As I wrote to Kurzweil in 2001 (reposted by someone else along with four others I sent): http://heybryan.org/fernhout/k...
From that email:
There is not necessarily an adaptive value to intelligence in a
certain niche -- because intelligence has power, mass, heat-dissipation,
and time costs. For example, consider the Hydra, which is a tiny
multi-tentacled aquatic creature that lives off of stinging smaller
organisms like Daphnia and pulling them into its body cavity. It has a
simple neural net it uses to coordinate its feeding behavior. Why
doesn't the hydra have a brain the size of a human? That may sound like
a stupid question, but bear with me. The Hydra could not support the
energy required to operate a brain from its current feeding behavior. It
could not protect the brain from predators. Its mobility would be
impaired by being attached to a brain that large. It would be unable to
reproduce as quickly. Also, the value of a human-sized brain to a hydra
is minimal, because there would be little the brain could accomplish
using the Hydra's few microscopic tentacles, limited sensory apparatus
(no eyes, no ears) and limited mobility choices. Further, the Hydra must
react instantly in its tiny world, and a big brain would take too long
to process the information. So, for the Hydra, a large brain makes no
There are aquatic creatures with brains as big or large than human
brains (dolphins or whales) but they have a very different ecological
niche and a totally different scale and physical structure. And there
are a lot fewer whales and dolphins than Hydra in the universe. ...
What might this mean in a human sense? Perhaps human brains are the size
they are because there isn't too much value in being that much smarter
because the cost of the additional intelligence is outweighed by the
diminishing returns of additional predictive value. For example, some
studies show earlier types of human-like creatures like the Neanderthal
or Cro-Magnon had a larger brain size than present-day humans. ...
The precis you posted, which is otherwise technical and advanced, is
using a technical term "evolution" as it is colloquially often (mis)used
to mean "progress". The two are not the same. And frankly, what is
"progress" for one may be "decay" for another, just as what is "good"
for one may be "evil" for another, as these have to do with individual
goals which may conflict. This weakens your entire argument.
I might go a step further. Because of your essentially "religious"
belief based on a limited view of evolutionary theory, you are ignoring
the obvious issues relating to the [diminishing] returns of intelligence, or
the adaptive value of "dumber" organisms. Thus, as I pointed out in an
earlier email to you, when you talk of downloading a human-derived AI
into a network, you ignore the fact that that large intelligence may not
be able to compete effectively in the network, in the same way as if one
grafted a human brain onto a tiny Hydra and threw it into a lake it
would not survive. What organisms do survive in a lake? Many, many tiny
things. Maybe a few fish. But the largest number are tiny things like
bacteria, algae, Daphnia and Hydra. By analogy, most of the digital
organisms in a large network will be tiny, and they might rapidly
consume larger creatures or parasitize them. Obviously, you can get big
fish in a lake -- but their numbers are small compared to the numbers of
other smaller organisms.
Because you have been heavily rewarded in your life for being
intelligent in various ways, the value of being unintelligent (or
differently intelligent) is probably a difficult concept to wrestle with
(as it was for me, and as I think it would be for most thinkers).
Ironically, both my wife and I didn't finish our PhDs in E&E in large
part because at the time the innovative computer simulations we wanted
to do were not considered an acceptable way to explore the topic of
evolution at a PhD E&E level -- a situation that a decade later has
changed significantly. Were we less intelligent :-) in some ways (and
perhaps more in others - see Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences),
we might have PhDs and an easier road to travel.
I think there are rebuttals you could make to some of my points (citing
network effects, such as distributed information leveraging up the
general level of "knowledge" in a larger bacterial DNA pool, for
example) but they require a deeper thinking about evolutionary theory
and its implications for digital ecology. Perhaps some of them might
lead to new insights in the academic field of E&E.
In any case, one has to think in broader terms than "progress". In a
digital ecology, the laws might be different than in biological ecology
(for example, replication might be instantaneous), but there will still
be laws, and the system will still be governed by them. ...