The Five Laws of Evolving Machines

Pay attention to machines around you.  Pretend you’re Darwin observing their habits.  It’s pretty obvious they’re evolving, and they have a parasitic relationship with us.  Biological life arose in the medium of water, machines are rising out of an ocean of humanity.  Most people think of evolution only in terms of biology, but it can be applied to cosmology, particle physics, and now mechanical evolution.  Scientists have often wondered if life could be based on something other than carbon, well, we’re seeing beings of silicon evolve right in front of our eyes.

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The First Law:  Machines Are Becoming More Intelligent

Like single cell animals being outwitted by multi-cell organisms, and the animal kingdom being dominated by humans, machine evolution is moving towards smarter machines replacing dumber.  Generally we think of machines as getting more complex or having more features, but if you compare an iPhone to an old rotary phone, it is more complex, does more, but more than that, it’s far smarter.  We call them smartphones and dumb phones, and the dumb phones are going extinct.

The Second Law:  Machines Are Becoming More Functional

Machines that do more are replacing machines that do less.  Modern sewing machines can do what once took several machines.  Modern refrigerators are no longer just boxes of cold.  A smartphone replaces a cell phone, portable GPS, MP3 player, PDA, camera, video camera, organizer, watch, alarm clock and could replace a laptop and ebook for some users.  My desktop ate my CD player, record player, radio and typewriter.  I can’t tell if my computer is going to eat the TV, or if the TV will eventually eat the computer.  Even a simple machine like a knife evolves to serve more functions.

The Third Law: Machines Are Evolving Towards Simplicity

Machines want to have fewer parts, especially ones that don’t move.  Charles Babbage tried to build a machine that was too mechanically complex to survive.   19th century machines were overwhelmingly complex, they had to evolve into simpler machine we saw in the 20th century.  But even those machines are too complex.  Soon solid state drives will replace hard discs, and people will abandon all forms of optical drives.  Floppy drives disappeared long ago.  But even more mechanical machines like washers, dryers, cars, HVACs, etc. are moving towards fewer moving parts.  Clocks used to be marvels of complexity, and now they are solid state circuits.  Electric cars have far fewer parts than gasoline powered automobiles.

The Fourth Law:  Machines Are Evolving Towards Efficiency

A Kindle ebook can last weeks on one charge.  A Toyota Prius uses less gas than a Edsel.  A modern air conditioner uses a fraction of electricity than a unit back in the 1950s used.  Modern jetliners can fly further and faster on less fuel than their ancestors.

The Fifth Law:  Machine Evolution is Driven by Humans

Human evolution was driven by survival of the fittest adapting to changing environments.  Machines evolve though the competitive needs of people.  One day they will evolve from their own competitive nature, but until then humans are the driving force of machine evolution.  Ultimately we’ll cross breed and form cyborgs.

JWH – 4/17/12

5 Responses

  1. Actually, Jim, I think I’ll have to disagree about this one. I don’t think you can reasonably compare technological advances to evolution, except in the very, very general sense of change over time. And I also disagree with your first, second, and third laws. :)

    I’d say that machines are not becoming more “intelligent” – not yet, at least. They’re still as dumb as they always were, just doing what they’ve been programmed to do. And although many are combining uses, others remain specialized.

    We’ve long had clock-radios, but some clocks remain just clocks. All knives aren’t Swiss army knives, either. And when I was a kid, we had a console TV with record player, which meant that when either one broke, you had to replace both of them. So there was a good reason to keep those appliances separate.

    And are machines evolving towards simplicity? Just the reverse, don’t you think? If you’d said fewer moving parts, then I might agree with you. But that doesn’t make them simple. Integrated circuits are extremely complex.

    Re. your fifth law, this isn’t evolution any more than dog breeding is evolution. Of course, maybe I’m just feeling especially contrary tonight. :)

    • Bill, yes, machines are changing over time. And they are becoming more intelligent. You’re thinking that intelligent means they think. But isn’t actions of a multi-cell creature more creative than a single cell creature? Isn’t DNA more creative than RNA? The actions of DNA is brilliant compared to merely the reactions of chemicals. The clock timer in an iPod is far more intelligent in its actions than the old fashion clock radio.

      Sure a computer is more complex than a shovel, but a iMac is far more simple in its use than an IBM 360. Computers have become simpler to use which reflects greater intelligence. Sure, an iMac is far more complex in its construction, but it can perform a zillion tasks that an IBM 360 never could because understand how to use it is much simpler.

      Yeah, I know all this isn’t very scientific, but machines are changing, and I want to call it evolution.

      • Heh, heh. Actually, we use “evolution” for all sorts of things (like stellar evolution, for example). I was just being pedantic.

        However, note that “evolution” implies some kind of natural process (as in “stellar evolution”), instead of deliberate change imposed from outside.

        And is DNA more “creative” than RNA? I’d say no. And I wouldn’t call it “brilliant,” either. You’re free to use words as you please, of course, but if you look up “intelligence” in any dictionary, I don’t see how it can fit.

        But that’s just me being pedantic again. :)

      • Yeah, but aren’t humans a natural process? Life evolved out of inorganic chemistry. Can not machinery evolve out of living beings? One stage leads to the next. You have the Big Bang leading to hydrogen, which eventually formed stars, that formed galaxies, which formed supernovas, which formed heavier elements, which formed planets, which formed life, which formed intelligent life, which formed machines, which formed intelligent machines, which formed…

        Bill, I do think some of my laws aren’t well written and I need to rewrite them. And I do know I’m being unscientific, but I also think there are trends to watch and observe, in the same way that Darwin saw trends.

      • You don’t have to rewrite your laws, Jim. As I admitted, I was being overly picky. Just in a contrary mood, I guess. :)

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