‘A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’:…

‘A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’: What Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Reveals About Artificial Intelligence by Daniel C. Dennett.

From the post:


All things in the universe, from the most exalted (“man”) to the most humble (the ant, the pebble, the raindrop) were creations of a still more exalted thing, God, an omnipotent and omniscient intelligent creator — who bore a striking resemblance to the second-most exalted thing. Call this the trickle-down theory of creation. Darwin replaced it with the bubble-up theory of creation. One of Darwin’s nineteenth-century critics, Robert Beverly MacKenzie, put it vividly:

In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that, in order to make a perfect and beautiful machine, it is not requisite to know how to make it. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express, in condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory, and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin’s meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the achievements of creative skill.

It was, indeed, 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.

What Darwin and Turing had both discovered, in their different ways, was the existence of competence without comprehension. This inverted the deeply plausible assumption that comprehension is in fact the source of all advanced competence. Why, after all, do we insist on sending our children to school, and why do we frown on the old-fashioned methods of rote learning? We expect our children’s growing competence to flow from their growing comprehension. The motto of modern education might be: “Comprehend in order to be competent.” For us members of H. sapiens, this is almost always the right way to look at, and strive for, competence. I suspect that this much-loved principle of education is one of the primary motivators of skepticism about both evolution and its cousin in Turing’s world, artificial intelligence. The very idea that mindless mechanicity can generate human-level — or divine level! — competence strikes many as philistine, repugnant, an insult to our minds, and the mind of God.
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“…competence without comprehension….” I rather like that!

Is that what we are observing in crowd-sourcing?

The essay is well worth your time and consideration.

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