2 cache. We sold a boatload of them to the Bank de Paris. Their people had some big spreadsheets they were using and traverses blew away the L2 cache in competing products so everything was a cache-miss and generated long penalty cycles. I didn’t have an L2 so my memory cycles were much, much faster on average chomping through big databases. Recalcs on big spreadsheets were damn near an order of magnitude faster. And my design was far cheaper to manufacture without the hideously expensive static ram of a large L2 cache. I wrote the BIOS for that machine in addition to designing the motherboard hardware. A junior engineer did the printed circuit board layout under my supervision. I’ve done a lot PCB design too beginning in the 1970′s with tape & mylar on a light table. My life got a lot easier there when we finally got enough power in a PC to configure AutoCAD for the layout and had it produce a laser-photoplot file through some third party software. Those were the days… before Dell I worked in a lot of small shops where I had to wear a lot of hats – hardware design, software design, printed circuit board design, manfacturing engineering, production test, customer service, basically everything from product specification through after-sales support. In parnership with Bull (formerly HoneyWell) we filled up a few 19″ equipment racks with my single board ethernet workstations, I modified the network drivers so we could talk with IBM and Honeywell mainframes, and we put together a system for the currency trading office at the Bank de Paris in London where our quarter-million dollar machine put a multi-million dollar IBM mainframe out of business.

    We missed on the big score though. Chuck Missler owned the company, I was head of engineering, and he was putting together a deal with the Russians right after the end of the cold war when technology transfer restrictions were relaxed. My machine was on the table to go into every school in Russia. Millions of them if IIRC. $8 billion in total. If it happened it would have been the largest single computer deal in history up to that time. You can read a little about it here. Excutive staff meetings at that company were weird. Everyone except me was an Evangelical Christian. The meetings were opened with prayers. Fat lot of good that did. After that company folded I gave up on small companies and accepted a gig in laptop R&D at Dell. Took a big paycut, moved from paradise in Irvine Californa to blistering hot Austin Texas, but boy did the incentive stock options ever pay off 7 years later. Best move I ever made.

  76. DaveScot

    Thanks, it look interesting. I’ll try and get hold of a copy.

  77. GCUG

    You never commented on the DARPA Grand Challenge. Did you not follow it (hard to imagine you didn’t given your professional expertise) or it hit so close to home that talking about it would give away too much personal information.

    By the way, I’m not buying the excuse about email being flooded with spam if someone finds out your name. My name and email address is the most loosely held secret around here and except for one moron/stalker named Blipey (Eric Pratt) who decided discretion was the better part of valor when I threatened to sic my dogs on him if he showed his face at my door, I’ve never had any problems because of it.

    What’s the real reason?

    re; The Design Matrix – Amazon and $20 will have it on your doorstep in 3 days.

  78. AMir

    Do you happen to know when the videos of the ALife XI conference will be made available? I went searching but came up empty handed.

    CC

    Yes, you will get banned if you insist on raising the question “Who Designed the Designer”. We don’t have any empirical data to frame answers around so it’s simply a dead end. It would be like me demanding that biologists explain where the material in materialism ultimately comes from. That’s not germane to biology and who designed the designer is not germane to ID. We don’t even have any hard data on the designer of life on this planet to say nothing of going up the chain of command to the next designer, or even if there is a next designer. All we have that we can actually observe is the end result of the intelligent agent at work. Just like all we have to actually observe is the end result of billions of years of chance & necessity at work.

    If it’s possible mechanisms the designer might have used that you’re interested in then I can do no more than give you an example of a sufficient mechanism without any evidence that’s actually the mechanism utilized. A highly infectious airborne or waterborne retrovirus targeted at the reproductive cells of one or more species which deposits a genetic payload altering the course of evolution for those species would work nicely. Saltations from one form to another could be accomplished quite fast with minimal effort. The same vector could cause the rapid extinction of any selected species too. If you want the brand of the sequencing machine the designer used to build the virus and the mailing address of his laboratory I can’t help with that. This puts us at better than parity with chance & necessity regards possible mechanisms underlying descent with modification. At least we can prove that intelligent agencies with the proper lab equipment can alter the genetic makeup of living organisms at any level of increased or altered complexity desired in one fell swoop. Nobody has demonstrated in any experiment that chance & necessity can do that. Chance & necessity’s proven ability in that regard is supported by no more than extrapolation and hand waving.

