The Early Days of a Better Nation

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Things I should have known

The other night I finished reading Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. Excellent stuff. My knowledge of vertebrate zoology and palaeontology turns out to be exactly thirty years out of date. The clade that becomes mammals is older than the Reptilia? There were primates in the Cretaceous? New World monkeys got there across the South Atlantic?

OK, I left just before the revolution (lots of new fossils; cladism). But one thing I should have known just from basic biology, as well as from common experience, was that when Hans Moravec wrote in Mind Children (actually later, in Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, 1998), that computer-controlled robots were already at the level of 'insect-grade behaviour' he was talking bollocks.


Yeah, but you'd still be scared if you woke up to find one of these robotic flies buzzing around you!

You may want to have a look at this if you haven't already.

I've just had a quarter of studies in the history of attempts to apply computers to building design. Talk about failed dreams! It is enough to make one doubt Church-Turing. (Which I did anyway, but the history of failures in design computing is sobering.)

clade that becomes mammals is older than the Reptilia

I take it then, that when we talk about the "mammal-like reptiles" like Dimetrodon, we are being colloquial, and they are not in Reptilia at that point? Should we be calling them "reptile-like mammals" instead?

Del, the answer to your first question is yes. The second, I don't think so: 'mammal-like reptiles' is colloquially OK but is no longer used scientifically.

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