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Is intelligence an evolutionary asset

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Dave Robinson
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Whilst staying at my Son's house over the holidays, he was getting very annoyed with the program that he was running, It was a Genetic Algorithm he was running doing some drug discovery work - the reason he was getting annoyed was despite using a massive computing array, it had become stuck in what he called a local minima. He thought about it for a while and modified the fitness function, and unleashed the evolutionary process again.

This incident set me thinking; Darwinian evolution only has one fitness function, namely survival of the fittest; and was considering whether it was possible that this evolutionary process could also get stuck in a local minima. I came to the conclusion that this state might well be the evolution of intelligence. Let us face it, we have now reached the stage that we have enough smarts to outwit Darwin. If we suddenly get a cold snap, it is not the Humans that grow thick fur that survive, we all can simply by turning up the thermostat in our centrally heated abodes, When we lose our teeth, which would be a death sentence for most predators, we pop along to our dentists and have false ones fitted, and we are as good as new, same with eyesight, as we get old and our eyesight fails, we go to the optician and get some custom made corrective lenses made. Now even the most unfit of our species can live and enjoy a full length life. We use our intelligence to bypass the fitness function.

It seems to me that, when in a pessimistic frame of mind, that we are indeed just such a local minima and as such are endangering the whole evolutionary process, and bringing it to a grinding halt. However when in a more optimistic mood, I look at the way we are developing more able machines, and feel that maybe - just maybe, we are building the equivelent of the single cell lifeforms that eventually lead to us, we are the transition phase between biological life forms and synthetic intelligence. It seems to me to be a very fine balancing act; not enough intelligence then we are in the local minima situation, just enough and we wil be swept away by our own creations.

This effect may well go some way to explain Fermi's Paradox. Evolution can get so far, and then it evolves intelligence, which takes the top of the species to the level wher it has virtual control of its environment, and goes no further. What a horrible thought, a universe full of accountants, all saying to the curious members of their species, "What explore the Universe - that is a complete waste of money, go do something profitable"

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Dave Robinson

moozoo
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"Evolution can get so far,

"Evolution can get so far, and then it evolves intelligence, which takes the top of the species to the level wher it has virtual control of its environment, and goes no further."

Until it gains the ability to engineer life itself and evolution becomes an engineering process.

The other question to ask would be evolution into what. What does it mean to be more highly evolved than us.
There must be physical/biological limits constraining what is possible.
I suspect a being 10 times smarter would have to compromise other aspects like speed and agility.

Besides this, Evolution isn't a goal in of itself. The main process of life is to spread, multiply and survive. Evolution is just a process that support this. We are just a part of that process not an endpoint. That we desire to go out and colonise space is because we are a lifeform no different from any other, i.e. spread, multiply and survive. So the Fermi's Paradox still stands regardless of Evolution.

I think the solution to Fermi's Paradox is
1) FTL outside of normal space is not possible.
2) There is something that stops fast (>10%c say) interstellar travel. I'm thinking dust particles, radiation and micrometeroites.
3) Intelligence races are rare and far apart (of the order of 1 or 2 per galaxy, which is still alot)

Dave Robinson
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And then no further

Thanks for the response Moozoo - it is much appreciated, you make some thought provoking observations.

My first thought was regarding your observation that being 10 times smarter leading to a compromise; essentially what you seem to be suggesting that too much intelligence is not an evolutionary asset, but rather an evolutionary disadvantage - I think I am at one with you there, we are back to the concept of a local minimum; once a population reaches the stage where it can effectively control its own environment, there seems little advantage in any further evolution taking place.

It seems to me that Humanity has actually gone further than this minimum level. Whilst what you observe is true, that to become biologically smarter has a cost attached to it - actually augmenting our intelligence by artificial means probably does not. In my long career in the scientific field I have noticed two trends, one class of people who use computers/calculators and other tools to make their life a lot easier - i.e. computer aided laziness, and another class of people that use computers in order to stretch their capability; doing 'stuff' that they just couldn't without the ability that technology provides. Maybe this is the first sign that evolution is in fact still occuring. On one side you have mere Homo Sapiens, and on the other - machine augmented man.  Are we seeing the development of a man/machine symbiosis? An example of what I mean is perhaps best illustrated by Neil Armstrong et al. on the Lunar surface, without the 'machines', he could not possibly survive there, however without Man the machines wouldn't be there either. How long I wonder before the biological component becomes redundant?

I think that even if your point 2) about there being an interstellar speed limit; it doesn't render Interstellar flight a no go; the British Interplanetary Society Project Daedaleus (?) showed that interstellar flight at 0.1% C was quite practical, and armed with a Boltzman search strategy, where on arriving at a target star, the system then builds say 10 copies of itself and launches them onwards, would still cover a large proportion of the Galaxy, (must calculate that when I get some spare time).

I hope that you are wrong regarding your point 3) as if you are right, I think that we are all wasting our time doing SETI.

Regards

Dave Robinson

Dave Robinson
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Maybe I am wrong!

Going back thinking about this subject, it struck me that maybe I am thinking about evolution all wrongly. On the whole evolution controls the way a species adapts to its environment or changes to it, come an ice age the creatures who have thick fur are probably those that survive. However I am now beginning to think that the phenomena that we interprete as intelligence is the ability for a species to decouple itself from its environment. This makes a lot of sense from the evolutionary point of view. The species that is more likely to survive is the one that is immune from changes in its environment, or is in a position to modify their local environment to counteract the changes in the environment at large. Suffering from a failure of imagination, I can see no natural way that this can come about, other than the invention of technology, and we can see from our own evolutionary path that, providing we can keep the accountants out of the picture, this evolutionary path has a positive feedback element to it - the more technology we have, the greater the control we can exert on our local environment, and the more time we have to improve our technology.

So therefore if local environment control is such a great asset, (and the fact that Homo Sapiens now populate our Planet, from pole to pole, have a base in low Earth orbit, and have paid fleeting visits to the Moon suggest that our control of the local environment is pretty good) suggests that it might be, then convergent evolution might suggest that if the invention of technology happened here, it is a fair bet that it could happen else where.

What think you?

Regards

Dave Robinson