  79. DaveScot @ 75 – 76

    Interesting background. In my work I have to be a jack of all trades as you can imagine – electronics, microcontrollers, PCB design, engineering, design. And I quite often feel that I am not good enough at any of them. (I did my first degree in sculpture BTW)

    I would be interested to know what you made of the whole Evolvable Hardware thing – applying genetic algorithms to FPGA’s?

    I did follow the DARPA grand challenge, I almost wanted to enter but I am not based in the US and there were restrictions on the nationality of the teams (And issues over the ownership of any IP). Some very interesting stuff there, a lot of things I am not hugely concerned with in my work though. I am most interested in biologically inspired and evolutionary robotics, in particular legged locomotion, and dealing a good deal with what is loosely called ‘Morphocognition’ – the way seemingly difficult problems can be solved with the right type of body. We have used the evolutionary approach with some success but building robots is expensive and so a fair amount of the work is done in physics simulators whilst we try and drum up funding from non-military sources. Genetic algorithms are by no means perfect but tend to exploit the hell out of simulation flaws, in one trial a simulated walking robot discovered how to fly!

    Interestingly I knew a guy who was working for a company developing GA based predictors for financial markets, one of their first big contracts was earned when they did a trial for a large bank. The bank gave them a financial market model they had developed as a set of software DLL’s so they didn’t know how the model worked – it just outputted data. They managed to evolve a predictor (I think based on a neural net) that was about 95% accurate. After mulling over their results the bank gave them a load more work because the GA had discovered and exploited a whole bunch of flaws in their (multi-million dollar) model – The bank saw a lot of value in this as a tool for testing their models.

    Regarding my reason for remaining anonymous, I’m afraid I am telling the truth. I did get my fingers burnt a while ago, so to speak. It may have been a certain degree of bad luck or bad judgement in my being honest in a public forum occupied by some rather thuggish fundamentalists but it made me cautious. A couple of e-mails from one person regarding what they wanted to do to my children because I had apparently offended their god were particularly sick. (I didn’t actually have children at the time though, but we are expecting one any day now!)

    That said I don’t actually regard the wish to remain anonymous in these types of forum as an attempt to hide, or as requiring a justification, but I agree that it can be difficult to accept what someone is saying about themselves if you can’t verify it independently. I’m afraid that for the moment I’m not going to budge on the subject of my identity.

    BTW, I would be at this ALife conference now if it wasn’t for the imminent baby.

  80. DS,

    I was about to ask if Chuck Missler was the same Chuck Missler who is a pastor and writes books, etc, when you answered my question with the link. What a small world! (6.6 degress of separation small, I guess.)

  81. I would need to know what definition of complexity you are using before I could debate the point.

    I’m asking if you know of an instance in which windows XP could “evolve” into windows vista or a more complex software program without any prior front-loading.

  82. Ahhh, FPGA’s bring back many good memories. I quite enjoyed reading Dave Scot’s description of his 486 motherboard project. As for me, my own career was with Altera from the mid 80′s to the early 2000′s. I (like Dave and GCUGreyArea), was also a jack of all trades, in my case for the internal products and projects needed for getting our chips through production test and silicon debug, as well as tools specific to simulating and generating test programs for the various product families. I also worked on a continually improving hardware/software system which replaced million-dollar test equipment with multi-thousand dollar PC based equipment. It originally all ran under DOS and evolved through the years to run under NT. We did, of course, push everything to the absolute limit and made copious use of Altera PLDs in the design.

    I couldn’t have asked for a better technical career!

  83. GCUGreyArea (#74): “We don’t appear to know for certain (and maybe are incapable of knowing) if a mechanistic set of rules can produce free will. ….If (a pack of neurons) is all we are then it appears to be doing the job most of the time.”

