February 14, 2003


Can Sentient Machines Evolve (Space Daily, Feb 12, 2003)
In the 1960s, Holland created the field of genetic algorithms, a process in which computers solve problems by mimicking biological evolution. By adapting concepts of natural selection and sexual reproduction to computer programming, Holland showed that computers could "evolve" their programming to solve complex problems in ways that even their creators did not fully understand. [...]

But evolving solutions for well-defined optimization problems is distinctly different than synthesizing something as opened-ended as consciousness or freewill.

According to Holland, the problem with developing artificial intelligence through things like genetic algorithms is that researchers don't yet understand how to define what computer programs should be evolving toward.

Human beings did not evolve to be intelligent--they evolved to survive. Intelligence was just one of many traits that human beings exploited to increase their odds of survival, and the test for survival was absolute.

Defining an equivalent test of fitness for targeting intelligence as an evolutionary goal for machines, however, has been elusive. Thus, it is difficult to draw comparisons between how human intelligence developed and how artificial intelligence could evolve.

"We don't understand enough about how our own human software works to come even close to replicating it on a computer," says Holland.

Note the rather inappropriate certitude with which we assume that our eventual ability to "evolve" sentience and freewill in another "species", which will require that we know what we're aiming towards, is completely different than how our sentience and free will evolved. Thus does the religious faith in Darwinism and materialism blind us to any alternatives. Posted by Orrin Judd at February 14, 2003 10:41 AM

At least the article points out the differences between the teleological Genetic Algorithm (and a related but distinct idea, Genetic Programming) and the idea of natural selection. I have had difficulty persuading even intelligent people to see the crucial difference. There are of course many other differences as well.

I have been reading Gertrude Himmelfarb's Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution
published in 1959. It is instructive to see her criticisms of the theory are the same as those offered today, and that little has changed in 45 years!

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at February 14, 2003 1:39 PM

She did not understand Darwinism. It was arrogant of her to have written that book without qualifying first.

That's something else that hasn't changed in 45 (and more) years.

Orrin, if you are suggesting that an earlier engineer was responsible for intelligence and freewill, he was a lousy one. An odd view to take.

Posted by: Harry at February 14, 2003 1:58 PM

Cool. Smart robots just like Transformers.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at February 14, 2003 2:07 PM

Well, I'd characterize the problem differently, but still as interesting.

The trouble with these 'genetic algorythms' is that they're 'organisms' living entirely in an unreal, simulated environment and adapting to it.

However, these fake worlds don't have the depth and richness the real world has, and the development of the organisms is similarly shallow and superficial.

I suspect robots 'evolving' new behaviour patterns and reflexes would do better, but that could well take a while.

It's like the old joke on how to bake bread from scratch: "First, create the earth..."

Posted by: mike earl at February 14, 2003 2:20 PM

Harry -

Sure she did.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at February 14, 2003 3:14 PM


But the point is we're not God (at least not yet) and are therefore incapable of achieving that richness and savor. We're the monkeys in 2001, just getting intimations of what's to come.

Posted by: oj at February 14, 2003 3:34 PM


Why was He a bad one? Maybe this is precisely what He was trying to do.

Posted by: oj at February 14, 2003 3:35 PM

Could be. That's what Milton thought.

But if so, why worship him?

I can understand staying out of his way, sacrificing the occasional virgin etc., but loving a god like that is a bit much.

Posted by: Harry at February 14, 2003 5:49 PM

Bruce, I am just an amateur, but professional darwinists have said Himmelfarb's book was laughable.

Sorry, no citations available.

Posted by: Harry at February 14, 2003 5:51 PM


That's one of the reasons I find atheism repellant--too little awe at how glorious life is.

Posted by: oj at February 14, 2003 8:05 PM


The Darwinists said a book that criticized them was laughable, so it is?

You really have drunk the Kool-Aid...

Posted by: oj at February 14, 2003 8:07 PM

Mr. Judd--

Lack of awe and too much pessimism.

Posted by: Buttercup at February 14, 2003 10:11 PM


They're poaching on our territory--conservatives are supposed to be the dour ones. :)

Posted by: oj at February 15, 2003 8:13 AM

I am an atheist. I can tell you from first hand experience that atheism and awe at how glorious life is can quite readily go hand in hand.


Jeff Guinn

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 15, 2003 1:59 PM

I feel more awe at, for example, the parasite that eats the caterpillar without killing it (one of Darwin's prime examples) than I do at the vague frissons that pass for spirituality. I'll put my sense of awe up against anybody's.

So, Bruce, if somebody wrote a laughable book about, say, the divinity of Jesus, would you disqualify Orrin from so labeling it?

Posted by: Harry at February 15, 2003 5:24 PM


If Christians were the only ones who said the book was ridiculous you'd at least have some doubts wouldn't you? Do any non-Darwinists think Ms Himmelfarb was silly?

Posted by: oj at February 15, 2003 5:54 PM