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OpEd article on evolutionary computation and intelligent design

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  • Lee Spector
    GPers, I thought that some of you might be interested in the following OpEd article of mine, which was published in today s Boston Globe. I apologize for the
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 29, 2005
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      GPers,

      I thought that some of you might be interested in the following OpEd
      article of mine, which was published in today's Boston Globe. I
      apologize for the lack of scientific detail and nuance here, but I
      blame some of it on the editing process for these things, which cut a
      lot (including some cuts that I didn't see until it was published).
      The earlier version said some more explicitly GPish things, gave a
      little more of the field's history, etc. But the published piece does
      make the core points that I wanted to make, including the point that
      evolutionary computation is a grand thing.

      -Lee


      -----

      http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/
      2005/08/29/and_now_digital_evolution/


      And now, digital evolution
      By Lee Spector | August 29, 2005

      RECENT developments in computer science provide new perspective on
      ''intelligent design," the view that life's complexity could only
      have arisen through the hand of an intelligent designer. These
      developments show that complex and useful designs can indeed emerge
      from random Darwinian processes.

      Most scientists agree that the argument for intelligent design, which
      is over 200 years old, was put to rest by Darwin in 1859 and by the
      subsequent triumphs of 20th century biology. Nonetheless, President
      Bush recently advocated teaching intelligent design in schools along
      with evolutionary theory. School boards around the country, most
      notably in Kansas, are staking out similar positions. What can
      account for the persistence of this long-discredited idea?

      Scientific illiteracy is certainly part of the explanation, but other
      factors are also at play. Prominent among them is the fact that
      discussions about evolution are usually discussions about the origins
      of the discussants themselves. We tend to hold our own species in
      high regard and to look down on random and mechanical processes. Our
      appreciation for the magnificence of humanity, and of all life, is
      well grounded but it may also blind us in ways that we are not
      blinded when studying rocks or electricity.

      Thanks to technology, however, we can now explore evolution without
      discussing ourselves and without even discussing life. We can do this
      by building evolutionary processes into computer programs. When we do
      this we do not find that our appreciation for the magnificence of
      life is in any way diminished. Rather, we find that our appreciation
      for the power of evolution is amplified.

      A growing sub-field of computer science is devoted to ''evolutionary
      computation." The user of such a system specifies the ingredients
      that can be used and how the ''goodness" of any particular design can
      be measured. The system then creates and tests thousands or millions
      of random combinations of the ingredients. The better combinations
      are allowed to produce ''children" by mutation (random changes) and
      recombination (random part-swapping). This often produces, after many
      generations, genuinely novel and useful designs and inventions.

      Evolutionary computation has proven to be useful for solving
      practical problems. It has been adopted by researchers and engineers,
      and it is the focus of scholarly journals and international conferences.

      One of the major conferences offers cash prizes for ''human-
      competitive" results; that is, for cases in which evolution has out-
      designed human beings. To win the prize contestants must show that
      their systems equaled or improved upon the performance of humans as
      measured by such criteria as patents and peer-reviewed publications.
      In 2004 I shared the ''gold medal" with a team from NASA that evolved
      an antenna for the Space Technology 5 mission.

      My entry involved the evolution of quantum computing circuits, which
      are difficult for humans to understand or design. More to the point,
      they are extremely difficult for ME to understand or design, and I
      could never have produced the results on my own. I am not a designer
      equal to that task, but evolution is. I created the ''primordial
      ooze" out of which quantum circuits could grow, and I wrote the
      programs for random variation and selection. But evolution did the
      heavy lifting.

      Of course biological evolution and evolutionary computation differ.
      Engineers using evolutionary computation specify explicit measures of
      ''goodness" that govern selection, while biological selection is
      governed only by survival and the ability to reproduce. In addition,
      biologists now understand that processes other than natural
      selection, for example symbiosis and influences during development,
      also contribute to evolution. But evolutionary computation and
      biological evolution are both fundamentally driven by random
      variation and selection, and the successes of one hint at the power
      of the other.

      It is easy to appreciate the power of selection operating on random
      variation when it is stripped of its emotion-laden connections to
      human origins and is shown to be capable of designing complex
      solutions to difficult problems. If one extrapolates this power to a
      system the size of the Earth, then it may not be such a stretch to
      imagine that evolution could produce the stunning complexity and
      beauty of our biosphere. Viewed in this light, Darwinian evolution is
      itself a designer worthy of significant respect, if not religious
      devotion.


      Lee Spector, professor of computer science at Hampshire College, is
      the author of ''Automatic Quantum Computer Programming: A Genetic
      Programming Approach."

      --
      Lee Spector, Professor of Computer Science
      School of Cognitive Science, Hampshire College
      893 West Street, Amherst, MA 01002-3359
      lspector@..., http://hampshire.edu/lspector/
      Phone: 413-559-5352, Fax: 413-559-5438
    • Varun Aggarwal
      Just a Philosophical THOUGHT Unfathomable is the intellect of the being who created life and humans .... at the same time doing it an a way that his
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 29, 2005
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        Just a Philosophical THOUGHT
        Unfathomable is the intellect of the being who created 'life' and
        'humans'.... at the same time doing it an a way that his creation is bluffed
        into deducing that Evolution has done it all.

