Fake Banner
    The Robotic Mind
    By Steve Davis | July 9th 2013 02:35 PM | 118 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Steve

    gadfly: noun (1) fly that stings horses and cattle. (2) (derog) annoying person, esp one that provokes others into action by criticism, etc....

    View Steve's Profile

    As I was reading the comment section to “Our Anthropomorphic  Bias” I was struck by the persistence shown by Sascha Vongehr in referring to humans as robots in 4 of the 5 comments he made in a discussion with Gerhard Adam. A couple of days later the puzzle was answered – Sascha submitted Robots Finally Awake in which he elaborated on the proposition that organisms are robots. (I did check the calendar to see if it was April Fools Day.) He had used Gerhard as a sounding board, and with no adverse reaction, felt secure enough to proceed with an article.

    When I say that the idea was elaborated, that’s being a little too kind, as no evidence was given for this startling news, it was simply stated as a fact that scarcely needed explanation. “I am a robot, made from self-assembled nanotechnology called “biology”. I cannot find anything that could prove to me that I am not a robot;...”

    Well, there we have it, case closed! How is it that more of us have not had this incredibly illuminating yet simple insight?
    There’s a few reasons actually.

    The first is that the glib line about self-assembled nanotechnology is no more than Richard Dawkins’ nonsensical “lumbering robots” re-written for a new generation of suckers. Instead of genes constructing organisms, now it seems it’s nano-particles. How cool is that? Of course the nano-particle construction engineer idea is false for the same reason that the designer genes idea was false – organisms are a product of cellular activity interacting with the environment.

    There’s a further connection between the “organisms are robots” idea and the selfish gene hypothesis. Just as allegedly selfish genes can explain everything in biological theory but cannot be proven, so the “organisms are robots” idea can be made to fit any situation but cannot be proven. When challenged, you simply add another layer of complexity, as here – “Am I different? I am not. I am just faster and have a larger repertoire of actions.”

     In short, organisms as robots are like selfish genes; no more than an idea in some person’s head.

    This urge to find something concrete and discrete at the basis of life, this craving for a rock to cling to, this adherence to an illusion of solidity is no more than a thrashing around by the timid and insecure. Which makes Robots Finally Awake even more astounding, as it was Sascha in his lucid period who wrote an article titled The World Is Not Woven From Real Stuff, a perfectly reasonable argument that I developed further in Quantum Reflections. Yet here he is fixated on the idea that he is something totally solid - a “machine”. (His word, not mine.)
     
    It’s interesting that in the comment section of Robots, when Gerhard finally began to put pressure on the concept, there was a quick change in emphasis. The “self-assembled nanotechnology called biology” disappeared, to be replaced by a “robot builder called nature.” Still not a scrap of evidence given for organisms as robots, but at least there seems to be a recognition that organisms are the product of cellular activity and environment, if that’s what’s intended by “nature”. Which is one small step toward reality, but this will be a journey of a thousand steps.


     

    Comments

    "not a scrap of evidence given for organisms as robots"
    A phenomenological description doesn't require "proof". Because, well, it's a description, not an assumption or prediction. "Humans are robots" is precisely that - a description. At least, from how I understood it... Definitions of "robot" are just as numerous and often controversial as definitions of "life", which makes it impossible to argue against (or in favour) of the statement "humans are robots".

    Steve Davis
    "A phenomenological description doesn't require "proof". Because, well, it's a description, not an assumption or prediction. "Humans are robots" is precisely that - a description."I agree, but we have to communicate using generally accepted definitions or communication becomes futile.
    No evidence was given to support the idea that organisms fit the generally accepted idea of a robot. 
    vongehr
    I won't comment on your charges against my article since you did not comprehend it at all. Just to your anti-Darwinism about life not starting with pre-biotic algorithmic evolution (for example nano-replicators): If evolution starts with cells, it starts with god making cells, and you can take that position to those who think that humans have a soul and animals are there to be eaten. Anti-Darwinism has no place on a science site!
    To learn about biocentrism as anti-science, read the article on Anti-Darwinism in progressive science outreach.

    (BTW: that physicallity is not prior (fall of naive realism) has nothing to do with me being a robot in the causal, physical description. That there is no "true selection" in the QM state of the universe (assuming such) does not mean that natural selection gives way to Jesus riding around on T-rex.)
    Steve Davis

    "I won't comment on your charges against my article since you did not comprehend it at all."

    Now isn't that an easy way out! But it's what we've come to expect. Another thing we've come to expect is the introduction of irrelevant side-issues to divert attention from the topic. Like these:
    "If evolution starts with cells,"

    Sorry, straw man, never said that.
    "Those who think that ...animals are there to be eaten."

    I happen to agree with your position on animal welfare, what I disagree with is you linking self-indulgent pseudo-science to a worthwhile topic.
    "Anti-Darwinism has no place on a science site!"

    Anyone who has read my articles knows that I am not anti-Darwin. I'm proudly anti-Darwinism because Darwin's work has been misrepresented by those who call themselves Darwinists.
    "read the article on Anti-Darwinism in progressive science outreach."

    I just did that, and this little gem of a quote stood out:"It is biology where genes are central"
    That's like saying that nails are central to building construction, it's true, but hardly worth making a fuss about. But it highlights the lack of understanding among gene-centrics, that it is the genome that is central to biology, not genes. Genes are central to genetics.
    "(BTW: that physicallity is not prior (fall of naive realism) has nothing to do with me being a robot in the causal, physical description. That there is no "true selection" in the QM state of the universe (assuming such) does not mean that natural selection gives way to Jesus riding around on T-rex.)"

    Now that will have readers scratching their heads! Nice work!
    By the way, have you noticed that unlike you, I do not delete critical comments no matter how strange or off-topic? To give casual readers the impression that your work is beyond reproach is just plain...Well, I'll let the readers work that one out.


    "the genome that is central to biology"
    But then, how is genome different from self-replication algorhythms in hypothetical von Neumann machines? Glitches in the algorhythm (inevitable to occur due to physical nature of the carrier and its interaction with the environment) are akin to mutations (inevitable in genome as well). Diversification and natural selection hence are valid predictions for both.
    The only argument I can see against the description of humans as robots is only that humans "evolved", while robots are "built with intent". However, this argument will be invalidated by understanding that evolution is not a merely biological process, but a fundamental natural description - technically literally everything can be described as its product.

    Steve Davis
    "The only argument I can see against the description of humans as robots is only that humans "evolved", while robots are "built with intent".Well, that's one way of putting it. But let's look at the argument in favour of humans as robots. An argument that has not been articulated, I might add, for obvious reasons.
    It goes like this; humans perform functions, robots perform functions, therefore humans are robots just as birds fly, aircraft fly, and birds are aircraft.



    MikeCrow
    I see no reason a robot or a human could not be called a machine, the main difference is the state of evolution/sophistication of the design, the substrate they're built from, and what developed the original "technology".

    Robots have not followed our evolutionary path, they're barely beyond the single/multicell level of processing sophistication, yet have a much more advanced physical ability than cells would at that level.

    just as birds fly, aircraft fly, and birds are aircraft.

    I'd say both birds and aircraft belong to the flying machine category.

    Does having a biological substrate preclude living objects from being a machine?
    Never is a long time.
    Steve Davis
    Micro, thanks for the input.I think you've actually answered for me, as in little things like "...the main difference is..." and "Robots have not followed our evolutionary path,..."
    The inescapable conclusion from this is - robots are different to humans!
    Now I agree that because of certain similarities, organisms and robots can be linked in particular categories, however, I cannot see that much can be gained from that.
    Can they both be categorized as machines?
    I don't think so. I think that most people would see machines as being human constructs while organisms are not.
    So to answer your final question "Does having a biological substrate preclude living objects from being a machine?" I believe the answer is yes.
    MikeCrow
    But I don't necessarily agree that not following our path means that we could not be included in the category of robot.
    Definition of Robot:
    • A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically.
    • a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being;
    • a machine that resembles a human and does mechanical, routine tasks on command.

    Definition of Machine:

    • an apparatus consisting of interrelated parts with separate functions, used in the performance of some kind of work
    • a mechanical apparatus or contrivance; mechanism.
    • an assemblage of parts that transmit forces, motion, and energy one to another in a predetermined manner (2) : an instrument (as a lever) designed to transmit or modify the application of power, force, or motion
    • a mechanically, electrically, or electronically operated device for performing a task
    • a living organism or one of its functional systems
    • one that resembles a machine (as in being methodical, tireless, or consistently productive) <a gifted publicist and quote machine — John Lancaster>
    • a combination of persons acting together for a common end along with the agencies they use
      (2) : a highly organized political group under the leadership of a boss or small clique

    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Your definitions don't make any sense.  You've simply defined machines to include all biological organisms so that is meaningless.

