Today's post, Recognizing Intelligence was originally published on 07 November 2008. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


Suppose we landed on another planet and found a large metal object that contained wires made of superconductors, and hundreds of tightly matched gears. Would we be able to infer the presence of an optimization process?

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Note: cheesecake may be presented as an alien preference, but do NOT use it as an UFAI preference. The idea of tiling the universe with cheesecake is too attractive.

The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for making cheesecake.


The subtlety of your humor is beyond me, or you are taking the parent way too seriously.

I really like trying to contrast intelligence as an optimization process vs. evolution. If we come to an alien planet, and we find something that is using negentropy, how do we know it isn't produced without intelligence as we understand it? I few ideas: Is it itself alive (reproducing, etc.?) Is it made of materials that require high energy well above the ambient temperatures/available energy? There's no reason life can't use metal, but it doesn't really smelt it, or make thermite, etc.

Several comments on the original thread seem to be making a comparison between "I found a complicated machine-thing, something must have made it" and the classic anti-evolution "This looks complicated, therefore God"

I can't quite see how they can leap from one to the other.

The Intelligent Design theorists don't seem to understand that (1) their effort to describe biological structures in strictly engineering terms capitulates to what materialists have said for generations, namely, that life operates according to nonspooky mechanical principles; and (2) their influence in propagandizing the view of the human body as a machine will probably help to erode resistance to proposals for re-engineering human biology.

In other words, the Intelligent Design idea has the unintentional effect of desacralizing the human body.

I hope that happens quick. There are systems in my body that need some re-engineering, lest I die even sooner than the average Englishman.

That was Caledonian. What do you expect?

Probably they don't find the algorithm for determining whether something is a product of evolution or a product of intelligence satisfactory. Especially when the algorithm is not written explicitly; there is mostly just a suggestion that after some exploring, we would know the difference.

Pieces of metal, gears, doing some work... seems like an obvious evidence of an intelligent design. Unless we consider the possibility that they somehow evolved in this strange alien biology. Or are they something like a bee hive or a beaver dam -- a product of a life form, but not very intelligently designed. Perhaps the alien "bees" create these metallic gears and assemble the machines instinctively. In which case I would expect all such machines to be rather similar to each other.

The article does not explore this interesting topic deeply enough. It just suggests that it can be done.