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AI via Genetic Algorithms, or is it Artificial Life that I’m Interested in?

I’m interested in a genetic algorithmic approach as a way to facilitate an artificial intelligence.  Stupid AI is to me great, as long as it’s alive.  I’m not sure if that is the extent of my interest in this realm, however.  Artificial life holds my interest too.  Which of the above is the most interesting or best describes my interest is not yet clear to me.

I see opportunistic evolution all around me: in our behavior, in other creations of nature, in successful products encouraged by markets.

I imagine the components that commonly comprise life and excitedly compare them to what is possible to construct inside a computer realizing the feasibility of building an entity that can fit the definition of life.  A machine can therefore support life, teeming with interactive non-organic living entities.  To be generic, it’s fascinating!

One thing I must struggle with is that I have a tendency to reinvent the wheel, being blocked from building on top of other people’s efforts.  I become irritated reading others’ work.  I experience a complex critical reaction which dissuades me from proceeding beyond the most mild exposure to their work.

To overcome this block just for now in a minute way, and since it’s the weekend, I’ll reference another’s definition of life:

The property or quality that distinguishes living organisms from dead organisms and inanimate matter, manifested in functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism.

-American Heritage Dictionary

By this definition a lot of things can be considered to have life; it’s sort of self-referential, “[life] distinguishes living organisms from dead”, which always makes matching examples to definitions easier. Also it’s general, “functions such as…” instead of e.g. “functions consisting entirely of the following…”

To break it down, it’s:

  • a property – like a tangible aspect
  • a quality – like maybe an intangible aspect
  • a distinguishing aspect – just something that makes it different, cool
  • not dead, not inanimate – so whatever their definition of dead is, it is not, plus it is animate, like roger rabbit while the movie is still playing … hrm better lookup animate: “able to move voluntarily”.  That is the best choice definition since American Heritage also had definitions that were equivalent to being alive … so some circular definitions be here.
  • manifested – okay it exists in reality
  • it has functions
  • metabolism – um A.H. is telling me that means organic, and creates its own components – ummm non-organic life is going to have to be defined differently.  Perhaps non-organic life deserves its own study?  e.g. viruses and those deep-sea or deep-space weird sulfer bacteria and other gizmos?  Non-organic life can create its own components through internal or external mechanisms – I doubt it should be a hard requirement that its own components should always be internal since what’s inside and what’s outside is unimportant, skin is merely a protective covering for our goodies, the organs that are engines and major components of our body-factories.  A non-organic thing that creates its own parts through collection and combination of external materials, performed externally should in my opinion qualify as metabolic for this subject.
  • growth – starting from a nut and growing to a tree? Even though that’s a requirement it seems a bit non-essential.  Things are constructed and typically don’t emerge whole instantaneously from component materials; I suppose diamond might poof emerge from some compressed rock as a total final structure, but as long as the process of construction is too strictly defined to be inside a womb, or as the eat, construct cycle [could use a definition here!] then I think I’ll have enough conceptual room to allow non-organic growth – perhaps the definition of growth could encompass a mechanism that increases the number of instructions or rules it follows over the course of time.
  • reproduction – i think that’s a mechanical feature, a trick.  Genetics and mutation is a complex trick.  “Hey look at this, I peeled off some of my skin and it kept growing!”
  • response to stimuli or adaptation initiated by the organism – well that sets the bar low.  a mollusk could retract to impacts on its shell and that’s response.  adaptation to me seems more sophisticated version of response, incorporating memory of some form: genetic or learned.

Whew, I think what I imagine as an artificial lifeform can fit the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of life.

This exploration helps – looking back to my first paragraph and thinking about how the definition added to my understanding of life, I see that inately animated things generally qualify as life.  Bummer!  Machines are life; stuff some gasoline in a car and it moves animatedly – certainly it doesn’t reproduce but hey self reproducing machines do already exist in research labs.

My quest to create artificial life is thus both doused with water and excited with the more readily attainable possibility of participation in creation.