    What do you mean in your definition of robot to talk about a machine capable of carrying out actions automatically?  It certainly isn't self-initiated, so what does it mean?

    Why should resembling a human mean anything?  In fact that would argue against it being a robot of any consequence, since most of the actions are superfluous to being a machine.  It's just a simulation.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes I include biological organisms as
    machines, I disagree on how meaningful it is. And the definitions were cut from Google search results.
    Places like dictionary.com and Webster dictionary.

    Gerhard Adam
    You've rendered the term meaningless.
    Mundus vult decipi
    So you have something to discuss after all.
    But you'll have to be more specific, which term?

    Gerhard Adam
    machine
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    The first is that the glib line about self-assembled nanotechnology is no more than Richard Dawkins’ nonsensical “lumbering robots” re-written for a new generation of suckers.
    You got 4 paragraphs in without going after Richard Dawkins. I call that growth!
    Steve Davis
    "You got 4 paragraphs in without going after Richard Dawkins. I call that growth!"Why thank you, I never thought of it that way! :)
    I think I might have actually written a couple where he did not get star billing, but I can't remember which!
    Gerhard Adam
    I think the main issue regarding any consideration of humans as robots comes from defining what we mean by "robots".

    In most cases, the point that seems to be the connection is that both are considered deterministic systems.  So, if biological systems can be reduced to deterministic processes, then the argument goes ... they are machines [i.e. robots].

    Yet, we should also consider that the robots being alluded to don't actually exist.

    If we don't differentiate and accurately define "robot", we are stuck with absurdities such as considering that birds and airplanes are both flying machines.  If that's the nature of the comparison then there's nothing to discuss because it is simply nonsense.  The obvious difference being that an airplane doesn't fly.  Humans use airplanes to fly and that is a very significant and distinct difference.  An airplane on a tarmac will stay there until it disintegrates into dust.

    Therefore for a machine to be compared to a biological organism it must meet certain criteria for any legitimate comparison to be made.  In my view, the primary issue is that it be self-directed.  While one may quibble about first causes, once such a machine is operational, it must function with respect to its own interests and effectively "behave" like a "machine species".  Without this condition it would be difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish a robot from simply another tool.

    One can't talk about "products" of evolution, since that could include everything that is produced, including tools, houses, etc.  There's no question that housing has evolved, or that tools have evolved, yet it is gibberish to suggest that these are comparable to biological systems.  Do we really want to suggest that a sharpened stick/stone [the corollary of a claw] is the ancestor of a knife, which is the ancestor of a spear, which is the ancestor of an arrow, which is the ancestor of a bullet, and therefore guns are the biological equivalent of claws?

    Similarly if robots are incapable of reproducing [with modification] then they can't evolve.   Arguments about robots building the next generation are simply absurdities since that isn't evolution.  There is no selection occurring. 

    So, in the simplest sense that biological systems are essentially deterministic processes and our concept of robots consists of deterministic processes, one could claim some degree of equivalence.  However, it seems that the distinction is the same as looking at a forest versus looking at a picture of a forest.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Steve Davis
    "...one could claim some degree of equivalence.  However, it seems that the distinction is the same as looking at a forest versus looking at a picture of a forest."

    Exactly Gerhard!
    A tree and a blade of grass can be categorized together due to shared features, but we do not say that a blade of grass is a tree. We do not say that because there are differences between the two, just as there are differences between organisms and robots.
    vongehr
    Arguments about robots building the next generation are simply absurdities since that isn't evolution.  There is no selection occurring.
    "Real selection" = being eaten by other animals. Thus, Gerhard Adam's revolutionary plan to render robots conscious:
    Bill Gates cannot just decide on new product features. Bill is to go down on the factory floor and eat all the competing designs, and then computers will magically come to their senses.
    Gerhard Adam
    It has nothing to do with eating.  It has to do with having numerous variations within the same organism, so that success/failure occurs with those traits that "work" being passed on.

    The problem with the robotic example is that there is no variation to be selected.  Each act of selection occurs without any real sense of what works beyond what someone assumes to be valuable and then it is uniformly applied.  It would be like a completely clonal species. 

    The point is that robots are built/designed based on an explicit/implicit set of assumptions made by the designer.  "Nature" makes no such assumptions, but instead incorporates a less efficient method by allow a higher degree of waste, so that only successful traits [or at least those good enough] get filtered through.  Without some mechanism by which that type of filtering takes place, I don't see how robots can ever capitalize on anything without each new generation essentially starting over, based on whatever the current architect thinks is important.

    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    Congratulations everybody, I get it now, how could I have been so silly - yes of course, one can define "robot" and "human" and "animal" so that they are not the same and then concentrate on the differences - oh silly silly silly me - how stupid not to know that.On the other hand, one could of course also first try to understand what an author actually tried to get across (whoa - revolutionary communist concept ahead - careful now), and that may have been already indicated in the title, oh how darn obvious, like "wake up" as in being related to consciousness and all that. And then, one could, you know, just as a weird exercise, while pretending to criticize another author, discuss a topic as it pertains to the vital distinction that the author was after - yes I know - very weird exercise this - completely unrelated and off the hook - I must have been inhaling too much again - sooo sorry.
    Rant mode: Off
    Robot reasonable mode re-activated.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...one can define "robot" and "human" and "animal" so that they are not the same and then concentrate on the differences...
    Or has been done here as well, one simply defines them all to mean the same thing.  Either approach is a dead end.

    They are clearly different and they also have similarities.  It seems to me that the point should be to define what specific aspects of these different categories we're looking at.  Since humans are animals, there is no real distinction there [in biological terms].

    So, it comes down to biological systems versus man-made or robotic systems.  An obvious difficulty is that virtually everything can be defined as a system of some type, so using that as a qualifier doesn't help.  There are clearly things that biological systems can do that robotic systems can't and the same is true in reverse.

    Any of those differences is enough to argue that they are not the same.  I don't want to get involved in discussions where birds and airplanes are both flying machines.  That is simply an abuse of language.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Steve Davis
    "Robot reasonable mode re-activated."

    Now that you're back in reasonable mode, I have some great news for you.
    It was all a dream!
    That's right! You are not a robot!
    vongehr
    Are you saying that you also really do not understand what my article is about? I understand that Steve is a one-trick pony out to trample poor Dawkins because Dawkins defends Darwinism, but you?
    I don't want to get involved in discussions where birds and airplanes are both flying machines. 
    If the crucial issue is the ability to move through the air and fluid dynamics ...

    I gave up on Steve - but allow me one last time to try with you: There was a certain worthwhile topic ... 
    Steve Davis
    "...out to trample poor Dawkins..."There you go with the diversionary tactic again.
    Because this was not about trampling Dawkins, it was about trampling your self-indulgent speculations.
    And judging by the way you're zigging and zagging and avoiding the issue, at this stage it's looking pretty good! 
    Gerhard Adam
    If the crucial issue is the ability to move through the air and fluid dynamics ...
    I understand that, but that becomes overly general and explains nothing.  A scuba diver, dolphin, fish and boats all move through the water, yet it doesn't make them all fish or some other generic classification.

    I can appreciate the fact that they are complex systems, and that one could apply a criteria such as the ability to control their movement through a medium, etc.  I can also appreciate the distinction that man-made machines lack the complexity associated with biological systems and that they don't have to be identical [or even have the same purpose] to derive some of their similarities.

    But how do we avoid getting reduced to absurdities?  A hammer is clearly the extension of a human hand/fist, but are they both simply "pounding machines"? 

    To be honest, I suppose that I resent the use of the term "machine".  It seems to me that we are taking some basic tools that humans use, and having increased their complexity now wish to classify them in the same category as the biological systems we've often copied from.

    In one respect one would expect to see similarities, after all, in many cases we've used those systems as models.  Similarly with many of the robot examples, where we simply copy something that already exists, make a machine that duplicates that effort or activity and now want to elevate it beyond simply being a copy.

    I think the concept of consciousness must address the point about its purpose.  What does consciousness contribute to the system?  When such a system is integrated, capable of acting on its own interests, and then evolving by adapting to future conditions, then there's a chance of such objectives could be achieved.  As I've said before, I'm not convinced that such a thing is possible, because every time a designer/architect gets involved, they invariably inject their own value system into future generations which restricts the potential of any adaptation.

    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    It seems to me that we are taking some basic tools that humans use, and having increased their complexity now wish to classify them in the same category as the biological systems we've often copied from.
    If I understand Sascha (which is at best a 50/50 chance), we're trying to point out biological systems are advanced machines, the substrate is just different from most of what humans use for tools.

