Human evolution Intelligent Design

Computer engineers look at design tradeoffs in the human body

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Navigating the knowns and the unknowns, computer engineers must choose between levels of cost and risk against a background with some uncertainty:

Robert J. Marks: … I’m thinking of the design of human beings. We’re still not perfect. I don’t know if there are unintended contingencies or not, but things like COVID, for example., We weren’t designed to handle COVID, especially old people like me, or even something similar, like eating hemlock, the way that Socrates was killed. We also see defects like ibirth defects, diseases such as cancer and things of that sort. Isn’t this an example of contingencies which we would prefer not to see in the design of humans?

Note: The great philosopher Socrates (470–399 BC) drank hemlock after being condemned for corrupting young people by encouraging them to ask too many questions.

Sam Haug: The way I like to think about how human beings fail in certain circumstances falls into two categories. The first category is that our creator intentionally did not design us to withstand this particular contingency. When designing a human being or any incredibly complex system, there are some design trade-offs. You can design a human being to be able to resist the effects of eating hemlock, for example, but the cost for doing that may be large.

For example, you would need to include an entirely new metabolic pathway to account for that particular poison. And doing that for any number of poisons may just not be feasible in the size of the human body. I don’t claim to know about all the design implications of making a human being, but I’m sure that there was some level of intentionally in not designing human being to withstand some things for trade-off reasons…

News, “The Pareto tradeoff — choosing the best of a mixed lot” at Mind Matters News (December 3, 2021)

Takehome: Computer engineers Robert J. Marks, Sam Haug, and Justin Bui look at the constraints that underlie any engineering design — even the human body.


Here’s are Parts 1 and 2 of Episode 159, featuring Robert J. Marks and Justin Bui

If not Hal or Skynet, what’s really happening in AI today? Justin Bui talks with Robert J. Marks about the remarkable AI software resources that are free to download and use. Free AI software means that much more innovation now depends on who gets to the finish line first. Marks and Bui think that will spark creative competition.

Have a software design idea? Kaggle could help it happen for free. Okay, not exactly. You have to do the work. But maybe you don’t have to invent the software. Computer engineer Justin Bui discourages “keyboard engineering” (trying to do it all yourself). Chances are, many solutions already exist at open source venues.

In Episode 160, Sam Haug joined Dr. Marks and Dr. Bui for a look at what happens when AI fails. Sometimes the results are sometimes amusing. Sometimes not. They look at five instances, from famous but trivial right up to one that nearly ended the world as we know it. As AI grows more complex, risks grow too.

In Episode 161, Part 1, Marks, Haug, and Bui discuss the Iron Law of Complexity: Complexity adds but its problems multiply. That’s why more complexity doesn’t mean more things will go right; without planning, it means the exact opposite. They discuss how programmers can use domain expertise to reduce the numbers of errors and false starts.

In Part 2 of Episode 161, they look at the Pareto tradeoff and the knowns and unknowns:
Navigating the knowns and the unknowns, computer engineers must choose between levels of cost and risk against a background with some uncertainty. Constraints underlie any engineering design — even the human body.

11 Replies to “Computer engineers look at design tradeoffs in the human body

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    We are designed to resist viruses and most poisons. The immune system takes care of viruses, and the bitter taste buds trigger a gag reflex for most natural poisons, which are alkaline. If we haven’t defeated those mechanisms with muzzles and distancing and “sophisticated” food mixtures, they work as designed.

  2. 2
    doubter says:

    Why imperfection, apparent mistakes and flaws in the human body’s design and that of nature in general? Paraphrasing Granville Sewell, there is the observed regularity of natural law. The basic laws of physics appear to be cleverly designed to create conditions suitable for human life and development. It can be surmised that this intricate fine-tuned design is inherently a series of tradeoffs and balances, allowing and fostering human existence but also inevitably allowing “natural evil” to regularly occur. In other words, the best solution to the overall “system requirements” (which include furnishing manifold opportunities for humans to experience and achieve) inherently includes natural effects that cause suffering to human beings.

    This points out that there may be logical and fundamental limitations to God’s creativity. Maybe even He can’t 100% satisfy all the requirements simultaneously, where some goals might be for instance, simultaneously high intelligence, capacity for high artistic and scientific/mathematical creativity, of course tool-using ability, combined with long life (i.e. high reliability) . But wait a minute, the incredibly complex system of systems and subsystems of the human body inevitably and necessarily has a limited capacity to satisfy all the conflicting requirements simultaneously.

    Just like in a human-designed automobile the simultaneous requirements or goals say for high power and acceleration capacity, a high carrying capacity of one ton, total vehicle weight under 3600 pounds, and high reliability. Let’s say you also want a long range of 500 miles, the ability to park and fit in a standard parking slot, and a high degree of complex but correspondingly inherently failure-prone automation making many functions and conveniences automatic.

