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Computer develops theory independently to solve 120-year-old problem?

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That’s the claim at Wired

For the first time ever a computer has managed to develop a new scientific theory using only its artificial intelligence, and with no help from human beings.

Computer scientists and biologists from Tufts University programmed the computer so that it was able to develop a theory independently when it was faced with a scientific problem. The problem they chose was one that has been puzzling biologists for 120 years. The genes of sliced-up flatworms are capable of regenerating in order to form new organisms — this is a long-documented phenomenon, but scientists have been mystified for years over exactly what happens to the cells to make this possible.


Physicist Rob Sheldon writes to say,

As far as I could tell from the article, it was an optimization problem. You had all these proteins that control other proteins, and you are asking the computer to find the network that puts them into a stable state. The computer discovered three new network proteins. I wouldn’t exactly call this artificial intelligence, or my computer would also be AI as I type. It’s simply doing what it is told.

Isn’t that a bit like asking for the shortest bus route to the city centre? Or else the one with the fewest transfers? Or the least walking? Computers are better than most people at that kind of thing because they can’t vary from their instructions.

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11 Replies to “Computer develops theory independently to solve 120-year-old problem?

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    Computer scientists and biologists from Tufts University programmed the computer so that it was able to develop a theory independently when it was faced with a scientific problem.

    There is a contradiction in there somewhere. To be truly independent, the computer would have to create itself from nothing, evolve over billions of years and then program itself to develop its own theories.

  2. 2
    Robert Byers says:

    The computer has no insight or thought. its just a memory machine. Like our brain. yet no thinking soul.
    So any answer would not just be in this computer but in all of them. its just memory. yet it could correct human errors or even prejudices.
    Yet no ideas. If the computer did it then the people were sloppy.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    of interest:

    A Computer Just Solved This 100-Year-Old Biology Problem
    A new study argues that computers can independently invent scientific ideas—not just crunch numbers. – June 2015
    Excerpt: Although the computer needed just three days to solve the flatworm genetics problem, Levin says that it took years and years to design and prepare the computer program. For one thing, the duo had to track down hundreds of scientific experiments performed on flatworms just to translate those experiments into a massive database for the computer—essentially giving the machine rigidly structured raw material. They even had to devise a personalized formal computer language that fit the data they needed to describe.

    as OZ said:

    Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain… – video

    Supplemental notes:

    Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing – Incompleteness Theorem and Human Intuition – video

    “Either mathematics is too big for the human mind or the human mind is more than a machine”
    Kurt Gödel

    The Limits Of Reason – Gregory Chaitin – 2006
    Excerpt: Unlike Gödel’s approach, mine is based on measuring information and showing that some mathematical facts cannot be compressed into a theory because they are too complicated. This new approach suggests that what Gödel discovered was just the tip of the iceberg: an infinite number of true mathematical theorems exist that cannot be proved from any finite system of axioms.

    Algorithmic Information Theory, Free Will and the Turing Test – Douglas S. Robertson
    Excerpt: Chaitin’s Algorithmic Information Theory shows that information is conserved under formal mathematical operations and, equivalently, under computer operations. This conservation law puts a new perspective on many familiar problems related to artificial intelligence. For example, the famous “Turing test” for artificial intelligence could be defeated by simply asking for a new axiom in mathematics. Human mathematicians are able to create axioms, but a computer program cannot do this without violating information conservation. Creating new axioms and free will are shown to be different aspects of the same phenomena: the creation of new information.

    The mathematical world – James Franklin – 7 April 2014
    Excerpt: the intellect (is) immaterial and immortal. If today’s naturalists do not wish to agree with that, there is a challenge for them. ‘Don’t tell me, show me’: build an artificial intelligence system that imitates genuine mathematical insight. There seem to be no promising plans on the drawing board.,,,
    James Franklin is professor of mathematics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

    The danger of artificial stupidity – Saturday, 28 February 2015
    “Computers lack mathematical insight: in his book The Emperor’s New Mind, the Oxford mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose deployed Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem to argue that, in general, the way mathematicians provide their “unassailable demonstrations” of the truth of certain mathematical assertions is fundamentally non-algorithmic and non-computational”