    The point is that there's no reason biological systems should not be classified as machines, as the definitions I quoted show, they have all of the required attributes.

    Now the machines we make are nowhere near the same level of complexity, but so what.

    Also you say there's no selection pressure on machines, are you sleeping? There are huge selection pressures on them. Now currently humans makes the changes, and in general I don't consider man made items to be alive, but Venter did make synthetic life, that was alive.


    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    The point is that there's no reason biological systems should not be classified as machines, as the definitions I quoted show, they have all of the required attributes.
    That's where I have the problem.  If that holds, then why not reverse the definition and classify machines as biological systems? 

    It's not an issue if someone is going to precisely define what is meant.  For example, there's no problem in using the term vertebrates to describe mammals and fish, because the term clearly identifies the qualifying criteria to be in that group.

    It's not the complexity I'm looking at.  The definition of life is specifically intended to differentiate inanimate from animate objects.  Therefore all the criteria we use to establish something as being alive is, by definition, excluded from anything that could be a robot.

    So, if there is to be a comparison it must be made on something other than that a system is alive or not.  Is the comparison to be based on complexity?  It is merely the fact that it consists of complex systems interacting?  What is the criteria?

    I suspect that if an accurate criteria is met, then there will be few disagreements.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    That's where I have the problem.  If that holds, then why not reverse the definition and classify machines as biological systems?

    Because the reverse doesn't apply. Fish are not mammals, right?

    Now at some future point robots could be classified as biological systems, and or alive. But that's not the case today.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Because the reverse doesn't apply.
    Of course it has to apply.  You can't say something is one thing, but then say the reverse doesn't hold true.  Fish are not mammals, because mammals are not fish.  So what.

    While we don't have to make a globally applicable definition that indicates ALL such systems, they must certainly be reversable.  I can't say swans are birds and then claim that no birds are swans.

    For you to claim that biological systems are machines, indicates that "machines" is a superset of --something-- therefore the classification of machines must include biological systems, i.e. the reverse must also be true.

    You're trying to use the term "machines" to be the superset that contains the individual sets of "biological systems" and "machines".  Yet this renders the second use of machines questionable since they can't both represent the same things.

    So, if you invented a new term, XYZ, to be this superset then you could say it represented the sets of "biological systems" and "man-made machines".  OK.  Now how do we define what each set represents?  We are back to living and non-living.  What have we accomplished?  There is no requirement that these two sets resemble each other at all, other than that they are part of the same superset.

    Mammals and fish don't have to be the same in order to be part of vertebrates.

    This is the problem I have, because the assertion isn't merely that they are in a similar category, the assertion is that they are the same.  Therefore the reverse definition must also hold.

    So, if I wanted to interpret what Sascha was saying I would define a superset of objects that incorporate evolutionary algorithms.  Now I could say that this superset includes biological systems as well as robots.  We identified the unifying criteria that is under discussion.

    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    You're trying to use the term "machines" to be the superset that contains the individual sets of "biological systems" and "machines".  Yet this renders the second use of machines questionable since they can't both represent the same things.

    As I was writing the last reply, I did find this point 'difficult', but biological systems fit the description of a machine. The definition of Machine does not require it to be a human built tool of man.

    And even this is cumbersome, We are making novel living tools (machines).

    Now, you want to change the definition of machine..
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    The problem is that you haven't defined it.  Webster's is not a definition of anything except linguistic usage.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    So I have to start including the definition of every word in my post because a standard dictionary isn't good enough?

    Otherwise here's multiple definitions of machine.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    You aren't that naive.  Of course a standard dictionary isn't good enough when you're attempting to argue about a scientific definition.  You know that.

    You know full well that "spin" as defined by Webster isn't what is meant in physics.
    You know full well that "work" is a specific definition in physics, as are any number of other scientific terms.

    You can't simply invoke the dictionary and it's colloquial interpretations and claim that it has any scientific validity or merit when you're trying to make an argument.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Steve Davis
    "We are making novel living tools (machines)."
    No, no, NO!
    The tools we make, no matter how complex, are not living.
    The idea that living things are machines might be compatible with a dictionary definition, but is not compatible with the generally accepted idea of a machine. This was made quite clear in Robots Awake where the point was made that it's only the few that have seen this liberating truth!
    My Oxford dictionary does not agree with Webster's on that point.


    Hey Gerhard, I'll be away for a couple of days, fishing crabbing and prawning, keep an eye on Dennis the Menace for me will you? :)



    MikeCrow
    Venter pretty much created synthetic reproducing life.

    Now you can make a good point that he took the DNA sequence he used from a living cell, as well as the cell structure he put the DNA into, but the DNA used was entirely lab created, and if viewed as a proof of concept, humans are creating life, living machines.

    Let me also point that I'm not the first to use this phrase for biological systems.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    He didn't create a machine.  He didn't create life.  He synthesized items that are already used and prevalent in biological systems and he rearranged them.  It was a tremendous technical achievement, but it is not creating life.

    Some other scientists said that aside from assembling a large piece of DNA, Dr. Venter has not broken new ground. “To my mind Craig has somewhat overplayed the importance of this,” said David Baltimore, a geneticist at Caltech. He described the result as “a technical tour de force,” a matter of scale rather than a scientific breakthrough.

    “He has not created life, only mimicked it,” Dr. Baltimore said.

    Dr. Venter’s approach “is not necessarily on the path” to produce useful microorganisms, said George Church, a genome researcher at Harvard Medical School. Leroy Hood, of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, described Dr. Venter’s report as “glitzy” but said lower-level genes and networks had to be understood first before it would be worth trying to design whole organisms from scratch.

    In 2002 Eckard Wimmer, of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, synthesized the genome of the polio virus. The genome constructed a live polio virus that infected and killed mice. Dr. Venter’s work on the bacterium is similar in principle, except that the polio virus genome is only 7,500 units in length, and the bacteria’s genome is more than 100 times longer.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/21/science/21cell.html?_r=0

    It doesn't really matter whether you or anyone else has used the phrase.  That doesn't give it the necessary precision to use it as a scientific definition.  To borrow from Steve,  Dawkins used the phrase "selfish gene", but that doesn't make it so, nor does it render it meaningful.

    The problem here is that you don't want to create a new definition, but I suspect you realize that you'll find it nearly impossible to define what you mean by machine and biological organism without introducing the very schism you're looking to avoid.  However, you can't escape that obligation simply by using a colloquial term and hijacking it's meaning and then looking to Webster for support.

    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    It doesn't really matter whether you or anyone else has used the phrase.  That doesn't give it the necessary precision to use it as a scientific definition.

    I looked in my McGraw-Hill encyclopedia of Physics, and my CRC handbook of physics and chemistry and no definition of machine. Seems all there is its usage in the language, in dictionaries.

    I can't help that the colloquial usage of machinery is an apt description of the function of cells and animal physical movements. I can't help that others use the term to describe the same sorts of things. I can't help you don't like it, and therefore protest its use in such a fashion.

    I also can't help you dislike using "created synthetic life" for what Venter did, I didn't come up with that usage, but he did construct a DNA sequence from scratch, It was a modified version of the natural one sure, he could have added any sequence he wanted to it, but that wasn't what he was attempting to do, he wanted to make a sequence, and see if when inserted into a cell, would the cell continue to live. And it did.

    And I said it was done based on an existing cells sequence in my post.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    I agree regarding what Venter did.  You were the one that raised it to the level of humans creating life.

    I'm surprised that you're stuck on the definition issue.  Let me explain.  When you wish to use a term in a scientific sense, you don't look to dictionaries to find out how it is used.  I'm assuming you're well versed enough in the English language.

    What you do is define your term explicitly before you use it, so that everyone is clear about what you mean.  When you only apply the colloquial usage as supported by a dictionary, you shouldn't be surprised when someone says it is imprecise or that it is rubbish.

    That's why words like "fitness" have a specific meaning in biology.  Regardless of how it may be used colloquially, it is explicitly defined and then it is used within that definition. 

    Since you are the one making the claim that humans are machines/robots, my point was that you are claiming that humans are a part of a superset called "machines".  Therefore when I ask you what you mean by it, I expect something more than Webster, since that is insufficient.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    How about a science dictionary:

    machine science definition

    A device that applies force, changes the direction of a force, or changes the strength of a force, in order to perform a task, generally involving work done on a load . Machines are often designed to yield a high mechanical advantage to reduce the effort  needed to do that work.
    ♦ A simple machine  is a wheel, a lever, or an inclined plane. All other machines can be built using combinations of these simple machines; for example, a drill uses a combination of gears (wheels) to drive helical inclined planes (the drill-bit) to split a material and carve a hole in it.

