Emergence of behavior through software

Lynn H. Maxson lmaxson@pacbell.net
Wed, 04 Oct 2000 20:14:01 -0700 (PDT)

Alan Widge raises a number of issues that need addressing to his 
satisfaction.  I will attempt to do so here.  I am struck by the 
fascination of some about the "power" of software and that it 
differs in some manner from the "power" of any other human-created 
tool.  While I putter about with my wood butchering and others may 
become true wood craftsmen (and the difference in terms of results 
is significant) it does not change in writing software (where 
again the difference in terms of results is significant): the 
quality of the product, the end result, occurs through the efforts 
of its author(s).  The author(s) have no means of transferring 
that creative property in them to make it intrinsic to their 
creation, i.e. that their creation can replicate the processes 
that occur within their author(s).

To begin if only slightly(?) out of order.

"Ah, the embodiment hypothesis. I agree that a brain is obviously 
useless without I/O, but I don't think that has to be a body as we 
know it. If we understand a brain well enough to make one, we also 
understand sensory coding enough to let it see through cameras, 
hear through microphones, and so on. We can transduce the 
directory listing of the hard drive on which it resides directly 
to its optical inputs and go from there."

I refer you again to Antonio R. Demasio's book "Descartes' Error: 
Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain".  I think you need to spend 
some time "listening" to those who engage actively with the brain, 
how it works (in so far as we know), and when it doesn't: its 
disorders.  The point here lies in how little we actually know of 
the brain and as a result even less our understanding of it.

As in any other area of scientific interest we do make progress, 
however slowly.  As a result I cannot guarantee that we cannot 
make a brain.  In fact as a father of four and now a grandfather 
of nine I can describe to you very well the process necessary for 
constructing a human system in which the brain participates.<g>

So where do we begin?  At the beginning?  With no need to invoke 
God what was before the beginning?  Even the big bang theory had 
something before the explosion.  You get the feeling that there 
was (and is) no beginning, that it always was, is, and will 
remain.  This is further reinforced because time, this thing we 
measure in intervals is entirely an invention of our own to 
satisfy our own needs.  The universe, reality, what's out there 
has no need for it.

Now the real question, which we cannot answer and only speculate, 
lies in when, if ever, did the first organism, the first 
single-cell appear.  Nothing logical, physical, or otherwise says 
that it isn't as timeless as the universe itself.  We have used 
very accurate instruments to measure the weight, for example, of 
an organism, attempting to see if in death some deviation occurs.  
So far, no.  That leads us to believe that it is in the 
embodiment, the construction, of a living organism passing life 
onto another, whatever its cause, that separates it from 

So organisms die, return only to their physio-chemical state in 
death.  Yet no organism begins from this state.  It takes an 
organism to begat an organism.  Now why we have yet to discover.  
In discovering it part of that discovery may find it impossible to 
begat in any other manner, that we cannot assemble it from 
non-organism components.

"However, given that we don't know what causes volition, why do 
you believe that it is guaranteed not to be generateable 

Well, it's a lot like time, another one of our inventions along 
with others like "mind", "will", "spirit", "purpose" and Lord 
knows a multitude of others.  What we know of the universe is that 
it is a continuous process, overall in motion from the very 
smallest quanta to the entire universe.  It has no breaks, no 
separations.  It has no separate actors performing a separate 
action.  No subject.  No verb.  Just a complete universe.

In that universe lightning doesn't flash, because the lightning, 
the flashing, the process just before it, and the process just 
after it is a continuum.  No separation.  Our language, my 
language, your language, our means of creating verbal maps of the 
universe does not accurately do its job.  Moreover it is a map and 
the map is not the territory.  

Just because you can express something in the map does not mean 
that you can do so with the territory.  The point is that you draw 
your maps from the territory.  That allows you to gather fact.  
When you attempt to impose your map on the territory that's when 
you engage in fiction.

What is the difference between an algorithm and a recipe?  In 
terms of function, none.  You have this drive to want to construct 
a brain as you would an erector set except using computer 
components.  Now your computer uses silicon-based circuity.  The 
silicon wafers are cut from a silicon crystal "grown" under 
laboratory conditions to restrict the introduction of 

So far no one has even suggested creating silicon crystals using 
software and computer hardware.  Why not.  Here you have a pure 
non-organism of only one component type.  Why is it that you have 
to grow them.  Why can we not just crowd them together?  The 
answer that you seem to sneer at is "embodiment", the means of 
construction.  The means that occurs in nature we basically follow 
in the laboratory.

When we create computer logic we do so with three basic logic 
components: the "and", "or", and "not" circuits.  The logic 
components have two-state (on/off) inputs (legs), an internal 
process (which does the anding or oring) and a two-state result.  
A pure IPO model.  For the "not" we use an inverter, converting a 
result on to off or off to on.  I am fortunate in that I began in 
the tube era when such logic was visible (and in my first job, 
reparable).  That basic process remains today.  Ask Jecel who 
designs systems.  It's a 100% pure logic system.

Now there is none of that in a neuron.  No logic.  No ands.  No 
ors. No nots.  What you have is a connection, an interconnection, 
unlike any in any computer.  I would refer you to Ashby's 
homeostat described in his "Design for a Brain".  No logic 
necessary.  No programming necessary.  Just a set of 
interconnecting physio-chemical-electrical components.  It 
exhibits "adaptive" or "goal-seeking" behavior.

