The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Digital Evolution

A report of the Digital Evolution event is now up at my Genomics Forum page. Most of the piece is what I said (because I had notes beforehand) about how I came to use the idea of evolution of artificial life in The Star Fraction, back in the late 80s and early 90s - an answer to 'where do you get your ideas from'? In this case, William Poundstone and Richard Dawkins, the latter of whom I felt wasn't getting enough publicity. Read it there, comment here!

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Enjoyed your piece very much. It also leaves us with the possibility of recursive universes within universes - or simulations within simulations - each copy slightly different from the last. Has anyone written anything that injects evolutionary theory into the multiverse/parallel universe theory? They seem to fit very neatly within my (spinning) head.

Ken, and anyone else interested in this topic, might enjoy reading The Origin of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker.

Beinhocker's basic thesis is that wealth and innovation are emergent properties of a complex adaptive system OKA the global economy. The reason I bring it up is that the book indirectly highlights some of the problems with the "intelligence explosion" theory of how a technological singularity might happen, which is itself relevant to the topic of AI development.

The intelligence explosion idea is usually expressed as:

"Human creates AI, AI creates smarter AI, smarter AI invents cool tech, upgrades self, AI inherits the Earth."

The problem with this view of AI and the singularity is that intelligence is not the main driver of innovation. Intelligence is not the key requirement for innovation in design: the biological evolutionary system lacks intelligence and it has produced an extraordinary fecundity of design and invention.

Transhumanists often seem to imagine that simply creating a sufficiently powerful intelligence will solve our problems. We probably could evolve an intelligent being, as Ken describes in The Star Fraction just by creating billions of lines of bad code (a trillion script-kiddies at a trillion keyboards) and applying a de-stupidifying process to it. But in the meantime why not cut out the AI and go straight to innovation by evolution?

Oh wait! We already do that - free markets create a huge pool of possible companies and products and the really bad ones are filtered out. My conclusion: if the singularity means anything then it's already happening. We have an evolutionary process working outside of human minds and outside of biology that will lead to a very rapid spike in technical (and hence social) innovation that is already happening.

{Apologies for the singularity non-sequitur, straw-man ranting and general length of this comment: I've been trying to express the flaw in the "AIs will solve all our problems" strand of transhumanism all day :)}

Dalziel - if I'd had time or remembered I'd have mentioned where I first saw the simulation argument, in an article by Hans Moravec in Extropy. Moravec had the idea of simulations inside simulations back in the 80s, but I don't know if he was the first.

TJ - there's a GoH talk by Vernor Vinge online somewhere where he makes an interesting analogy between bacterial evolution and market competition.

(Mind you, the Black Plan was a metaphor for the planning that exists in capitalism, by analogy with the black market in socialism.)

Daniel F. Galouye's 1964 work Counterfeit World has a nested virtual reality.

Applied creativity, different abilities compete willingly and unwillingly, some selected, some neglected, carded and discarded by nature and design and something that surprises, novelty becomes familiar and is adopted, perhaps rejected.
What is successful is used often, the handiest tools, the ones that fit a purpose, what is kept are the extensions that reach out to touch the world, to interact and proceed.
To me it seems innateness is as well acquired as given.
Thanks Ken.

PML - that is cool.

Anyone remember an SF short story from the 60s or earlier, about a heroic rebel who thinks he's been exiled to a habitable planet where he's a pioneer, with a girlfriend and everything, whereas actually he's in an experience machine?

TJ, evolution has only produced one species with human-level intelligence, but it's produced many, many less intelligent species which kill humans. Do we really want to adopt this model for the singularity?

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