25 Dec 2011
Isomorphic Algorithms and AI
In the film Tron:Legacy, ISOs or isomorphic algorithms are digitally-evolved independent forms of AI, artificial lifeforms that have somehow spontaneously evolved and emerged from the artificial environment of the virtual world. Nice technobabble, isn’t it? Technobabble is meaningless chatter about technology, technobabble is for example if in Star Trek someone says to the captain “try to re-modulate the shields with a tachyon beam; that might slow them down” or “what if we modified the main deflector to emit an inverse tachyon pulse. That might be able to scan beyond the subspace barrier”. Although this makes of course no sense, in the fictional Star Trek universe, actions like “modifying the main deflector to emit an inverse tachyon pulse” always work.
ISO images are known as disc images. An ISO image is an archive file of an optical disc, for instance a CD. Here ISO means something different, it is the abbreviation for “isomorphic algorithms”. Ismorphic in mathematics means having the same form and structure. Objects which may be represented differently but which have the same essential structure are often said to be “identical up to an isomorphism”. An isomorphism is a bijective 1-to-1 mapping between two mathematical structures. Two structures (for example graphs or groups) are said to be isomorphic if an isomorphism between both exists. So what are isomorphic algorithms? I have no idea, it is only technobabble which does not have to make sense. It would be interesting if there would be a connection between isomorphisms and new forms of AI, though.
Besides “isomorphic algorithms” (which contain the interesting idea that the mind is a kind of algorithm or program), there are a few appealing ideas in the film, mainly the DNA disc and the complex virtual world.
The mind is a program. Is the mind an algorithm or a program? An algorithm is an effective method for solving a problem expressed as a finite sequence of steps. A program is a sequence of instructions created for the automatic performance of a particular task, usually to perform a specified task with a computer. Now, the DNA is certainly an algorithm, it is a biological algorithm to build a biological body in a finite number of years, whereas the mind is more a program than an algorithm, a program mainly created to replicate the “selfish” genes of the biological body it controls. It could be viewed as the result of a complex interplay of various algorithms: the biological algorithm in form of DNA and various cultural algorithms which specify how to build persistent cultural objects. It contains the patterns for the local evolution of the computational processes in the brain in form of various cognitive rules and procedures. According to Abelson and Sussman, “a procedure is a pattern for the local evolution of a computational process”.
The DNA disc. How will new forms of AI look like? Will they have a new form of DNA? AIs with DNA, an interesting idea. In the film, each program or artificial character carries a disc with the digital DNA of the person. It contains the program or the “blueprint” of that person. In the real world, the DNA is a kind of biological boostrap algorithm to build a body out of biochemical molecules. A blueprint to build a biological body. Our minds have been formed by various kinds of cultural DNA: the social behavior we learn from society, the customs and language we learn from our parents and our family, the knowledge we learn in school, college and university, the skills we learn in companies and corporations at work, etc. Therefore a single DNA disc would not be enough to specify a human, unless it contains many different blueprints. Each of us is built and formed by the influence of multiple discs: a biological, a social, a cultural, etc. Such discs can be easily exchanged in the film. In the real world, there is an inseparable mapping between body and mind, it is impossible to separate them. Each mind is intrinsically tied to a biological body. In a virtual world, it would be much easier for an AI to separate body and mind or to exchange bodies, just as we are able to copy software from one computer to another.
The virtual world. Virtual worlds a places of infinite possibilities. In the film the “grid” is a complex lifelike world which resembles the “matrix”. A complex lifelike artificial 3D world is certainly a place were an AI could emerge, although probably not spontaneously. Supervision is needed for supervised learning, and one can hardly learn a (new) language without supervised learning. In the film, the isomorphic algorithms were create in the “sea of simulation”. If AIs emerge at all, then a virtual world or a “sea of simulation” would be a perfect place. To create a true AI, we would either have to build a robot in the real world, which is controlled by a large number of advanced datacenters, or an agent in a complex lifelike virtual world. Like the robot in the virtual world, a number of datacenter would be needed just to control the agent. You need two kinds of datacenters, one group that renders the virtual world (the “real”, physical world for the agent), and one that executes the program of the agent (the “mental” world). The difficulty is to make meaningful connection. Once an AI has been made in a virtual world, it should be able to transfer it to the physical world by using a physical body, i.e. a robot. And if we manage to create a robot with a real AI, or to control a robot with an AI, we are able to create an AI in a virtual world by controlling a autonomous agent instead.