    You evidently consider it quite possible, though you don’t go so far as the convinced materialists, who know this absolutely. I’m curious. You must then reject all the evidence of psychic phenomena and the paranormal. You apparently also reject the philosophical arguments on AI, like Searle’s Chinese Room and Chalmers’ qualia of consciousness. Comment?

  84. F2XL @ 21

    “I’m asking if you know of an instance in which windows XP could “evolve” into windows vista or a more complex software program without any prior front-loading.”

    By front-loading I presume you mean without adding any of the mechanisms required for evolution to occur? I have yet to come across anyone working with artificial evolution who believes that software can just develop the ability to evolve spontaneously. There are very good reasons why most people don’t try and directly evolve machine code in order to produce software applications like word processors. As any programmer will know code is very brittle, change a single instruction and the entire programme can fail totally. Equally important is the nature of what is called the ‘fitness landscape’ If there are no, or very few, points in between a total failure to do the required job, and total success then genetic algorithms don’t tend to work – and for that matter neither do a whole load of other automated design systems, for example simulated annealing.

    Genetic algorithms tend to work best on less brittle substrates and on reasonably smooth fitness landscapes, for this reason they tend to get used a lot with computational neural networks, where the majority of the parameters being evolved are floating point values and small changes to these values translate into small changes in the behaviour of the network.

    As for the question of complexity, it really depends what you are looking at. If you are, as I have done in the past, trying to artificially evolve a neural network to perform a particular task then surely the measure of complexity should be applied to the parameters being evolved – the configuration of the network. The underlying software doesn’t have to change, although it can if you are using a variable size network – in other words the network can grow in size and consequently in complexity, which is reflected in the way the underlying software uses memory and fills it with new data.

    You picked a couple of examples of things that most researchers in AI and ALife would regard as un-evolvable, and you seem to be trying to suggest that unless I can explain how they could be evolved then the whole evolution thing is junk. It’s a cheap and not very convincing attempt at argument and just illustrates a poor understanding of the whole subject – most importantly that artificial evolution is not biological evolution and that not everything is evolvable. Anyone who has tried to claim that something like windows XP could evolve into something else is, in my opinion, completely nuts!

    Genetic algorithms work, but they are not a universal design system, they have some very interesting limitations.

  85. Magnan @ 83

    “You must then reject all the evidence of psychic phenomena and the paranormal.”

    Perhaps you missed the bit where I said that I don’t discount the possibility of supernature, I just don’t assume it is required either. I’ve always had a big interest in the paranormal but I am also a healthy sceptic – my standards for solid evidence are rather high.

    As for Searl’s Chinese room, I always felt it was just an example of a rather odd symbol processing system. It says nothing about whether it is possible to make a mind that experiences consciousness in the way we do, it just make a point about how hard it might be to tell if something we have created is anything more that a symbol processing machine.

    I’m not sure what you are referring to with Chalmers Qualia of Consciousness – is it his hypothetical zombies? If it is I am not at all convinced by his reasoning.

  86. GCUG,

    Let me get this straight. Some computer systems are inherently unevolvable. But not to worry. This does not mean that some biological systems are inherently unevolvable, because artificial evolution is not biological evolution.

    I assume that this is because biological systems are much simpler than computer code. Or perhaps they are more tolerant of error, and always have smooth pathways from one state to another, with each mutation (or whatever change) being slightly more fit in some setting than the previous. That is, Behe-style irreducible complexity does not exist. And we know this because?

    Genetic algorithms work, but they are not a universal design system, they have some very interesting limitations.

    Might biological evolution have limitations as well? Is there an edge to evolution? Might some living things or subsystems be substantially beyond that edge? Or life itself, for that matter?

  87. As I said, artificial evolution will not work on everything. It works great on some things and not at all on others. Just because it won’t work very well on some things that doesn’t mean it can’t work at all. It is not biological evolution, and I was not talking about biological evolution.

    It is not the simplicity or complexity of the system that is the issue. It is, as I already explained, related to how brittle the structure is that you want to evolve, and how jagged the fitness landscape is.