    Conservation of information, evolution, etc – Sept. 30, 2014
    Excerpt: Kurt Gödel’s logical objection to Darwinian evolution:
    “The formation in geological time of the human body by the laws of physics (or any other laws of similar nature), starting from a random distribution of elementary particles and the field is as unlikely as the separation of the atmosphere into its components. The complexity of the living things has to be present within the material [from which they are derived] or in the laws [governing their formation].”
    As quoted in H. Wang. “On `computabilism’ and physicalism: Some Problems.” in Nature’s Imagination, J. Cornwall, Ed, pp.161-189, Oxford University Press (1995).
    Gödel’s argument is that if evolution is unfolding from an initial state by mathematical laws of physics, it cannot generate any information not inherent from the start – and in his view, neither the primaeval environment nor the laws are information-rich enough.,,,
    More recently this led him (Dembski) to postulate a Law of Conservation of Information, or actually to consolidate the idea, first put forward by Nobel-prizewinner Peter Medawar in the 1980s. Medawar had shown, as others before him, that in mathematical and computational operations, no new information can be created, but new findings are always implicit in the original starting points – laws and axioms.

    Conservation of Information Made Simple – William A. Dembski – August, 2012
    Excerpt: Biological configuration spaces of possible genes and proteins, for instance, are immense, and finding a functional gene or protein in such spaces via blind search can be vastly more improbable than finding an arbitrary electron in the known physical universe. ,,,
    ,,,Given this background discussion and motivation, we are now in a position to give a reasonably precise formulation of conservation of information, namely: raising the probability of success of a search does nothing to make attaining the target easier, and may in fact make it more difficult, once the informational costs involved in raising the probability of success are taken into account. Search is costly, and the cost must be paid in terms of information. Searches achieve success not by creating information but by taking advantage of existing information. The information that leads to successful search admits no bargains, only apparent bargains that must be paid in full elsewhere.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Also of related interest:

    Mathematical Model Of Consciousness Proves Human Experience Cannot Be Modelled On A Computer – May 2014
    Excerpt: The central part of their new work is to describe the mathematical properties of a system that can store integrated information in this way but without it leaking away. And this leads them to their central proof. “The implications of this proof are that we have to abandon either the idea that people enjoy genuinely [integrated] consciousness or that brain processes can be modelled computationally,” say Maguire and co.
    Since Tononi’s main assumption is that consciousness is the experience of integrated information, it is the second idea that must be abandoned: brain processes cannot be modelled computationally.

    Consciousness Does Not Compute (and Never Will), Says Korean Scientist – May 05, 2015
    Excerpt: “Non-computability of Consciousness” documents Song’s quantum computer research into TS (technological singularity (TS) or strong artificial intelligence). Song was able to show that in certain situations, a conscious state can be precisely and fully represented in mathematical terms, in much the same manner as an atom or electron can be fully described mathematically. That’s important, because the neurobiological and computational approaches to brain research have only ever been able to provide approximations at best. In representing consciousness mathematically, Song shows that consciousness is not compatible with a machine.
    Song’s work also shows consciousness is not like other physical systems like neurons, atoms or galaxies. “If consciousness cannot be represented in the same way all other physical systems are represented, it may not be something that arises out of a physical system like the brain,” said Song. “The brain and consciousness are linked together, but the brain does not produce consciousness. Consciousness is something altogether different and separate. The math doesn’t lie.”
    Of note: Daegene Song obtained his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Oxford

  5. 5
    EugeneS says:

    I think that such ‘news’ should be completely ignored similar to claims of perpetual machines.

    It’s strange that people get excited about it after so many AI winters.

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Semi related: Johanan Raatz has a new video up:

    The Inner State of the Non Local Mind – Johanan Raatz – video
    (Why Atheistic materialism necessarily leads to increased immorality)

  7. 7
    Mung says:

    This is awesome. Soon we’ll be able to put humpty-dumpty back together again.

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    Information from Nothing? The Flatworm’s Tale – June 12, 2015

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: UD’s Eric Anderson is on a recent ID The Future podcast:

    podcast – Eric Anderson: Probability & Design
    Casey Luskin talks with Eric Anderson, who has been involved in the intelligent design debate for over a decade. Anderson’s primary focus is on analyzing the logical and rhetorical bases of arguments to help people understand strengths, weaknesses, and underlying assumptions of arguments made in the id & evolution debate.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    radio debate – Stephen Meyer debates Michael Shermer, founder and publisher of Skeptic Magazine, about how Darwinian evolution should be taught in the public school classroom. Should students be allowed to learn about the scientific challenges to neo-Darwinism?

  11. 11
    Querius says:

    Meh, I got a computer to solve a math problem independently.


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