Re: The Facts of Life and Hard AI

From: Eric Hawthorne <>
Date: Sun, 18 Jan 2004 12:17:40 -0800

CMR wrote:

>I think it's useful here to note that from the "strong" AI point of view
>"life as it could be" is empahasized as opposed to "life as we know it".
>It's also worth pointing out that the latter is based upon a single data
>point sample of all possible life, that sample consisting of life that
>(apparently) evolved on our planet. Given that, defining life in the
>universe, and certainly in all universes, based only upon that sample is
>speculative at best. (Unless, as some claim, our biosphere is truly unique;
>I doubt this is the case).

Just to be clear I'm not at all attempting to "dis" the possibilities of
"hard" artificial intelligence.
I studied it to postgrad-level in the past, and would hope to be able to
work in that field for real some

The "Emergence of Life" paper is talking specifically about those sorts
of life that can emerge
That's why that kind of life ("natural" life) is a truly emergent or
(emergent from less-order) system.

One way of looking at A.I. is that it may become in some attributes
life-like (I prefer just to say
it will become a true cognitive agent i.e. a true thinker (active
modeler) without NECESSARILY
also independently being a fully self-sufficient life-form. If WE can be
considered part of the environment
of AIs, then they are a life-form that uses US to reproduce (at least

It's traditional to think of the environment of a lifeform as less
ordered than the lifeform itself, so this
AI case, where the environment includes extremely ordered self-emergent
SAS's (ourselves)
is a little bit strange situation and it's hard to categorize.

With AI, it's probably best just to say that there is another emergent
system emerging, which is
(at this stage) a combination of humans (the human-species pattern and
its behaviours) and the software
(informational) and computing hardware technological/cultural artifacts
we produce, acting together
to form the new emergent system.

People do talk about AI computers/robots and nano-tech, in combination
perhaps, becoming self-sufficient
(self-replicating and self-advancing/adapting independent of their human

I have no trouble believing that this is in-principle possible. I just
want to point out that
the properties for true long-term sustainability of pattern-order are
HARD (difficult, onerous)
requirements, not easy ones. Natural life (in the admittedly single case
we know) is highly constrained
because of the constraints on its long-term survival and incremental
improvement in a less-ordered

It seems easier (but is it much easier really?) to get AIs to
self-improve/self-sustain purely as virtual (informational) patterns
or entities (i.e. as software and data ie. pure-informational
entities/thinkers/knowledge-bases) rather than as informational/physical
hybrids as we are. I suppose some of the people on the everything-list,
myself included, may see the
distinction between informational and physical as more just a matter of
degree than of substance,
so this is a puzzling area. Certainly both human-built computers and
physical machines (robots eg mars rovers,
nanobots etc) have a long way to go, not only in their basic FUNCTIONAL
development, but
perhaps more significantly and certainly more difficultly in their
ROBUSTNESS (lack of brittleness)
AND EVOLVABILITY (& META-EVOLVABILITY?) criteria, and their raw-material
(natural life uses primarily the most commonly occurring-in-the-universe
chemically-bondable elements
(hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen etc) for good reason), before they
could hope to be very self-sustainable.

It is interesting to speculate that the mechanisms available to a future
AI robot/nanotech-conglomerate/web-dweller
for self-adaptation might be far more flexible and wide-ranging than
those available to early natural life on Earth,
because we are building AI's partly in our image, and
we, after all, by becoming general thinker/planners (information
maestros if you will) have managed
to increase enormously the range of ways we can adapt the environment to
our needs. (Caveat: As an eco-aware
person however I can tell you the jury's out on whether we're doing this
to system-survival-levels of sophistication,
and the jury's leaning toward "guilty" of eco-cide - or more precisely
guilty of severe eco-impoverishment and disordering).

BTW I'm most excited today in the AI field by the possibilities that the
combination of the WWWeb's
information as accessed via google (and similar) and AI
insights/technologies will have. The web is
not a big distributed brain yet, but it could get there.

Received on Sun Jan 18 2004 - 15:21:52 PST

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