    Irreducible complexity, as far as I understand it, exists in most artificially evolved systems. If you evolve a neural network for a particular task and then remove a node, or a link, the network will usually fail. This is not true of all neural networks, some can compensate for lesions and others have redundancy – just like our brains, if you take away a single neuron it will not catastrophically fail (unless you are very very unlucky) Now does this mean that our brains are not irreducibly complex?

    I’m not a biologist – I make robots – but I did hear a fascinating talk a while ago by a biologist talking all about the numerous error checking mechanisms that the cell has to cope with DNA damage.

    “Might biological evolution have limitations as well? “

    Yes, that is the current thinking in evolutionary biology as far as I know. Outside of the molecular mechanisms in the cell there appear to be absolutely no continually rotating joints in nature – things like wheels don’t seem to appear ‘naturally’ they are only observed as the product of human design.

  88. Dear Dave,

    I have to ask my friends,
    we were organising the conference. They might have saved the video somewhere. I will send you when I get it.

  89. GCUG (87),

    You may remember that (84) was an answer to F2XL (I presume 81 rather than 21). She asked if, for example, Windows XP could evolve into Windows Vista without front-loading. As I understood it, you said no in (84), and said that while certain systems were evolvable, especially ones with variables, other systems could not reasonably evolve, because the code was brittle and because the fitness landscapes were jagged.

    Of course, as you know, the primary interest in this question here, including, if I guess correctly, F2XL (He/she may correct me if I am wrong), is not evolving computer code, but rather evolving life. It does seem that if one concedes that some computer code is essentially unevolvable, that it is possible that some DNA code is essentially unevolvable. So the possibility of unevolvable DNA code should be considered.

    Some parts of DNA code are not that brittle, If, in a membrane-spanning part of a protein, one substitutes isoleucine for valine, it might make no noticeable difference. On the other hand, if one substitutes arginine for lysine where one needs to make a Schiff base with an amino acid, the enzyme simply will not work. If that enzyme is required to make, say, tyrosine, then unless there are plentiful supplies of tyrosine outside the cell, the cell will die. Period. Just imagine computers trying to evolve software, where, if they make certain mistakes in code, the whole computer is destroyed. That’s brittle.

    Irreducibly complex systems do not have smooth, progressively rewarding pathways that slowly lead up to the final product. The classic example, although not the only one, is the bacterial flagellum. Most of the time defenders of naturalistic evolution simply assert that there can be such a smooth pathway if we go along a sufficiently circuitous route. They don’t really know this, except that from their point of view it happened, intelligence did not help, and so there must be such a pathway.

    The one exception to this handwaving is Nick Matzke. He tried to show how one could develop the flagellum in a step-by-step manner. It is really more leap-by-leap, as the evolutionary pathway for each individual protein is not outlined. And it has, for practical purposes, zero experimental evidence to back it up, thus making it simply a much more complicated just-so story at present. But at least Matzke recognizes the importance of actually trying to find a smooth pathway from one protein to another, in order to have the flagellum evolve without intelligence. (I’d love for someone to test some of Matzke’s proposals experimentally. I also find it fascinating that the link does not mention Behe. Talk about staying on message!)

    Right now it looks like those who claim that some biological DNA code is essentially unevolvable have more evidence on their side than their opponents. This means that, while it is fair to say that one never says never in science, if one is to follow the weight of evidence in this regard, one does not sit exactly halfway between the poles. One leans towards the side that has the most, and the most quality, evidence.

  90. Articulated legs are much more difficult from an engineering perspective than wheels. For that matter wings are much more difficult too.

    I think the lack of macroscopic wheel and axle is probably simply a matter of wheels not being very practical for locomotion without well maintained roads, especially when you’re competing with legs and wings.

  91. Paul Giem @ 89
    “Right now it looks like those who claim that some biological DNA code is essentially unevolvable have more evidence on their side than their opponents.”

