Thursday, May 8, 2003

Garbage in, garbage out

Ever wondered about that theory called evolution? Rest at ease, a couple of researchers have proven it, as related in this report entitled Darwin Proved Right by Experiment with 'Alien' Life! I'll let you read the whole article for yourself, but here are a few things that jumped out at me...

"Researchers prodded and annoyed life-like digital entities over more than 15,000 generations to learn that evolution among simple creatures is in fact based on the Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest..."

"...the experiment found that complex logical ability never evolves unless simpler abilities -- foundational mutations -- are rewarded..."

Does something strike you about those statements? As a fledgling software developer, one thing I have discovered (usually to my chagrin) is that a piece of software will not do anything you have not told it to do. So I create an environment for these "virtual life forms" and turn them loose. Lo and behold, they behave much like I expected them to. Coincidence? Nah, must be proof that my expectations about life (which, by the way, could not possibly have influenced my design of the code in the first place) are spot-on, and, as the title of the article seems to indicate, I have PROVEN evolution...

But I'm being cynical. Surely the developers could not have brought their assumptions to the project?

"Scientists do not know how life on Earth evolved from simple organisms... to more complex forms like flowering plants and galloping animals."

Ah, so we don't know HOW, but apparently we do KNOW for a fact that it happened?

At any rate, this reveals an important focus of the experiment. If the scientists that wrote the software were not looking for IF, but HOW, their experiment merely provides a possible answer to HOW. The whether-or-not question stands independent of this entire article. They apparently started with the assumption that it happened and wanted to provide a somewhat feasible (insert debate here) explanation. So how exactly is "Darwin Proved Right?"