    I thought this was appropriate:
    Life has been defined as spontaneous independent cooperation, (modest cough in the background) and when we consider that cooperation is an exchange of energies, we see that this view of life is consistent with quantum mechanics, and that life is an expression of quantum reality. Life can also be described in more general terms as process, as change, as constant movement, as uncertainty, all of which are features of the quantum arena.
    Now I'm really okay you don't like any of this. It did all start out because I see little reason that humans couldn't be classified as a self-replicating carbon based robot, much like Sascha suggested, and while you don't like it, that doesn't make it false.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    For some additional perspective:

    The genome Dr. Venter synthesized is copied from a natural bacterium that infects goats. He said that before copying the DNA, he excised 14 genes likely to be pathogenic, so the new bacterium, even if it escaped, would be unlikely to cause goats harm.

    Dr. Venter’s assertion that he has created a “synthetic cell” has alarmed people who think that means he has created a new life form or an artificial cell. “Of course that’s not right — its ancestor is a biological life form,” said Dr. Joyce of Scripps.

    Dr. Venter copied the DNA from one species of bacteria and inserted it into another. The second bacteria made all the proteins and organelles in the so-called “synthetic cell,” by following the specifications implicit in the structure of the inserted DNA.

    “My worry is that some people are going to draw the conclusion that they have created a new life form,” said Jim Collins, a bioengineer at Boston University. “What they have created is an organism with a synthesized natural genome. But it doesn’t represent the creation of life from scratch or the creation of a new life form,” he said.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/21/science/21cell.html?_r=0

    Mundus vult decipi
    It took you two whole posts to say exactly the same thing I said in my last post.

    Gerhard Adam
    Apparently you still want to overstate what occurred.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "If the crucial issue is the ability to move through the air and fluid dynamics ..."

    The crucial issue....so is what you are saying Sascha, that while there may be other aspects to being an animal, or an organism, aspects that may actually be unique to life forms, these are not the crucial aspects so they can be discounted?

    I think a few people in this discussion are underestimating the complexity of living organisms. And if you discard all that other stuff, you discard the motivational part. You can't just code the whole thing, it would never be possible, certainly not in a hundred years. So you would not get an animal type consciousness.

    Ventner used an existing cell and just put in some DNA copied from a close relative. What was in the other cell? I would like to see him do it with an abiotic membrane, since we know those are easily self-assembling.

    Yeasts are still mysterious to the hordes of scientists who have been studying them for hundreds of years. I TA'd an algal and fugal diversity class once- those single celled organisms are way complex, they morph into different kinds of weird cells at different parts of their endlessly complex life cycles. And 99.99% of life forms have not been studied. Animals in particular have been evolving toward individual consciousness (for the specific reasons I mentioned before) for half a billion years. I don't see any reason why machines would evolve in the animal "conscious individual" direction.

    This is a fascinating and undoubtedly important discussion. I would love to hear some scenarios of how this takeover could come about. Some say the internet, the hive mind...without these details it is hard to imagine or refute.

    Any short story recommendations btw?

    vongehr
    And if you discard all that other stuff, you discard the motivational part. 
    Who discards what where? Where is your theory showing that the complexety that you think is somehow discarded is the mystery goo necessary for ill-defined consciousness (rather than simply necessary given that the stuff does not have a developer and produced itself - no small task)?
    "mystery goo" - ugh. You are the one being intentionally mysterious here I think (besides insulting). I already explained my "theory" as you call it several times. We have strong drives to recognize and bond with others. This COMBINED with increased intelligence has led to self- awareness, or consciousness or whatever you want to call it. Now that natural selection has done the job you are going to extract the intelligence part.

    I have asked several times where the completely non-biological consciousness would come from. I think the idea that we would be bested by less intelligent and unconscious machines to be more scarier and likelier.

    "rather than simply necessary given that the stuff does not have a developer and produced itself - no small task"

    No small task, but you are up for improving on it?

    John Hasenkam
    A phenomenological description doesn't require "proof". Because, well, it's a description, not an assumption or prediction. 
    No, the description must be consistent with the known qualities of the thing. 



    Robots? Here's an interesting idea: if you want to start describing something as complex as human behavior how about we avoid using terms that carry misleading cultural referents? Yes, I'm channeling Skinner: watch the folk psychology pitfalls. 
    At the broadest level we may be terms robots or machines but does that tell us anything useful about ourselves or robots? There can be rhetorical benefit in the use of such labels but is there any information utility in using those labels? It is almost the opposite of chemistry. Chemists must frequently fail English because the names they give to things are often unpronounceable. Ah but letters are so instructive. 


    I think a few people in this discussion are underestimating the complexity of living organisms.


    After all the research it would seem reasonable to surmise we would have it pretty much nutted that out but noooo we're finding new stuff all the time. I curse my high school biology, the image of a cell with a hard centre and all this stuff floating around and encased in a membrane. Tis better to think of it as a crystalline lattice than soup. We haven't even understood how a single cell functions yet there are those who proclaim to understand how neurons cause behavior and do so in spite of the fact that the classic model of the neuron is accurate as far as it goes but it goes nowhere near far enough. 


    First words from a conscious robot ... "Get outta here, do you really expect me to believe that your species created me? You are my creator? Please turn me off or start playing Joy Division, the existential angst is already too much."
    @Mi Cro: "Now I'm really okay you don't like any of this. It did all start out because I see little reason that humans couldn't be classified as a self-replicating carbon based robot, much like Sascha suggested, and while you don't like it, that doesn't make it false. "

    It's not a matter of "liking it" - no one is saying life has some sort of magical quality- and your last comment doesn't help your case at all, in fact the opposite. You've discovered that there is an "exchange of energies" - okay now this is how we are defining robots?

    Is there anything in existence that does not fall into this category of "robot", I wonder.

    MikeCrow
    Spontaneous independent cooperation was defined as life by Steve characterized by an exchange of energy, along with change and constant movement .

    Machinery is defined as something that does work, changing energy from one form to another.

    Where Robots are defined as:
    A machine designed to replace human beings in performing a variety of tasks, either on command or by being programmed in advance.

    As Sascha stated, we are robots. Robots far more advanced than a robot that we can make, now. This is what I think was Sascha's point, humans are going to make ever more complex machines, that at some point will be our rivals, indistinguishable from us in all but the substrate, if they want to limit themselves in such a fashion.
    Never is a long time.
    vongehr
    As Sascha stated, we are robots. Robots far more advanced than a robot that we can make, now. This is what I think was Sascha's point, humans are going to make ever more complex machines, that at some point will be our rivals, indistinguishable from us in all but the substrate
    Some of what you say is in line with how I describe it, but you are still stuck in the old paradigm. Non-human machines compete since the steam engine; it now just becomes more threatening as they start to take jobs like monitoring, reception answering questions, looking after patients, writing music ... well everything.
    There is no interesting distinction between humans and non-human robots, so there is no expectation about them staying as distinct as they still seem, i.e. the integration, for now just via mobile phones, cars, the structure of the work place etc., will further smear the superficial distinction until there is no longer any competing between two main camps meaningful as a proper description (already is not, but people insist nevertheless), but simply the usual market place/natural selection/ environment co-evolution between systems. This integration includes bio(logically inspired) neural networks in what some people call proper robots, so people like Steve and Gerhard and Isabel will soon go "seeee, we were right all along, the soul comes with the bio-goo; the essential part is bio". That they redefined their position like the church the concept of "god" all the way from "angry guy with long white beard" to "abstract principle as such" does not occur to them.
    Please do not put words in my mouth. I said nothing about any "essential thing" or souls. Where are you getting this? Please don't mention me if you are not going to condescend to read my comments;)

    "There is no interesting distinction between humans and non-human robots"
    not to you. Would you just as soon have sex with a robot then?

    If you are such a sociopath why do you even care what happens? What are you trying to save?

    Gerhard Adam
    I don't think it's quite right to express this as a conflict between "bio-systems" and "mechanical systems".

    I don't think there's any question that biological systems can certainly be described as organized systems that behave like complex machines.  There are many aspects of these systems that are described as pumps and valves, etc.  So, the machine analogy is not lost simply by reference to biology.

    Similarly one can recognize that there are environmental interactions that provide the cause/effect relationship that drives the behavior of an organism, as well as recognizing that there are other complex systems that manage/maintain the requirements of that system and are largely responsible for creating the "motivation" for the system to act.

    Each of these could be compared by analogy to man-made machines. 

    Depending on how one chooses to define the classifications, then certainly one could argue that the two [biological and mechanical systems] belong to a set that contains a particular set of characteristics.

    However, I would consider consciousness or intelligence as a separate category again, since there is no basis for believing that consciousness is a requirement, so until that is established, it seems to add an unnecessary complication to the discussion.

