Thursday, June 28, 2012

#Darwin and #Turing's perfect and beautiful machine

The Atlantic has recently published an essay by the philosopher Daniel Dennett titled "A Perfect and Beautiful Machine: What Darwin's Theory of Evolution Reveals About Artificial Intelligence"  If you read nothing else today read this, it's quite brilliant. In this essay Dennett shows that Darwin's theory of evolution and Turing's universal machine and even artificial intelligence are founded on the same world view. Namely, that evolution has no comprehension of what it is doing just as a computer has no comprehension. However, despite this absence of understanding evolution and computers are both highly competent - they achieve results.
    I'm paraphrasing, so let's use Dennett's own words, he calls this "a strange inversion of reasoning. To this day many people cannot get their heads around the unsettling idea that a purposeless, mindless process can crank away through the eons, generating ever more subtle, efficient, and complex organisms without having the slightest whiff of understanding of what it is doing. Turing's idea was a similar -- in fact remarkably similar -- strange inversion of reasoning. The Pre-Turing world was one in which computers were people, who had to understand mathematics in order to do their jobs. Turing realized that this was just not necessary: you could take the tasks they performed and squeeze out the last tiny smidgens of understanding, leaving nothing but brute, mechanical actions. In order to be a perfect and beautiful computing machine, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is."
   The essay goes on to consider what impact this "strange inversion of reasoning" has for artificial intelligence. I highly recommend it to you. The essay is from an edited book to be published shortly called Alan Turing: his work and impact, edited by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leeuwen.