Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Monkey Science

You might think scientists have gone mad when you read about a project involving millions of "virtual" monkeys tapping randomly on "virtual" keyboards. The project is an extension of a previous attempt to get real monkeys type on real keyboards, but the monkeys hit the same key until the keyboard broke. So costing only around £5000 a year using virtual monkeys and virtual keyboards works out a lot cheaper.

What's the point of the exercise? The idea is that by random chance if keys are pressed in no particular order and given enough time meaningful sentences would eventually result. And yes, by simplifying the task and not insisting on punctuation, the virtual monkeys have apparently managed to produce a part of a poem of Shakespeare. The wonders of "cloud computing".

Computer programmers have long been living in some kind of parallel universe. There is a pet theory amongst many of them that if all, or most, of human experience could be uploaded to a powerful computer, that computer would eventually be more intelligent than any human being, making human beings kind of obsolete. In other words, we humans would evolve into a higher form of intelligence not dependent on our physical existence but existing in some kind of virtual reality instead. Besides this sort of life form not being much fun, the theory is also seriously flawed.

Besides the mathematical probability of eventually arriving at a flawless copy of the complete works of Shakespeare suggesting it would take longer than the age of the universe, there is still nothing intelligent about any of it. To the computers a poem of Shakespeare makes no more sense than the single letter sequence typed by the real monkeys. The poem only attains meaning by having been written by a conscious poet and read by an appreciative audience. Computers compute or count, they do not create or appreciate meaning. The random sequence matching Shakespeare's poem only stands out from the crowd of random sequences because we distinguish it as something meaningful. Without our aesthetic sense of beauty the sequence would simply remain a string of characters.

In his book "You are not a gadget" computer guru Jaron Lanier provided a lone voice of dissent, warning against the depersonalisation of human experience through the "hive mind" to which his colleagues aspired to. His key argument was that computers, however refined they may be, do not, will not and cannot have consciousness or a soul. Unperturbed by such warnings, computer scientists like Jesse Anderson, who set up the monkey project, will want to prove that intelligence can evolve and higher forms of intelligence are entirely accidental.

The folly is not refined to wacky programmers: it is the expression of the materialist mindset which gave us the theory of evolution, denying both the existence of God and of a soul. The problem they need to face up to is that each time they run this kind of experiment, the results provide clear evidence against them. If it will take millions of virtual monkeys hitting millions of virtual keyboards longer than the age of the universe to produce the complete works of only one writer in human history, what are the chances of humans and other higher life forms having evolved by pure chance (and without the aid of virtual computer networks) from a single cell in a mere fraction of that time, namely life on earth? In his excellent "Atlas of creation", which mainly demonstrates that the fossil record of life on earth does in no way support evolution, Turkish author Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar) provides detailed evidence that even the formation of a protein as the building block of higher organisms had a zero probability of coming about by chance. He quotes the mathematician and astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle as comparing it to the probability that "a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein."

None of that will deter the continuation of monkey science providing evidence that no matter of how powerful the tools at their disposal, scientists are ultimately no more reasonable or intelligent than the "average" human being. And without divine guidance, the average human is guided by ambition and dogma.