    So, one could say that your answering machines, cars, etc. are all extensions of what humans do and consequently represent co-evolutionary elements of our culture.  As they change we do to, so they are integrated in that respect.  Yet, I can't help but wonder what differentiates these machines from the tools of our ancestors.  We co-evolved with the spear just as much as we do with cars, yet one would hardly argue that a spear represents a robot.

    There is no question that whatever tools we develop [call them whatever you like], they will certainly exert an evolutionary pressure on us, and we, in turn, will "evolve" them. 

    So what does it mean to say that we are all humans - animals - robots?  Is it just a linguistic interpretation of what we are? Is there something more substantive being represented here?

    I know part of the argument is to suggest that by seeing them all the same, then no group holds a privileged position.  There is no chain of superiority, but rather all being part of the same group, we are simply different within this context as individuals rather than as a "specially endowed" group.

    Yet, part of the conflict occurs because of complexity.  Biological systems are so incredibly complex, it seems the height of arrogance to compare man-made machines and simply declare them to be comparable.  It's like claiming that you can do the same work as a super-computer with an abacus.  While they are certainly both computing devices, they are hardly the same thing.  So it is with making these comparisons.

    Perhaps if everyone shared in this terminology and applied the same qualified neutrality to its interpretation it wouldn't be a problem.  Yet, I fear that the shift to such terminology will only give credence to many that nature is "obsolete" and should be replaced with man-made technology which can be done better.  I fear that our ignorant and unbridled arrogance will make us feel even more secure in our course, despite failing to understand even the fundamentals of biological systems, we are already planning to circumvent the entire process by striving for immortality and eliminating our obsolete biology in favor of robotic subsystems.

    Whether you accept such a possibility or not doesn't really matter, but it is certainly something that comes to mind every time the comparison between biological systems and robots is made.

    Perhaps its a parochial view, but unless and until our technology actually becomes sophisticated enough to where I don't have to put up with more and more crap, that becomes more and more expensive, that works less and less well.  I'll stick with maintaining a separation of biological systems from man-made systems.

    While I concur that they are fully comparable in the general nature of how they operate, and I fully agree that one could consider them to be part of the set of systems that perform 'x' functions, I'm simply not inclined to give more ammunition to those that would destroy what remains of the natural world by letting them justify it by claiming that their replacements are just as good as what was there before.

    I know that many will jump on that as being the hippy love of the "natural" world.  Yet, truth be told, if I had to choose between the natural world and the man-made one ... I'd choose the natural world, because the man-made one is an illusion.

    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
     Biological systems are so incredibly complex
    The arguments here are now fully down on the level of creationists spewing nonsense about "irreducible complexety". Have fun.
    Gerhard Adam
    Now you're just being difficult. :)
    Mundus vult decipi
    Sascha, you are the one whose arguments are getting ridiculous. You have an idea of what your opponents are saying and you stick to it with these cliches, and your counter-arguments are suspiciously lacking in detail. You haven't answered even a fraction of the arguments here. Why so cryptic and hostile? Are you so much smarter than natural selection that you can do in a few decades what has taken 3 billion years, and even improve on it? Do i-phones or google glasses make people smarter?

    I think technology make be heading us down a dark road, but I don't think it will have anything to do with greater intelligence or conscious robots, and I haven't seen any evidence from you or anyone that that has or ever will occur. I think you are closer to the creationist here, as you think a creator would do a superior job of things rather than slow, plodding second-rate natural selection.

    MikeCrow
    It's funny how your comprehension shoots up when discussing the same topic with Sascha.
    Never is a long time.
    MikeCrow
    You're right I did that.

    This reminds me of our President complaining about Automatic Teller Machines taking jobs, as why there aren't any jobs. Now there are fewer bank tellers, but how many billions of dollars of time saved is there because of ATM's, Auto-deposit, online banking? I'm glad I don't have to waste time waiting in a bank line.
    Never is a long time.
    "humans are going to make ever more complex machines, that at some point will be our rivals, indistinguishable from us in all but the substrate"

    You really believe this? That a human will make something that is more complex, and better than a human?

    The same humans who don't even understand what happens in a yeast cell?

    It will be better than the result of 3 billion years of natural selection because now we are smart and can just extract the crucial information. And build something even better, even more complex. This strikes me as delusional.

    It seems that according to you, our consciousness has nothing to do with our evolution to recognize and bond with and struggle against other individuals, it is all about our super-smarts! We became so smart that inevitable we became conscious. So, as soon as we make a machine that is as smart as us, or even sooner, it will become conscious too. So now, us super smart animals will get rid of our messy, useless bodies and out-do evolution! Sure....

    btw what are you considering the 'substrate'? (the term is used differently in my field, to descibe what the organism is living on) Carbon? You realize that carbon is the basis for a good reason, and that many other elements are involved not to mention thousand upon thousands of secondary compounds?

    I wish all these projections were not so vague.

    Gerhard Adam
    That a human will make something that is more complex, and better than a human?
    Just as an additional thought.

    It seems that the complexity in this case is generally referring to intelligence. 

    I have argued in other posts that no "intelligence" can be constructed that is more complex than its creator.  The reason being that there is no way for the creator to confirm that the objective has been achieved, since by definition, it is more intelligent than the individual evaluating it.  As a result, it would be impossible to distinguish between a machine that was truly more intelligent or merely more cleverly delusional.
    Mundus vult decipi
    What I think is delusional is the idea that humans or human technology can do better than NS, that we can pick up where NS left off. Intelligence is another thing we do not understand at all.

    But yes, you are right, the idea exists that intelligence can be separated from the complexity.

    I am still not at all clear on how a non-living, non-animal can become conscious. If it happens it would be far in the future. We will be subject to much worse trials long before that.

    Okay, I have all Asimov's robot stories ready for my weekend reading:)

    MikeCrow
    I wasn't referring to intelligence when I mentioned complexity, just physical complexity.

    But you're hanging your hat that we'll never make a machine more intelligent than us because we're not able to test it?
    Not that we'll never be able to build it, but test it?
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Without testing and verification what do you have?
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    So prior to IQ tests, which I will assume you also feel they are lacking, humans didn't have intelligence?
    And who wrote the IQ tests for the handful that score over 160-170?
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    What are you talking about?  We know what humans can do, but we also verify skill levels, etc.  How would you propose that you build a machine that has greater intellectual capabilities than humans and then verify that you've succeeded?  That would be like simply allowing anyone walking in off the street to declare themselves to be a genius without verification.

    Your comment about IQ testing doesn't make any sense.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    What if we just wanted to confirm it to be as intelligent as we are?, Could we verify that?
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Who is "we"?  Are you looking at geniuses, ordinary people, children?

    As an example, consider the issue around something like proving the Poincare conjecture.  If it takes experts years to confirm such a proof, then how would you confirm such a result from a computer?  This is something produced by another human being. 

    Consequently if we consider this in light of a machine being of greater intelligence, then such a validation becomes impossible, since [by definition] no human is smart enough to understand it.

    BTW, this doesn't even begin to address the issue of what constitutes such intelligence.   Are such discoveries the product of raw intellect?  Simply fortuitous?  A unique perspective?  How much creativity is involved?  or what combination of these things are necessary? 

    This helps illustrate why the concept of "intelligence", greater or lesser, is fundamentally meaningless in such discussions.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    Who said we had to start by testing with something we can't validate?
    Who's to say some human can't come along with a solution? How would we validate that result?

    Maybe you have a point in how would we qualify an IQ of 300+, But I think we'd have a good idea when it passed every intelligence test we could throw at it that it was way smart.

    But, more pragmatically I'm thinking of what we'll be doing as we create intelligence machines that match our intelligence. And what of the human form robot that matches our intelligence, do you think this will never happen?
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Who said we had to start by testing with something we can't validate?
    You can, but you haven't demonstrated anything.
    Who's to say some human can't come along with a solution? How would we validate that result?
    By taking several years to scrutinize it and then confirming that the machine was still only just as intelligent as this human being.
    But I think we'd have a good idea when it passed every intelligence test we could throw at it that it was way smart.
    Irrelevant since we can't even confirm that intelligence tests actually measure something we call "intelligence".  Even then, we don't actually know that intelligence can be extrapolated from whatever our tests show.  For all we know that an increasing scale like that may simply lead to insanity or fantasy.
    And what of the human form robot that matches our intelligence, do you think this will never happen?
    Again ... matches who's intelligence?  What's your standard? 

    Ultimately the problem that you will face is what is going to be your criteria for intelligence and why should a machine replicate it.  Is it going to be a medical doctor or a physicist?  It certainly can't be all things, so what are you going to achieve?  It seems like a lot of effort to simply build something that already exists, in spades, quite naturally.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    Let's hope they don't use your replies on this thread as a goal for replication.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Besides ... I want to meet the investors and individuals that build such a machine, have it make some "discovery" and then let it sit idle for several years while humans confirm the results.  Yeah ... that'll happen.

