Last Modified:                                                                                                

Homepage / Food For Thought / Notions & guesses

When I was a student I had the benefit of some outstanding teachers. Many of them were seasoned engineers and physicists from industry who taught me much more than principles and theory, they imparted intuition and insight. Among the many guiding principles I gained from this seminal period were these important and vital words.

"In mathematics and science it is acceptable to have no answer. However, in engineering this is never admissible. You must always get an answer, even if it is the wrong one! Engineers have to start somewhere, and no answer means you cannot even start. If you can get started you will rapidly iterate toward an acceptable solution. So always get an answer".

Another of my teachers was a physicist turned mathematician who laboured with me as I struggled with the concepts of partial differential equations and variational calculus. Over one difficult and protracted problem, he suddenly looked me in the eye and said:

"When tackling any problem it is always worth stopping to think what the answer might be".

In both cases these were timely and prophetic words - and today they are even more so. We are now squaring up to a highly complex and non-linear world, and face a future largely dominated by problems we cannot solve by any linear, well behaved, or even known means. So it is essential that we develop new insight through direct experience. So my purpose here is to progressively reveal and log all my notions, guesses, and Straw Man solutions and propositions.

Finding solutions for the future means starting somewhere, so here goes......

Life & Intelligence
There are no satisfactory definitions for life or artificial life, intelligence or artificial intelligence. Indeed, it may prove impossible to produce complete and all embracing definitions. This is because we do not understand these domains with sufficient precision, and more significantly, because evolution never stops, and our understanding may never catch up or keep pace. So here are two partial listings of the essential defining properties that may turn out to be neither inclusive or exclusive:

Birth - death process
Creation - destruction
Energy Conversion
Entropy Growth
Changes environments

Decision Making
Subsumption of information
Contemplation - waiting to react
A degree of - Autonomy
A degree of - Predictability
A degree of - Unpredictability
More input than output

Further Thoughts
We have only recently discovered that self-organisation and chaos are vital ingredients for carbon-based life. All known living things exist on the edge of a strange attractor, in a risky, non-linear and uncertain world where mutation, reproduction and competition are the keys to success. So far, we haven't applied these principles to engineered systems such as robots, networks, computers and software, which are largely hierarchical, non-competitive entities that never mutate or reproduce. Yet we now have the ability to engineer the powerful advantages possessed by carbon-based life into silicon based devices. But we should also remember that carbon life is the only life we know about. The key question is: will we be smart enough to spot artificial life and intelligence when it spontaneously erupts?

Looking at the wider picture, we appear to be the smartest life form on planet earth, and we share this carbon space with an estimated 30 - 70 Million non human species. To this extent we hold an ultimate responsibility for this eco-system because we are an influential and integral part of it. We have, in part, dominion over all the life forms as our decisions can now enhance or degrade their chances of survival. When silicon life emerges we will have a new found responsibility and must exercise a guiding hand in the development of new entities and species. Asimov wrote the Rules of Robotics, which humanity have chosen to ignore at their peril. We now need a similar rule set for silicon life - it may not be as benign as our robots.