Life and How to Make it
KEYWORDS: persistent phenomena - matter, life, mind and society are simply different levels or aspects of the same thing - organised machines, unorganised machines (neural networks) and self-organising machines (life) - mind - mental processes - digital computer - serial, procedural, top-down computer: a tool to create new machines that are parallel, relational and bottom-up
..the view I want to convey in this book is largely an anti-reductionist, anti-matirialist and anti-mechnistic one. The argument I want to put forward is that....
...The natural world is composed of a hierarchy of "persistent phenomena", in which matter, life, mind and society are simply different levels or aspects of the same thing. I propose that this natural hierarchy can be mirrored by an equivalent one that exists inside a parallel universe called cyberspace. I want to sketch an outline for a common descriptive language which can be used at all levels of the hierarchy. In this language which shall find the basic operators of which life and mind are constructed. To create artificial life we have to understand the nature of this hierarchy, implement simulations of these basic operators using a computer (or other device) and build upon that foundation the higher levels of persistent phenomena that we seek. A computer cannot be intelligent, but did can create a parallel universe in which natural forms of intelligence can be replicated.
organised machines, unorganised machines and self-organising machines.
.... Alan Turing had three brilliant ideas about computation. These might be characterised as organised machines, unorganised machines and self-organising machines. My feeling is that the last two hold a great deal more promise than the first, but that first idea was so stupendously successful that it it eclipsed the others more or less completely for nearly half a century.
Turing's unorganised machines are what we nowadays call neural networks, while his self-organising machines explored one of the processes that may help to explain how a simple, undifferentiated egg cell grows into a complex adult organism.
...the problem is that the digital computer was modelled on the outward appearance of mental processes, rather than the structures that give rise to them. Even though we know our brains consist of vast numbers of neurones operating in parallel, we each appear to have only one mind.
This mind seems to operate in a stepwise way, thinking about to carrying out sequences of actions one at a time. We also get a sense that our conscious thoughts or at the top of a chain of command - we take the big decisions consciously, but then delegate the task of carrying them out to some lower, subconscious parts of our brains. The mind therefore gives us the impression that it is top-down (it employs a chain of command), serial (only one mind her brain, operating one step at the time) and procedural (works in terms of logical procedures to be followed, as in a recipe).
The digital computer is similarly a serial machine because it only carries out one operation at the time. It is procedural because the basic units of a programme are actions to be carried out (such as "add these two numbers and store the result here"). It is also top-down, since computer programmers tend to design their programmes as control hierarchies.
The computer was designed as a model of how the mind seems to work, and the operation of a computer program was assumed to be very similar to thinking.
.... it is really only philosophers and mathematical logicians who would believe that thinking amounts to the formal manipulation of symbols according to set rules. Most of the time the rest of us don't think in need syllogisms or conduct formal arguments in our heads. More often than not the answer is just occurred to us in some mysterious way, and we use logic only in retrospect as a means of justifying our conclusions to others all to ourselves.
So the digital computer was in many ways the wrong tool, applied to the wrong job. Ironically, though, this most organised of machines is such a powerful concept that it can actually get round its own limitations, but only if one thinks about it in the right way. This book is very much about how to turn the prim, tightly organised digital computer into a disorganised, self organising machine. We shall use the serial, procedural, top-down computer as a tool to create new machines that are parallel, relational and bottom-up.
A system will not be intelligent unless it is also alive.
Intelligence is a property of populations.
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