Re: Nanotechnology

Damien Broderick (
Mon, 14 Oct 1996 13:07:08 +1000

At 09:02 PM 10/11/96 -0700, John Clark wrote stax of excellently detailed
stuff, and then commented on my following remark:

> >Despise bio-evolution if you will, there's something to be
> >said for letting Vast numbers (Dennett-speak) of variants do
> >the walking through design space...

>Yes, it has its uses, and until stone tools came on the scene it was the only
>way complex objects could get made.

I'm basing my belief in the superior virtues of stochastic emergent order on
such tales as the following, again from Kelly's OUT OF CONTROL, about the
early days when Tom Ray switched on his Tierra sim and boggled at what he
found coming out of its soup:

`I started with a creature 80 bytes large... because that's the best I could
come up with... I let the program run overnight and the next morning there
was a creature - not a parasite, but a fully self-replicating creature -
that was only 22 bytes! I was completely baffled how a creature could
manage to self-replicate in only 22 instructions without stealing
instructions from others... To share this novelty, I distributed its basic
algorithm onto the Net. A computer science student at MIT saw my
explanation, but somehow didn't get [i.e., receive] the code of the 22
creature. He tried to recreate it by hand, but the best he could do was to
get it to 31 instructions. He was quite distressed when he found out that I
came up with 22 instructions in my sleep!' (p. 287)

It might be countered that Tom Ray, by his own admission, has only just
taught himself programing out of a book, and that ace coders might beat both
man and `beast'. I think my point remains, however. A swarm of evolving
competitors on a rugged simulation landscape might get to anywhere you like
faster than a carefully thought-out exploration. One reason for this, if
Bill Calvin is correct, is that our own brains work (sluggishly) by a quite
similar process of darwin `mechanisms' in contest, so a tasty broth of
alphabet soup run in a supercomputer (a souper-computer?) might always beat
a human programmer. I'm not sure if AI chess failures disconfirm this, but
then they're run on strict algorithms and lots of look-up tables, neh? (Has
anyone tried to beat a chess master using a Ray-style chess simulation? But
maybe the Rooks would run off with the Queen and breed teleporting pawns...)

Best, Damien

Dr Damien Broderick / Associate, Dept. English and Cultural Studies
University of Melbourne, Parkville 3052, AUSTRALIA