        [That is what we call closing the path of reverse engineering OR even worse
        confusing the hacker -- An engineer's perspective]
        ((( SORRY TO PUT ON THE GP LIST, COULDNT KEEP MYSELF BACK ON READING
        SOMETHING ON 'INTELLIGENT DESIGN' )))

        --Varun
        Aug 2005

        On 8/29/05, Lee Spector <lspector@...> wrote:
        >
        >
        > GPers,
        >
        > I thought that some of you might be interested in the following OpEd
        > article of mine, which was published in today's Boston Globe. I
        > apologize for the lack of scientific detail and nuance here, but I
        > blame some of it on the editing process for these things, which cut a
        > lot (including some cuts that I didn't see until it was published).
        > The earlier version said some more explicitly GPish things, gave a
        > little more of the field's history, etc. But the published piece does
        > make the core points that I wanted to make, including the point that
        > evolutionary computation is a grand thing.
        >
        > -Lee
        >
        >
        > -----
        >
        > http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/
        > 2005/08/29/and_now_digital_evolution/
        >
        >
        > And now, digital evolution
        > By Lee Spector | August 29, 2005
        >
        > RECENT developments in computer science provide new perspective on
        > ''intelligent design," the view that life's complexity could only
        > have arisen through the hand of an intelligent designer. These
        > developments show that complex and useful designs can indeed emerge
        > from random Darwinian processes.
        >
        > Most scientists agree that the argument for intelligent design, which
        > is over 200 years old, was put to rest by Darwin in 1859 and by the
        > subsequent triumphs of 20th century biology. Nonetheless, President
        > Bush recently advocated teaching intelligent design in schools along
        > with evolutionary theory. School boards around the country, most
        > notably in Kansas, are staking out similar positions. What can
        > account for the persistence of this long-discredited idea?
        >
        > Scientific illiteracy is certainly part of the explanation, but other
        > factors are also at play. Prominent among them is the fact that
        > discussions about evolution are usually discussions about the origins
        > of the discussants themselves. We tend to hold our own species in
        > high regard and to look down on random and mechanical processes. Our
        > appreciation for the magnificence of humanity, and of all life, is
        > well grounded but it may also blind us in ways that we are not
        > blinded when studying rocks or electricity.
        >
        > Thanks to technology, however, we can now explore evolution without
        > discussing ourselves and without even discussing life. We can do this
        > by building evolutionary processes into computer programs. When we do
        > this we do not find that our appreciation for the magnificence of
        > life is in any way diminished. Rather, we find that our appreciation
        > for the power of evolution is amplified.
        >
        > A growing sub-field of computer science is devoted to ''evolutionary
        > computation." The user of such a system specifies the ingredients
        > that can be used and how the ''goodness" of any particular design can
        > be measured. The system then creates and tests thousands or millions
        > of random combinations of the ingredients. The better combinations
        > are allowed to produce ''children" by mutation (random changes) and
        > recombination (random part-swapping). This often produces, after many
        > generations, genuinely novel and useful designs and inventions.
        >
        > Evolutionary computation has proven to be useful for solving
        > practical problems. It has been adopted by researchers and engineers,
        > and it is the focus of scholarly journals and international conferences.
        >
        > One of the major conferences offers cash prizes for ''human-
        > competitive" results; that is, for cases in which evolution has out-
        > designed human beings. To win the prize contestants must show that
        > their systems equaled or improved upon the performance of humans as
        > measured by such criteria as patents and peer-reviewed publications.
        > In 2004 I shared the ''gold medal" with a team from NASA that evolved
        > an antenna for the Space Technology 5 mission.
        >
        > My entry involved the evolution of quantum computing circuits, which
        > are difficult for humans to understand or design. More to the point,
        > they are extremely difficult for ME to understand or design, and I
        > could never have produced the results on my own. I am not a designer
        > equal to that task, but evolution is. I created the ''primordial
        > ooze" out of which quantum circuits could grow, and I wrote the
        > programs for random variation and selection. But evolution did the
        > heavy lifting.
        >
        > Of course biological evolution and evolutionary computation differ.
        > Engineers using evolutionary computation specify explicit measures of
        > ''goodness" that govern selection, while biological selection is
        > governed only by survival and the ability to reproduce. In addition,
        > biologists now understand that processes other than natural
        > selection, for example symbiosis and influences during development,
        > also contribute to evolution. But evolutionary computation and
        > biological evolution are both fundamentally driven by random
        > variation and selection, and the successes of one hint at the power
        > of the other.
        >
        > It is easy to appreciate the power of selection operating on random
        > variation when it is stripped of its emotion-laden connections to
        > human origins and is shown to be capable of designing complex
        > solutions to difficult problems. If one extrapolates this power to a
        > system the size of the Earth, then it may not be such a stretch to
        > imagine that evolution could produce the stunning complexity and
        > beauty of our biosphere. Viewed in this light, Darwinian evolution is
        > itself a designer worthy of significant respect, if not religious
        > devotion.
        >
        >
        > Lee Spector, professor of computer science at Hampshire College, is
        > the author of ''Automatic Quantum Computer Programming: A Genetic
        > Programming Approach."
        >
        > --
        > Lee Spector, Professor of Computer Science
        > School of Cognitive Science, Hampshire College
        > 893 West Street, Amherst, MA 01002-3359
        > lspector@..., http://hampshire.edu/lspector/
        > Phone: 413-559-5352, Fax: 413-559-5438
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > Yahoo! Groups Links
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >


        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Sean Luke
        ... How wondrously has the Flying Spaghetti Monster convinced us of His Unneccessity! :-) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster Very
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 29, 2005
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          On Aug 29, 2005, at 3:18 PM, Varun Aggarwal wrote:

          > Unfathomable is the intellect of the being who created 'life' and
          > 'humans'.... at the same time doing it an a way that his creation is
          > bluffed
          > into deducing that Evolution has done it all.

          How wondrously has the Flying Spaghetti Monster convinced us of His
          Unneccessity! :-)
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster

          Very impressive letter Lee!

          Sean
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