    It’s a very interesting question with an even more interesting twist. DNA is subject to ‘evolution’ because we know that it is inherited, that mutations happen and that some form of selection happens (your probability of reproducing is a function of the environment, your physical morphology and your behaviour). It would seem that in one sense DNA is evolvable because it doesn’t appear to be brittle to inheritance and mutation, and natural fitness landscapes don’t appear to be too jagged. The question is whether this process can generate new species or phenotypic novelty.

  92. DaveScot @ 90

    The problem with wheels is not the complexity but how you grow them. In most complex living systems you have the transfer of fluids throughout the entity to supply nutrients and gasses in order to maintain the living cells. If you want a constantly rotating joint in an entity made of living cells then you either need each half to be capable of digesting and distributing food to its cells, or you need some method to pass these materials through the joint – along with whatever nervous and chemical signals are required. By contrast constrained articulated joints are quite simple if you can grow muscles across a pair of loosely coupled rigid elements. (Something I wish I could do in my lab!)

  93. GCUGreyArea

    Wheel and axle were perfected by cavemen for transporation purposes. Artificial articulated legs for transportation still aren’t quite perfected and weren’t even in the running (pun intended) more than a few decades ago.

    Point stands on which is the more difficult thing to engineer.

    You said nothing about the wheel being made of living cells in your original claim. Why is that now a requirement?

    Wheels could be easily made of cellulose, calcium, keratin, or God only knows how many other non-living materials which are incorporated into or extruded out of living things for various purposes.

  94. DaveScot @ 93

    It wasn’t a claim, just an observation. There is no reason why wheels need to be made of living tissue, although the ability to self repair and sense might be an advantage. The other problem with growing a wheel is how to actuate. The only actuator used in animal design is the muscle (outside of the cellular mechanism) which only works in one direction over a finite stroke so it can only generate rotary motion if you have several driving a crank (like a pushbike only pulling) To attach the muscles to the crank you need more rotating joints because the tendons on the crank need to be on bushes, and the crank needs to be supported. All in all when you break down the mechanism it becomes a surprisingly complex thing if you are thinking about it in terms of cellular self assembly, and a lot more complicated than a simple cart. That is not to say it is impossible though.

  95. GCUGreyArea

    Let’s see. In the face of my retorts you’ve modified your original (whatever you call it) from a macroscopic continually rotating joint to a drive wheel composed of living cells.

    Talk about a moving target!

    Do the words dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge ring any bells for you? :lol:

    Before we get to the point where you’re claiming that nature doesn’t have reciprocating internal combustion engines because they’re too difficult to make out of living cells I must insist that you address my objection for your original point that there are no macroscopic continuously rotating joints in nature.

    My objection, again, is that wheels are impractical compared to legs absent smooth roadways.

    Evolution by chance & necessity isn’t going to produce a wheel unless a wheel is a necessity. Show me it’s a necessity. An intelligent designer seems even less likely to produce unnecessary things. I would put to you the only reason airplanes have wheels and propellers is we aren’t yet smart enough to build articulating wings and legs like a bird. A lets not even bother talking about how difficult it would be to build an aircraft that repairs itself, replicates itself, and is built from and fueled by no more than raw sunflower seeds and water.

  96. DaveScot @ 95

    “Talk about a moving target!”

    I don’t understand. I’m speculating about methods of design and construction, not making claims about whether wheels can evolve or not.

    The point is that from my perspective as a human designer assembling things like wheels, crankshafts, combustion chambers etc is an easy way to make things. If I wanted to make a machine that could produce a copy of its self using only its self and raw material (i.e. no factory, machine shop, assembly line) then it MIGHT turn out that unlimited rotating assemblies are difficult to generate as compared to restricted motion joints.

    This is just a vague hypothesis. I’m not making claims that it is true but it it is an interesting one that might be testable – a route to falsification might be to demonstrate that wheels can easily be made via self assembly cellular systems or that they are simply less practical, as you suggested.

    If I understand you then your objection to the idea that there are no rotating joints in nature is that cavemen have built them. This would be an example, possibly the only example, of a known intelligence designing wheels. What I am interested in is if there are examples of these mechanical systems that are not designed by us, and why they don’t seem to crop up.

