a train of thought
Submitted by julia_ferraioli on Wed, 2006-02-01 12:42
So I just wrote this long entry, and accidentally deleted it. I'll try to replicate it as much as I can! I was thinking about the role of computers in emergent phenomena, and how we've been looking at them. For instance, in the game of life or go or sim games, we use computers to simulate phenomena based on predetermined rules. But these are just simulations. The computer is doing the work, but beyond that, it really isn't doing anything. Even when we were looking at cellular automata, we followed a ruleset, key word being "ruleset". A specific set of rules that determine how the pattern is going to emerge. But again, they computer doesn't really do anything except the background work. It speeds the process up. Which brings me to the question, can a person create a program with no rules and no purpose? I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately. Let's take the the first part about the rules. Ok, you see a little bit of this in different types of algorithms, where the rules evolve according to what it is trying to do. But the second part about the purpose? Every single program I've written has been to solve some sort of problem or to accomplish some task. Even a program containing only an infinite loop has a purpose: to run forever. That is definitely forseeable and wouldn't count as emergent phenomena anyway. The process isn't static, you could solve a problem but the problem could change...but you still have a purpose. My answer would be no, it's not possible. A computer can model and simulate, solve problems, but there could be no program to create a model with no rules on which to base it. So computers, perhaps no, but networks is another story. I was looking around for a way to create a program with no purpose, when I ran across this short network story in an IBM research website. It's a little example using email patterns. If you read the story, consider a computer virus. Sure it has a creator and rules on how to propagate. But I find it very similar to our ant farm. Doug got the sand, the ants and the food, so he's actually the creator. And since there's a box limiting the space, that would qualify as one of the rules. However, the patterns emerging from the ants' tunneling is entirely their own, as is the trail of a virus. One person, Robert Tappan Morris, wanted to figure out the size of the internet. He intended the virus to be benign, but because of how the virus spread, it brought the internet to its knees. A phenomenon that he couldn't have predicted. This post ended up being a little different than my last one, but hopefully it's a little clearer!