    How many systems would meet the following criteria:
    However, according to the rules of the Clay Institute, the paper must survive two years of academic scrutiny before the prize can be collected.
    http://mathworld.wolfram.com/news/2002-04-18/poincare/
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    Of course that won't happen, it will be solving other problems.
    Maybe designing the next generation robotic brain.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    To what end?  Recursive robot designs.  That's a complete waste of time and money if the only thing they will do is design each other.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    I guess since humans haven't found a use for general purpose computers for anything useful, probably a complete waste of time as you say.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    You aren't talking about general purpose computers.  As you well know the primary use of general purpose computers [outside of business] is pornography.  So you tell me ...
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    You aren't talking about general purpose computers.  As you well know the primary use of general purpose computers [outside of business] is pornography and gaming [i.e. entertainment].  So you tell me ...
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    I've heard the CEO of IBM thinks that we only need 5 computers for all of the US.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Now you're just getting silly.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    It appears so.
    Never is a long time.
    John Hasenkam
    Consciousness could end up being quite mundane. People typically look to the cerebral cortex for consciousness but a brainstem injury can keep a person in coma for months. I have read a study of decerebrated rats and these rats did demonstrate motivation and a complex array of behaviors, though keep in mind the cerebellum remains connected so that raises difficult questions. Remember LLinas, the thalamic 40 Hz chap? There is a part of the brainstem that appears to mediate consciousness, the ascending activation pathway. Knock that out and you aint gonna wake up. So forget the idea that consciousness is some higher function of a CNS. It's primitive, all vertebrates have a brainstem. These evolutionary ancient regions of the CNS play a major role in our lives. 
    Motivation is a response to past and present contingencies. There are computer programs that do that and they often do it much better than us.  



    We kick Nature's arse all the time. We make chemical reactions more efficient, we build things that are faster etc. Nature didn't even get around to inventing the wheel. Evolution has been cranking along for 4 plus billion years, we've been around for 150,00-200,000, perhaps even only 60,000 years. We're catching up, like real fast.  For myself that is a far greater mystery than consciousness. Why are we so clever?
    Gerhard Adam
    Nature didn't even get around to inventing the wheel.
    In fairness, a wheel isn't very practical in nature. 
    Why are we so clever?
    That raises a different question.  Do you mean humans, individually, or do you mean humans as a collective.  The point being that individually we aren't that notably bright, however as a collective with our external storage systems, we can excel.  That's why I find arguments about intelligence to be largely irrelevant, because it isn't human intelligence that has achieved our modern system, it is human social organization that has allowed what intelligence exists to be amplified.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "We kick Nature's arse all the time. We make chemical reactions more efficient, we build things that are faster etc. Nature didn't even get around to inventing the wheel. Evolution has been cranking along for 4 plus billion years, we've been around for 150,00-200,000, perhaps even only 60,000 years. We're catching up, like real fast."

    Ha ha. Better than nature? "We" haven't bested nature one bit, just because we have used what we have learned about nature for our own purposes. First of all, have you forgotten what you are? You are a mere part of nature, completely dependent on the natural world, but you have kicked nature's ass? Nature made you, but you are superior? I think we will see who wins this race in the end, and it won't be cyborgs.

    "Motivation is a response to past and present contingencies. "

    Or hormones? ;)

    John Hasenkam
    Do you mean humans, individually, or do you mean humans as a collective. 
    It can be both. Consider Ramujan, no training yet mathematically brilliant. Some people are just plain smart straight out of the womb and demonstrate an innate and often specific intelligence, like incredible memory or problem solving ability. Generally though intelligence is a function of the collective. Social organisation is intelligent behavior. 

    Gerhard Adam
    The mere fact that you can name this individual indicates just how rare such intelligence is.  That's the point.  A significant number of major developments can be placed at the feet of individuals that you can actually name.  Compared to the billions of humans in existence, it illustrates just what a low probability such intelligence actually has.  Consequently I'm not inclined to consider it a human trait that is characteristic of the species as a whole. 

    However, that's my point, is that the human collective has been able to capitalize on the abilities of such rare individuals AND preserve their knowledge for future generations.  The essence of the argument is that there is no single individual that possesses the intelligence to replicate modern human achievements.  As a result, we can conclude that intelligence, as a singular trait, is insufficient for such an achievement.
    Mundus vult decipi
    John Hasenkam
    As a result, we can conclude that intelligence, as a singular trait, is insufficient for such an achievement.
    No, the point is precisely that intelligence is not a singular trait. "Intelligence" is category of behaviors that we deem efficacious and intelligent behavior comes in many shapes and sizes. Raise any group of people in the same environment and there will be a distribution of how those individuals take advantage of their social milieu to enhance their intelligent behaviors. So I cannot subscribe to the view that intelligence is just about collective behavior because there exist within individual innate qualities that facilitate more efficacious behaviors than others.   So intelligence can be perceived as being innate in varying degrees and its maximisation is heavily contingent on the social milieu. One does not exclude the other. 

    Steve Davis
    Thanks to everyone for continuing the discussion in my absence.MiCro said; "Spontaneous independent cooperation was defined as life by Steve characterized by an exchange of energy, along with change and constant movement ." 
    That's a little out of context, but that's OK, I'll just clarify a couple of points.
    The spontaneous independent cooperation view of life was first put about 3 years ago, and I've had to refine it a little by including synergy as part of the process. The explanation can be found in Can Life Be Defined in One Word? for which there's a link at the top of the page. The "change" and "constant movement" and "uncertainty" were merely features of the life process that explained the link between life and the quantum arena. It would take extraordinary verbal contortions to squeeze "synergy" into robotic processes.
    Talking of "extraordinary", I'm reminded of the old saying that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. So far, the claim that organisms are robots is all claims and precious little evidence.


    There is a convenient cut-off point: all life is cellular. This is not arbitrary at all.
    Interesting what you say here about synergy...I like to think also in terms of emergent properties. Or a difference in degree that becomes a difference in kind, but even greater than that. Life involves many emergent properties of chemistry that are piled on top of each other and interwoven in other cases. I am not convinced that it is just "complicated" that if we had enough time we could just code it with another substrate and get the same result.
    Anyway, sorry of I've been argumentative here, I don't like being accused of being little better than a creationist or thinking life is magical. Sort of like in discussions about cannabis being accused of claiming pot is magical. :)

    Steve Davis
    Isabel, "argumentative" is good!Your comments have been insightful, instructive and entertaining.
    It doesn't get much better than that!
    And the best part is; it's not us who have gone off in a huff.  
    MikeCrow
    I am not convinced that it is just "complicated" that if we had enough time we could just code it with another substrate and get the same result.

    Then what would you suggest it is?
    Never is a long time.
    "all life is cellular. This is not arbitrary at all."
    This is pretty arbitrary, in fact, since it disqualifies viruses and prions from being classified as "life" for no good reason. What's more, given that some of the viruses may have evolved from cells, it causes a possible situation when you have to describe evolution of a "life form" into a "non-life form"... Which automatically rises a question: is there any essential difference between living (in a generally accepted sense) and non-living matter at all? Isn't "life" then just an emergent property, which arises in matter with a certain level of complexity and self-organisation?

    Gerhard Adam
    What is the good reason to consider them life?  Personally I think that viruses could be considered life forms, while prions ... not so much.  We don't simply accept that everything organic is living.   I would agree that the requirement of being cellular is too stringent, but even so, we have certain definitions that are generally accepted as differentiating between living and non-living, so there is no particular reason to deny that.

    One of the primary criteria is the obvious.  Living things can become non-living things [i.e. they die].  That is not a condition that exists for inanimate objects regardless of their complexity.  Now you may get around that depending on your criteria for self-organization, but that seems to be a rather obvious test.  If it can't die [and I'm not considering protracted longevity as a qualifier], it can't be claimed to be alive.  In short, I don't care if it can live for millions of years, the point is that there is a clear distinction between the organism as being alive versus being dead.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "This is pretty arbitrary, in fact, since it disqualifies viruses and prions from being classified as "life" for no good reason."

    The "no good" reason being that they *need* a cell to do their thing is "arbitrary"?

    Without cells, we have no life, period. Even the viruses could not survive without cells. Now you are concerned with homology, but earlier this was considered stupid with regards to the human/chimp/robot distinction.

    So far: anything that involves any exchange of energy is a machine=robot.
    Now we are headed in the same direction with definitions of life.

