21 Sep 2008
Can we make software that comes to life?
The Telegraph has an article named Can we make software that comes to life? Can we? Yes, why not. It should be possible. And if we really make software that comes to life, then evolution will enter a new phase indeed. Basically there are two ways: either we build a robot like WALL-E, the hero in Pixar’s new masterwork i.e. a robot that moves around in the real word, or an agent that moves around in a virtual world. Since evolution is the basic principle behind all forms of life, it is probably also the way to ALife, esp. if we think of the complexity typical for all life-forms.
Yet ALife scientists and resarchers working on artificial evolutionary systems have been unable to produce complex ALife. Something seems to be missing in our understanding of how evolution produced complex creatures. Is the vital essence that is missing just a complexity threshold or some unkown principle? Rodney Brooks says in his book flesh and machines that something essential in AI and ALife is still missing. He calls it “the Juice”, and argues that it is some important principle, equation or theory which we simply have not discovered yet.
It is true that the results of AI, ALife and artificial evolutionary systems are disappointing. So what’s missing? How can we go beyond AI as we know it? If there is a theory missing, it is maybe something along the lines of Wolfram’s “New Kind of Science”.. Maybe. The problem is that we just don’t think in fractal patterns or in strange attractors. It’s just ordinary language. Probably the basic principles are already understood and the fundamental metaphors have been found: society as mind, genes as selfish individuals,..
Humans have tried to understand how the mind works for thousands of years. Sometimes the first idea is the best. And the first idea was the belief in gods and the soul. Both occurred together: when the first humans with self-consciousness appeared, the first cultures and religions emerged, too. The belief in “god” as the spirit of the group, and in the “soul” as the spirit of the self occurred at the same time. I belief in myself, therefore I am.
The proverb “to err is human” captures a deep truth: the ultimate error is the belief in the own existence. Only a machine which cannot explain or understood itself can understand itself in terms of a single self – by developing a sense of self-consciousness. A machine which could understood itself would hardly develop a sense of self in the first place.
But many animals don’t even understand the environment, although they are able to survive in it very well. All animals except humans do not reach our levels of intelligence, even if we try to teach them they are not able to learn language. They are below some cognitive complexity threshold. Cats reach their full size in a half year, even big bears in 2-3 years. Humans take 20 years to grow up, and they learn all these years every day new things. Have we build a machine or an agent which is able to learn 20 years? I think it is’s complexity threshold: to build an adaptive agent which is able to match the vast complexity of a whole world in a tiny space.
Similar to the quest of quantum gravity, it is the attempt to match the very large and the very small, the infinite and the infinitesimal: It means to put a world in a grain of sand – if a brain is like a grain of sand. Again this has been said before by William Blake..