Let me carry this a step further.  Take a programmed automatic 
pilot.  How you connect it into the plane makes a difference 
because the connection must correspond to the internal logic.  
It's a feedback system.  On the other hand constructing a 
non-programmed, but adaptive homeostatic unit means only that you 
have to connect it.  Completely random.  Not this to that nor that 
to this.

Now the difference is that a properly connected programmed unit 
when you flip the switch will maintain current altitude and speed.  
The homeostatic one may give you a wild ride as it adapts to the 
changes and their distance from its goals.  In fact you may very 
well crash while it is in the process of learning.

The truth is that you can fake it out, have it in a simulated run 
while on the ground, never putting it into an actual plane until 
it has "learned", until it has become "stable".  Now which one, 
which process, would you as an airline company use?

Organisms use homeostasis to maintain a very intricate balance in 
order to continue to "live".  Failure to do so results in "death".  
Having recently lost a business associate and more recently a 
sister to liver failure, I have had the importance of this balance 
brought home to me.  When you write of faking out the brain by 
somehow switching it instantaneously or gradually from its natural 
system into an artificial one you are engaged in science fiction.  
You do not appreciate how intricate a system the human organism 
is.  Having experienced a stroke, albeit a minor one, for just 
denying blood flow for an instant to the brain, and for a period 
not having your legs "obey" your orders, this is not a 
plug-and-play system.

So the brain in combination with the nervous system has no 
logic-based circuits.  The eye is not a camera nor the camera an 
eye.  The connection is not a cable.  This is a completely 
non-logic-circuit-based system that you propose replicating with a 
completely logic-circuit-based one.  It is one thing to have a 
logic in the construction which somehow forms, integrates, and 
differentiates functions within the human organism.  It is another 
to replicate a logic we do not understand using pure logic 
circuitry.  The brain is not a computer nor the computer a brain.

Moreover the human organism is "hard-coded".  That means there is 
no separation from what is doing from what is telling it to do.  
Both occur as part of the same process.  Now you want to take 
hardware which is entirely differently constructed and add 
software to it which is entirely differently constructed to create 
a whole which is entirely differently constructed in an attempt to 
replicate an isolated brain which does not exist.

"There are fairly rigidly defined systems of connection in and 
between all its subparts."

You see there are connections and what they connect.  You can't 
replicate the connections or what they connect with a von Neumann 
machine operating under Turing rules.  The brain is not a von 
Neumann machine nor does it follow Turing rules for computability.  
You would talk then about replicating the function of one with the 

"But an amoeba cannot choose to violate the rules of its own 
internal workings anymore than I may grow wings or a program may 
start executing invalid opcodes."

To you rules are logic-based only.  We have no reason to believe 
(or disbelieve) that the internal-working rules for the amoeba are 
based "strictly" in logic.  That systems of logic can arise from 
organisms not so derived (from non-logic-based) suggests that we 
have examples of fact for the one direction and only speculation 
for the other (also conditioned by the same system<g>).

"Why is procreation so key, if the artificial brain functions just 
like the real one?"

That's a big "if", you see.  To function like the real one means 
embodying it within an organism that functions like the human 
organism.  That's how the brain functions.  It does not function 
in isolation nor does it operate on simply a subset of its 

"However, we do start with an organism: the human programmer. I 
argue that whatever magical things are passed through sexual (or 
asexual) reproduction may also be passed through programming. 
After all, both are just an exchange of information."

"Hello, Miss, I'm a programmer.  Would you like to experience some 
magical transformations."  If you succeed in this approach, put 
aside any thoughts of software and enjoy the magic.  The answer 
here is strictly, no.  There is no transference, no organism-based 
seed, in programming.  If there were, programs would develop on 
their own without need for further assistance.

"You were arguing, though, that software couldn't be an organism 
because it's dependent on its hardware. I'm saying that there 
could be a software organism, with the hardware playing the same 
role that the planet does for us."

Nope.  There cannot be a software organism.

"I chose a few hundred because I wanted to make the probability 
come out right. Do you concede the point, then, that a program may 
be generated through random opcode-picking?"

I'll concede the point as it is theoretically true on the basis of 
probability theory (another human invention not present in the 
universe).  However, take a look at the probabilities for a simple 
program like "hello, world".  You get one right and umpteen 
zillion wrong.  Whereas if you eliminate the random opcode picking 
and use logic, it comes more in balance.  I'll leave it to your 
employer which he prefers you use.

A Turing machine has no intrisic purpose, will, emotion, feeling, 
imagination, concept building, sense of the universe, or any of 
the other things which differentiate it from organisms in general 
and humans in particular.  You are stuck with achieving your goals 
through logic while an organism has no such limits and is never 
separate from its environment.  You have an imaginary world which 
does not accurately portray the real one.

Once our real world accuracy reaches a certain threshold of 
knowledge and corresponding understanding chances are that we will 
stick to procreation for humans and their integrated brains, using 
non-organism-based means of providing tools for their use.  I 
suggest that Billy has the correct approach in terms of 
constructing software to support and extend human capabilities, 
something within our current ability.