    These requirements are fundamentally conflicting and will inevitably require tradeoffs and limitations in some of the goals. That’s engineering, whether it’s automobiles or the immeasureably more complex human body.

    Hence what may be a certain inevitability of there being many failure modes in the human body, in particular disease.

    Maybe even He doesn’t have complete control over nature, because that would interfere with the essential requirements for creative and fulfilling human life. Perhaps very importantly though we as embodied humans (not experiencing ourselves as souls or spirits) would naturally very much object to adversity and suffering, the higher goal of human achievement actually requires the existence of imperfection and adverse conditions as a natural part of human life.

    From the human standpoint the cost of all this is terrible and we might object, though to no avail.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    John Stuart Mill in 1874

    the question of the existence of a Deity, in its purely scientific aspect, standing as is shown in the First Part, it is next to be considered, given the indications of a Deity, what sort of a Deity do they point to? What attributes are we warranted, by the evidence which Nature affords of a creative mind, in assigning to that mind?

    It needs no showing that the power if not the intelligence, must be so far superior to that of Man, as to surpass all human estimate. But from this to Omnipotence and Omniscience there is a wide interval. And the distinction is of immense practical importance.

    It is not too much to say that every indication of Design in the Kosmos is so much evidence against the Omnipotence of the Designer. For what is meant by Design? Contrivance: the adaptation of means to an end. But the necessity for contrivance—the need of employing means—is a consequence of the limitation of power. Who would have recourse to means if to attain his end his mere word was sufficient? The very idea of means implies that the means have an efficacy which the direct action of the being who employs them has not.

  4. 4
    jerry says:

    It is not too much to say that every indication of Design in the Kosmos is so much evidence against the Omnipotence of the Designer.

    But yet, this less than omnipotent creator created the universe but is too dumb to see the imperfects in his creation and then correct them.

    Would the best of all possible worlds be one where everything was imperfect in some way but all together these imperfections are necessary to create the perfect world.?

    For example, confronting obvious perfection could only lead automatically to the power of the creator and essentially eliminating free will in anything we do.

    Mill should not had read Voltaire but instead thought through the implications of denying Leibniz’s conclusion.

    Aside: perfection for any species would lead to its extinction. So called perfection or actual upgrades in capability would quickly destroy the ecology and itself as its food supply would disappear.

    Just an example of necessary imperfection needed to thrive.

    The obvious flaws of Mill’s analysis refutes what he says.

  5. 5
    chuckdarwin says:

    Jerry
    What are the “obvious flaws” in Mills analysis?

    There are known knowns — there are things we know we know,” Rumsfeld said in February 2002, when asked for evidence that Saddam Hussein tried to supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. “We also know there are known unknowns — that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

    We all “know” how that turned out…

  6. 6
    jerry says:

    What are the “obvious flaws in Mills analysis

    Can you read?

    I provided them.

  7. 7
    chuckdarwin says:

    Your comments don’t address Mill’s basic observation that flawed design demonstrates the creator’s lack of omnipotence.

    But yet, this less than omnipotent creator created the universe but is too dumb to see the imperfects (sic) in his creation and then correct them.

    According to Christian myth, God did create what he thought was perfection, namely Eden and all its inhabitants, but actually failed. Then he tried again (i.e., was smart enough ‘to see the imperfections in his creation and then correct them”) with Noah and the flood, only to fail a second time. Both of these failures were by his design.
    I would say that Mill’s analysis is spot on.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    chuckdarwin:

    Your comments don’t address Mill’s basic observation that flawed design demonstrates the creator’s lack of omnipotence.

    That is a stupid argument.

    According to Christian myth, God did create what he thought was perfection…

    That is a lie.

  9. 9
    ET says:

    Only morons think that God is beholden to our definitions. Enter every atheist that has ever lived…

  10. 10
    jerry says:

    I would say that Mill’s analysis is spot on

    Then

    Your comments don’t address Mill’s basic observation that flawed design demonstrates the creator’s lack of omnipotence

    But this is specifically addressed.

    Hence, my comment

    Can you read?

    Two things, one amazing

    First, the amazing thing, ChuckDarwin answered a comment.

    Second, his answer was inane which is keeping with his MO.

    ChuckDarwin did not critique my comment but brought up religion specifically Christianity. I did not mention religion

    Is he obsessed with Christianity? It seems that some here are.

  11. 11
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    Chuckdarwin
    According to Christian myth, God did create what he thought was perfection, namely Eden and all its inhabitants, but actually failed. Then he tried again (i.e., was smart enough ‘to see the imperfections in his creation and then correct them”) with Noah and the flood, only to fail a second time. Both of these failures were by his design.

    Yep, if your mind is bad design anything you think is erroneous including your conclusions on God.

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