  97. GCUG

    You’ve still not answered my claim that continuously rotating macroscopic joints are simply unnecessary. If my claim is true then there is no further explanation required for why continuously rotating joints are not found in nature.

  98. DaveScot:

    Ok, if your hypothesis is that these joints are unnecessary then I can’t just answer it, that would be mere speculation. It needs to be empirically tested, if that is possible.

    I didn’t raise the issue or rotating joints to make specific claims about them, I wanted to explore the idea and its implications.

  99. GCUGreyArea

    Anything that wasn’t witnessed or duplicable is mere speculation. If we bound science by those requirements then the field of evolutionary biology would no longer be a science except in the cases where evolution can actually be observed or duplicated.

    I will accept your wish to avoid speculation but I will ask that you be consistent and not speculate about other things.

    And by the way, one way to grow a wheel is through scaffolding. The same way a broken bone is repaired. But that’s just speculation so we can’t talk about it any further. In fact we can’t even say there are no macroscopic wheels in nature because we are speculating that none exist that we simply haven’t observed. I’m afraid without speculation we’re going to be quite restricted in future dialog.

  100. GCUG (91),

    The question is whether this process can generate new species or phenotypic novelty.

    You give a good discussion of why some DNA is evolvable, then raise the last question, quoted above. I would refine the question somewhat. Most ID people I know, including most creationists (meaning YLC’s) would agree that species is not the proper place to draw the line. It is closer to the family level in most cases. And I would say, “major genotypic novelty” rather than “phenotypic novelty”, as legs in the place of antennae could qualify for phenotypic novelty, but is not what evolution needs to explain to be a comprehensive theory.

    But with those caveats, the key statement that I made, that you quoted, is,

    Right now it looks like those who claim that some biological DNA code is essentially unevolvable have more evidence on their side than their opponents.

    Would you agree with that statement?

  101. Paul Geim, DaveScot.

    I might try and respond to your posts in a few days. My wife had a baby girl earlier today by emergency c-section, neither of us have slept in 48 hours and they are both in hospital for the next few days. I hope you will accept that as a good excuse to duck out of these discussions for a while. I’m so tired I can hardly type…

  102. GCUG

    I wouldn’t even accept it as an excuse from your wife unless she was given general anesthesia and even then only for the time she was actually unconscious.

    Just to show you that I’m capable of magnanimous gestures I’ll make an exception here if you promise that when you look at all the babies in the maternity ward you keep in mind two things:

    1) life comes only from life
    2) intelligence comes only from intelligence

    Now be off with you.

  103. GCUG (101),

    Congratulations on your baby girl. And take your time answering. I prefer well-thought-out responses to rapid ones.

  104. This discussion is getting a little out of date and its probably time to move on to more current discussions but I promised a reply so here it is:

    DaveScot @ 99

    You missed my point entirely, all the way. I am perfectly happy to speculate on biological wheels but I was responding to your specific phrasing ‘my claims…’ (which I may have over-interpreted). I would normally interpret a claim as something that can be backed up by empirical data and so when you asked me to respond to your claim I couldn’t because I have no data on the subject, all I can do is speculate. If I had just speculated in response then you might have thought I was also making a claim.

    Anyway my point was that it seems to me that all we can do on the issue of why wheels don’t seem to appear in nature is to speculate, at least for the moment.

    I am always happy to speculate and enjoy it a great deal.

  105. Paul Giem @ 100

    “Right now it looks like those who claim that some biological DNA code is essentially unevolvable have more evidence on their side than their opponents.”

    I wouldn’t agree with that at all, but I’m not a biologist. I do work with some biologists and from the bits I glean from talking with them and the few presentations I see on the subject it appears that DNA is highly evolvable (almost as if it were designed for it)

  106. GCUG (105)

    I guess if you don’t feel comfortable defending the idea that all biological DNA code is reasonably evolvable (“I wouldn’t agree with that [that some DNA code is essentially unevolvable] at all, but I’m not a biologist.”), but do not wish to concede the point because of the opinions of some people you regard as authorities in this matter, perhaps it is best if we agree to disagree on this point.

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