Emergence of behavior through software
Lynn H. Maxson
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
"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
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
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.