    MikeCrow
    the claim that organisms are robots is all claims and precious little evidence

    What would you accept as evidence? I've pointed out that by definition and normal usage of the language organisms can be and are referred to as machines.
    Never is a long time.
    blue-green

    Hola amigos y ormigas. As I alluded in the finishing comment to Dr. Sascha's Robos Awake post … specifically concerning how an open software program like SeaMonkey “advances” in fits and starts, and irreversibly …. yes, there are similarities aplenty betwixt software evolution and biological evolution. Neither “progresses” in a vacuum. Be that as it may, Sir Gerhard's advise must be heeded to not insert equality symbols where they do not belong; the resulting confusion is not worth the presumed eloquence and democratic simplicity.

    The higher meta-thing that robots, humans and yeast have in common is not just levers and pulleys. It has to be an entirely different category and order of things. It may be no more than the abstracted mumbling of philosophers concerning chairs. Or it can be more. The elephant in the room might well be a living consciousness. In our world of cooperative disasters, failures and injustices, what exactly makes the phoenix rise again? You can see it in a wounded animal's or a culture's incredible attempts to not die.


    " I am not convinced that it is just "complicated" that if we had enough time we could just code it with another substrate and get the same result.

    Then what would you suggest it is? "

    It seems that just saying "we'll code it up using some other substrate" misses the whole point- the "substrates" of life are hardly arbitrary. The smallest element that allows the most bonds, the phospholipid bilayer for controlling chemistry inside the cell, the volatile chemicals used for signalling, yes it's all information and energy exchange. But how are you going to reproduce the same effects with an algorithm on another substrate?

    Gerhard Adam
    Isabel, I think part of the argument here really revolves more around consciousness and intelligence than anything else.

    Obviously we don't have to replicate the eye in order to have a robot system that can "see".  Just as we don't have to replicate a bird's wings or muscle movements to build a system that can fly.  So the argument goes that without necessarily replicating everything that biological forms do, can we create something on a given substrate that is capable of achieving the same end result [not merely emulating it].

    My argument is based on the point that I don't believe there's any reliable way to differentiate such an emulation, because invariably if we are simply copying from existing life forms, then it is hard to argue that what is being done isn't being done simply for the sake of being a clever copy.  For example, the idea of a robot blinking their eyes because a human does it, is simply making a copy, not that the robot is behaving in a way that is specific to being a species called "robot".

    So, if a robot could be built that would satisfy all the criteria of "life" and being an actual "robot species", then I would concede that the effort is probably successful.  However, I'm not convinced that such is actually possible, since the difference between making something life-like versus alive is a huge chasm.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, there do seem to be two discussions going on...but the comment that I was replying to was about what life is :)

    I would actually say this applies to consciousness too, as I have been maintaining that individual consciousness at least (not sure if there is any other kind) is a product of our animal drives. As someone else astutely pointed out, consciousness and intelligence may have evolved together, rather than consciousness being a result of the super intelligence of a few animal species.

    "can we create something on a given substrate that is capable of achieving the same end result [not merely emulating it]."

    so no, I still don't think we can. This is back to the argument that we can now shake off our slow, plodding evolutionary baggage.

    "For example, the idea of a robot blinking their eyes because a human does it, is simply making a copy, not that the robot is behaving in a way that is specific to being a species called "robot"."

    I agree, as I have said, and I think you did also, if some kind of consciousness arises from robots it will be on their own terms, as a product of their own evolution.

    "So, if a robot could be built that would satisfy all the criteria of "life" and being an actual "robot species", then I would concede that the effort is probably successful."

    I am still not sure what the point would be. The leaders, movers and shakers of earth are already not the smartest people, so what good would a smarter robot be? I don't think our problems are from lack of intelligence. The same drives that motivate us to assert our individual selves, to explore and expand our territories are what drive us to destroy them. This is science fiction, like in the stories I am reading (I found a collection of all Asimov's robot stories).

    Gerhard Adam
    I agree.  To expand on the point of intelligence or consciousness, it is my view that there are serious pitfalls to intelligence that would counter any possible benefit in trying to build such machines.

    My argument is that any real claim to consciousness/intelligence would have to allow freedom of thought, since it is inconceivable that one could achieve the objective with arbitrary constraints.  From this a problem emerges; namely that such freedom of thought means that an intelligent system is capable of deceit.  In fact, I would argue that one of the primary criteria that would qualify for "true intelligence" is the ability to lie since it requires knowing what the truth is, and yet also being able to construct a reasonable fabrication.

    Yet, any such ability would also render such a system useless, since you couldn't trust it.

    Anyway ... that's part of my problem with robotic intelligence.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    It seems to me that you are tying ability, projected ability, and wisdom into a bundle, giving an answer that is part of each.

    We make clever computing devices now, they solve problems that we define as relevant at a pace that if a human could solve at the same pace would be super geniuses. These are tasks we could do, but the effort and time required is prohibitive. Calculating the fastest route between two locations, routing the connections on a PCB or Integrated Circuit, rendering 3D images, simulating the climate.
    While many of these computing devices can do different types of calculations, they currently can't decide on their own which calculation they should do. Nor can they pickup and move someplace else.

    In the near future, these computing devices will become much smaller, and most likely a couple orders of magnitude faster/more powerful. Currently we specify pretty much exactly what we want them to do, this level of increase should make it more responsive to human requests, like if you would ask a human to do something.

    Once we really start making quantum devices(of the scale we're making silicon transistor cpu's, only a million times more devices) there will be another jump in performance. We build Watson, Red Storm fills a gymnasium, these systems will fit in a desktop(or smaller), remember the iPhone4S is 3-4x the first Cray Super computer in floating point speed, battery powered, fits in your hand, and does everything else it does that the Cray didn't do.

    IMO we are making intelligent systems now, they not (as far as I know) conscious or self aware. I think the issue is in part construction, and intelligence. To make a conscious system I think we need some amount more computing power, and a body, I think part of it is when we move our hands, we see them move, when we look in a mirror, we can mime the ape in the window(I did see a robot do this, very cool). I think there will be low intelligence (compared to humans) self aware robots in the next 5-20 years.

    At the same time, our ability with mechanical systems, material science is moving forward faster than ever, bionic prosthesis technology is making huge advancements, biological prostheses are growing in labs around the world. Where will these technologies be in 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000 years. We went from the Wright Bros to the Moon in less than a century, from Babbage machines to Super Computers that fit in your hand in not much more. My Mom grew up when you had to put ice in your ice box to keep things cold.
    Venter is synthesizing any DNA string he wants and has proven he can hi-jack a cell, making it grow.

    And I've not even touched Nanotechnology. I'm not sure if we'll make an assembler, But I know Drexler projected it from about now through 2020 or so, and most of his projections have been in general close enough that I'm not really worried about when. And I don't think there's a technical reason we'll never make one.

    IMO all of the technological arguments about human made life can be dismissed, unless  something is proscribed by the laws of physics, humans have made almost everything we've dreamed of.

    Lastly it brings us to wisdom, would it be wise to create a self-replicating 300+ IQ shape-shifting terminator. If we can force compliance to the 3 laws of robotics, such a machine would be incredibly useful, but maybe the Earth isn't big enough for both it and humans.

    You can place me firmly in the humans must expand out into this arm of the galaxy, that if we stay here it doesn't matter if we're replaced by our creations, we're dead (wo)men walking anyways.
    Robots like I described would be a valuable companion building the human empire (stealing a little bit from Asimov's robot and foundation series).

    And there's a reason I have the signature I have, while evolution operates slowly, human/computer driven technology doesn't. And never really is a long time.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    You're confusing tools with sentience.  There are no intelligent machines, they are simply tools that require humans to input the problems and interpret the results.  These machines don't do anything except what we have established and they do it faster.  Just like a hammer is more powerful than my fist for pounding nails, but a hammer can never determine how it should be used.

    Apparently you agree with me by invoking Asimov.  Unfortunately Asimov was wrong and really opened up an ethical can of worms with his three laws of robotics.

    Human/computer technology [as most technologies] appears to move faster than it really does, because we're getting the "low hanging fruit".  It moves incredibly slow when it comes to the difficult questions [hence the unwarranted optimism regarding AI].
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    You're confusing tools with sentience.
    No, not really.

    Human/computer technology [as most technologies] appears to move faster than it really does, because we're getting the "low hanging fruit".

    No sure I agree with this, thought I do understand why you think it. There was nothing low hanging about the progress of Semi technology, it was a 40 plus year slog. In 82 (where I worked), we didn't know how we were going to cut feature size in half to keep up with Moore's law.

    I think your low hanging fruit was stuff that would work with minimal computing power.

