September 01, 2005

More on ID

John Derbyshire's conservatism is deliberately curmudgeonly, but he's smart and numerate, and this is one of the cleverest criticisms of aggressive ID around. (Lemuria even gets a mention.)

This essay by Lee Harris - a lucid restatement of the Kantian position - is also excellent. Kant's deal - where secularism wins a safe haven from meddling priestcraft - once looked absurdly defensive, but it's appearing more attractive every year.

Posted by CCRU-Shanghai at September 1, 2005 03:13 AM | TrackBack




engineering design lessons of Galloping Gertie

Posted by: northanger at September 1, 2005 10:17 AM



The Lee Harris essay is a masterpiece. Absolutely loads to think about.

Posted by: sd at September 1, 2005 11:12 AM



Dawkins on Intelligent design:,,592-1619264,00.html

Posted by: sd at September 1, 2005 11:20 AM



northanger - ???

sd - yes, Dawkins is an interesting case. Totally persuasive on strictly scientific grounds, but radiating a 19th century confidence in the social dynamic of enlightenment that seems weirdly dated. Just bashing Kansas isn't going to cut it politically, however satisfying he finds it ...

Posted by: Nick at September 1, 2005 04:23 PM



Galloping Gertie: there's this famous film about a bridge in Tacoma, Washington twisting side-to-side by the wind until if finally collapses.

been thinking about "humans as parasites" & Galloping Gaia. in the bible it says if you want to know how things work look at nature: nature evolves. imho, humanity needs to be more conscious about intelligent evolution.

Posted by: northanger at September 2, 2005 12:10 AM



slightly off-topic, but like a bad DJ set, this can be mixed into the evolution theme - this (long) essay/article from Wired

prophesizes the evolution of the net into a sentient machine - not a very original prediction, granted, but the method is quite convincing: Kevin Kelly takes one step back, to assessments and expectations in 1995, then compares them to the current state of affairs, before leaping to 2015.

some paragraphs from towards the end of the article:

"Today, the Machine acts like a very large computer with top-level functions that operate at approximately the clock speed of an early PC. It processes 1 million emails each second, which essentially means network email runs at 1 megahertz. Same with Web searches. Instant messaging runs at 100 kilohertz, SMS at 1 kilohertz. The Machine's total external RAM is about 200 terabytes. In any one second, 10 terabits can be coursing through its backbone, and each year it generates nearly 20 exabytes of data. Its distributed "chip" spans 1 billion active PCs, which is approximately the number of transistors in one PC.

This planet-sized computer is comparable in complexity to a human brain. Both the brain and the Web have hundreds of billions of neurons (or Web pages). Each biological neuron sprouts synaptic links to thousands of other neurons, while each Web page branches into dozens of hyperlinks. That adds up to a trillion "synapses" between the static pages on the Web. The human brain has about 100 times that number - but brains are not doubling in size every few years. The Machine is.

Since each of its "transistors" is itself a personal computer with a billion transistors running lower functions, the Machine is fractal. In total, it harnesses a quintillion transistors, expanding its complexity beyond that of a biological brain. It has already surpassed the 20-petahertz threshold for potential intelligence as calculated by Ray Kurzweil. For this reason some researchers pursuing artificial intelligence have switched their bets to the Net as the computer most likely to think first. Danny Hillis, a computer scientist who once claimed he wanted to make an AI "that would be proud of me," has invented massively parallel supercomputers in part to advance us in that direction. He now believes the first real AI will emerge not in a stand-alone supercomputer like IBM's proposed 23-teraflop Blue Brain, but in the vast digital tangle of the global Machine.

In 10 years, the system will contain hundreds of millions of miles of fiber-optic neurons linking the billions of ant-smart chips embedded into manufactured products, buried in environmental sensors, staring out from satellite cameras, guiding cars, and saturating our world with enough complexity to begin to learn.We will live inside this thing.

One great advantage the Machine holds in this regard: It's always on. It is very hard to learn if you keep getting turned off, which is the fate of most computers. AI researchers rejoice when an adaptive learning program runs for days without crashing. The fetal Machine has been running continuously for at least 10 years (30 if you want to be picky). I am aware of no other machine - of any type - that has run that long with zero downtime. While portions may spin down due to power outages or cascading infections, the entire thing is unlikely to go quiet in the coming decade. It will be the most reliable gadget we have.

And who will write the software that makes this contraption useful and productive? We will. In fact, we're already doing it, each of us, every day. When we post and then tag pictures on the community photo album Flickr, we are teaching the Machine to give names to images. The thickening links between caption and picture form a neural net that can learn. Think of the 100 billion times per day humans click on a Web page as a way of teaching the Machine what we think is important. Each time we forge a link between words, we teach it an idea. Wikipedia encourages its citizen authors to link each fact in an article to a reference citation. Over time, a Wikipedia article becomes totally underlined in blue as ideas are cross-referenced. That massive cross-referencing is how brains think and remember. It is how neural nets answer questions. It is how our global skin of neurons will adapt autonomously and acquire a higher level of knowledge.

The human brain has no department full of programming cells that configure the mind. Rather, brain cells program themselves simply by being used. Likewise, our questions program the Machine to answer questions. We think we are merely wasting time when we surf mindlessly or blog an item, but each time we click a link we strengthen a node somewhere in the Web OS, thereby programming the Machine by using it.

What will most surprise us is how dependent we will be on what the Machine knows - about us and about what we want to know. We already find it easier to Google something a second or third time rather than remember it ourselves. The more we teach this megacomputer, the more it will assume responsibility for our knowing. It will become our memory. Then it will become our identity. In 2015 many people, when divorced from the Machine, won't feel like themselves - as if they'd had a lobotomy."

Posted by: sd at September 3, 2005 09:51 AM



Maybe the above is not so off-topic: the evolution of intelligence through Random Resign rather than Intelligent Design.

Posted by: sd at September 3, 2005 04:35 PM



"Random Resign"?

Posted by: northanger at September 3, 2005 07:28 PM




Posted by: sd at September 3, 2005 08:37 PM



Lemuria 'even' gets a mention - yes, compared with ID as something as a joke.

Posted by: cynoid at September 4, 2005 04:10 AM



Pinker (very briefly)on ID:

"It's natural to think that living things must be the handiwork of a designer. But it was also natural to think that the sun went around the earth. Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity's highest callings.

Our own bodies are riddled with quirks that no competent engineer would have planned but that disclose a history of trial-and-error tinkering: a retina installed backward, a seminal duct that hooks over the ureter like a garden hose snagged on a tree, goose bumps that uselessly try to warm us by fluffing up long-gone fur.

The moral design of nature is as bungled as its engineering design. What twisted sadist would have invented a parasite that blinds millions of people or a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters? To adapt a Yiddish expression about God: If an intelligent designer lived on Earth, people would break his windows.

The theory of natural selection explains life as we find it, with all its quirks and tragedies. We can prove mathematically that it is capable of producing adaptive life forms and track it in computer simulations, lab experiments and real ecosystems. It doesn't pretend to solve one mystery (the origin of complex life) by slipping in another (the origin of a complex designer).

Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky."

Posted by: sd at September 4, 2005 03:23 PM



An excellent essay here:

About the Baldwin Effect and cerebral plasticity. With regard to Intelligent Design, the Baldwin Effect explains how highly complex adaptations (the human mind, language) are the products of organized design taking place within the random mechanism of natural selection.

Posted by: sd at September 4, 2005 10:39 PM



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