Eric Holloway looks at the discussions at the Wistar Institute—which fell down the memory hole in 1967—and recovers Marcel-Paul Schutzenberger (1920–1996)’s main point, that you can’t actually get there from here.
Think of the word ladder game, where we transform one word into another by changing only one letter at a time:
Schutzenberger offered the example of computer programs, which are extremely brittle and even more difficult than transforming English words. A single character out of place will render an entire computer program invalid and inoperable. His question is simple: What is it about DNA and evolution that makes the process so much more productive and robust than mutating computer programs or human languages? It is even more mysterious if this process makes the modifications “randomly,” in other words without any information regarding the environment nor what would benefit the organism. As we know, the debate rages today as to whether the way evolution is supposed to have happened is even possible.
Interestingly, the same question applies to artificial intelligence.
The language of the computer consists of ones and zeros, analogous to the four GATC* letters of DNA, transformed through various computational operations. This is the heart of artificial intelligence—operations on ones and zeros. These operations occur without any insight into the environment around them. Thus any information that enters the artificial intelligence can only be understood if it is anticipated by the artificial intelligence’s programming. So, Schutzenberger asked, if we have a mechanical process with no direct insight into its environment, how can it hope to learn from its environment anything beyond what has already been programmed into its source code?
During Schutzenberger’s time, some artificial intelligence researchers proposed that randomness could solve that problem…Eric Holloway, “Evolution And Artificial Intelligence Face The Same Basic Problem” at Mind Matters News
Without knowledge about the goal and how to get there, it rapidly becomes first difficult and then completely impossible to reach the goal.