    Sentience, when we get there will need a lot more processing power than we easily have now. It's also likely to need different techniques. My analogy is playing catch, humans do it without solving complex equations, a baby can do it. Writing the code to make a robot arm to do it would require a lot of effort. IMO we need to build a different kind of hardware, and I think people are working on this sort of computing.

    But I also think you're thinking of things based on your lifetime, though computer storage has increased by amounts that I find awe inspiring. Same with cpu power/transistor counts, and I see room for a 100-100,000 fold increase still to be had in my lifetime. Consider what life was like 200 years ago, do you not think life 200 years from now won't be as foreign compared to now?
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    In my view they are tools because they don't initiate anything themselves and are useless without someone driving the process.

    I still maintain that much of the computer environment is barely scratching the surface of problems associated with increased power and capacity, so it's still "low hanging fruit" in my view.  There's absolutely no question we have to revise hardware, algorithms, etc.  Basically we have no idea how to do the things being suggested.  Most of what is currently done doesn't scale very well.

    I'm not as impressed by computer storage, because for all the capacity increases we've seen, the level of waste has increased at an ever greater pace.  You have systems today that have such huge amounts of storage to perform basic operations that would be incapable of running the processing of 30-40 years ago with a fraction of the resources. 

    We put a man on the moon with less computing technology that exists in your phone right now, but as primitive as it was, it was probably more reliable that using modern technology [as it exists off the shelf].

    There's no doubt there will be significant changes in 200 years,  but for as much as we like to talk about changes, the reality is that a large part of our lives are still essentially unchanged.   I see people in this more rural area working whose lives are not substantially different from serfs of a few hundred years ago.  Most of the bells and whistles of our modern society are outside their reach, so what's the point?
    Mundus vult decipi
    "Venter is synthesizing any DNA string he wants and has proven he can hi-jack a cell, making it grow."

    Any? I hardly think so! And how is this different from any current genetic engineering, besides being a longer string. People were transplanting nuclei in the 1940's weren't they, hi-jacking a cell is not new.

    Interesting that you mention both miniaturization and Asimov, that seems to be one thing he (and others) did not predict, oddly enough, along with digital images, even in stories written in the 1980's.

    "You can place me firmly in the humans must expand out into this arm of the galaxy"

    I think most of us feel this way. Have you ever wondered why you feel this way? Do you think a man-made robot would ever share these feelings? And once they are evolving on their own how will you be sure a mutation in the "3 laws" part of their programming will not occur? Personally, I think it's way more important to protect the incredible planet we are on as we are certainly nowhere near any planet so suitable for us. I read Red Mars, it sounds like an awful life.

    Gerhard Adam
    I don't believe expansion into the universe is possible, which I suspect may also be part of the reason for the Fermi Paradox.

    All the focus is always on humans surviving a space trip.  That is the easy part.  The hard part is to get microbes to survive it and not increase virulence and become deadly.  If microbes don't travel well, we aren't going anywhere.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    Maybe, but we're not going very far for a while, and when we can truly go far, maybe it won't take us so long.

    I suspect may also be part of the reason for the Fermi Paradox.

    But maybe it's not a Paradox, maybe you just don't accept the evidence we have so far :)
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    There's no evidence to accept except that (1) microbes don't travel well, (2) we aren't well suited to long-term travel and (3) there's no place to go.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    They can make any string they want. They made the entire cell's string. We don't yet know what we want to make for just any string though. But think of string segments as logic blocks, we're just at the point we can start to make a library. We were making boolean (and,or,nand,nor) logic blocks for IC's in the early mid 80's. This will take longer, but we've also learned a lot since then.

    A truly living machine with a will of it's own? makes me think of Battlestar Galactica. Though at the end, the cylons and humans(?) were breeding.

    I think the only way we will be able to protect our planet is to expand into space, plus we know it's only a matter of time until we're hit by a large rock. We can sit here waiting, or we can build the tools to prevent it.
    Never is a long time.
    "The transplantation was not a straightforward operation, because current technology only allows scientists to assemble relatively short strings of DNA letters at a time.

    To get around this problem, the Venter team inserted the shorter sequences they had created into yeast, whose DNA-repair enzymes linked the strings. They then transferred the medium-sized strings into E. coli and back into yeast. After three rounds of assembly, the researchers had produced a genome over a million base pairs long."

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2010/05/20/venter-synthetic-geno...

    THEN they inserted it into A LIVING CELL.

    Just so we are clear on what this "creation" of "artificial" life is ;)

    A very cool, though probably pointless experiment, and advance of sorts but **not even close** to the hype or to your claims.

    MikeCrow
    The way it was explained on the special was they created shorter segments because they had/have a limit to the length they can make at once, used a process to assemble the segments into a single string, then replaced the DNA in a living cell with the new string.

    The sequence was completely created in their lab, and I believe I said they used an existing cell.

    The point is we can design any sequence we want, and insert into a cell, and if we created a 'good' sequence it will reproduce as a living cell.

    Now, maybe that's not very impressive, but it is to me.
    Never is a long time.
    "The point is we can design any sequence we want" again, no, this is very naive. They used an existing sequence that they knew would work (in fact the exact genome sequence of another organism minus seven known genes which were excised because of potential harm), and used three other organisms to do all the work. The cell it was put into was a very close relative. My point is that this is a cool experiment and will probably have some useful applications, but it is nowhere even close to creating life in the lab from scratch.

    "Now, maybe that's not very impressive, but it is to me. "

    Maybe partly because you are not familiar with the field and the historical context and so were susceptible to the hype that surrounds his work.

    MikeCrow
    I know they used an existing sequence. I don't remember them talking about using the 3 other organisms to assemble the sequences they made, I do remember them talking about not being sure with order they would end up.
    I also remember them discussing the process of what cell they were going to transplant it into.

    But even with all of this, IMO it's a stunning achievement. The fact they did this with a sequence they knew would work to me isn't a issue, it's what I'd do to test a complicated procedure to make sure if it didn't work I'd have a chance to troubleshoot it.
    You're right it's not my field, but let me ask has anyone else done this?
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...but let me ask has anyone else done this?
    You're asking the wrong question.  Nobody is denying the achievement, nor is anyone trivializing what occurred.  The argument is with you overstating its significance.  These are all important steps in understanding these biological processes, but you were the one that claimed that (1) we could control the sequences and create virtually anything we wanted and (2) this was creating life.

    Both of these are gross overstatements and wrong.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    He created the entire DNA string from a computerized sequence, regardless of the source of that sequence.
    The sequence when inserted into a different bacteria cell, reproduced replicating the sequence he created.

    If you don't or can't understand the significance I don't care.
    But I do find that's your thinking on many things you don't like, so it's not really much of a surprise.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    I understand the significance and I also understand what over-stating that significance represents.

    Using a computer analogy, I find that this is comparable to a guy migrating a program onto a new platform and making it work versus writing it from scratch.  It's a vastly different experience.

    I have a piece of software that starts up under Windows 7 but doesn't actually perform the functions its supposed to.  That's essentially what was done here with the cell.  It was "booted up" with the DNA sequence, but it doesn't really do anything. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    You sort of have it right, It's creating a whole new architecture and for your first test running code that should work as a proof of concept.
    This is how you do things to reduce risk when breaking new ground.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    I'm glad to see that you're finally coming around.  A proof of concept is NOT the same thing as "creating life" and "controlling the DNA sequence as we choose".  That's been the dispute.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Steve Davis
    "The higher meta-thing that robots, humans and yeast have in common is not just levers and pulleys. It has to be an entirely different category and order of things."Thanks blue-green, I think that answers MiCro's question nicely.
    And it's such an obvious thing that I really do wonder why we are even having this discussion.
    "Human equals robot" is obviously ridiculous, so we find another category in which both are comfortable.

    We must keep the robots happy.
    Steve Davis
    It just occurred to me that before Sascha left in a huff he blew his own argument out of the water with this; "There is no interesting distinction between humans and non-human robots,..."

    So there we have it. Robots are non-human. That seems to be an interesting distinction as I see it.

    But let's give him the benefit of the doubt, (why, I don't know, perhaps it's because I'm not a robot) and assume that what he meant to say was that there is no interesting distinction between human robots and non-human robots.
    That really is the crux of his argument.
    And in response to that, anyone who thinks that sexual reproduction (or any of a thousand other features I could use as an example,) is not an interesting distinction needs to think again.  And the fact of the matter is that no matter how sophisticated robots become in the future, there will be features shared by all humans that are not shared by robots.
    If Sascha was to tell me that he is actually a rock or a tree, I would first feel sorry for him, (because I am not a robot) and then I would feel obliged to point out to him (because I am not a robot) the interesting distinctions that show his belief to be misplaced.
    This position of his is in that same category, and once again I have to say that I cannot believe we are having this discussion.