Johnnie Moore

Emergence over conscious design

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

A fascinating article from fivethirtyeight.com: Stop trying to be creative.

Researchers used an algorithm that generates multiple variations of simple graphics. Participants select one of these and the program then evolves some new variations of that. Participants select again, and so it continues. Remarkably over time, people end up with pictures with sophisticated images of things we can recognise from the real world.

People choose only on gut feel, and they don’t know where their choices will lead, but they do lead somewhere. It brings into question the assumption that we purposely design things.

It got me trawling through my blog for other posts that feel linked to these ideas:

The secret life of chaos, a BBC show showing complexity emerging without conscious design.

How network effects determine which songs go to the top of the charts, not so much the inherent qualities of the song.

How communities of species emerge but can’t be reverse engineered.

Our brains as evolved systems that can’t really be understood using engineering principles. Including this quote from Patricia Churchland:

Nature is not an intelligent engineer… It doesn’t start from scratch each time it wants to build a new system, but has to work with what’s already there… the result is a system no human engineer would ever design, but it is wonderfully powerful, energy efficient and computationally brilliant… Nervous systems evolved, and that makes it difficult for neurobiologists… to look at the wiring diagram and figure out what’s going on…. [Artificial intelligence researchers] tend to approach the problem within the framework of electrical engineering, and with prejudices about how they think brains should process information, instead of finding out what they do.

It also reminds me of the section of Nothing is Written where we talk about how you can’t really predict how people will connect new ideas to their existing map of the world.

Hat tip: Jon Husband (via Facebook)

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