The Two Requirements for Complex Innovation
Do you not find it mindbending that digital information technology was invented by man in the late 1940s, yet the basis of all of life involved digital information in the form of DNA? In other words, digital information isn’t a human invention. It wasn’t an invention but more like a discovery of the fundamental. It’s a kind of technology that allows for the robust construction of complex machines.
In the last decade, humans also ‘invented’ an evolutionary technology known as deep learning. Humans in fact discovered how massively parallel processes give rise to sophisticated prediction and generation machines. Just like the discovery of digital technology we also discovered massively parallel evolutionary technology. These are not human inventions, but rather they are discoveries of processes that underly the complexity we see in the everyday biosphere.
There’s exists an endless debate as to whether math is a process of invention or a process of discovery. Doesn’t the transcendental number π or the natural logarithm e seem more like a discovery? But what about the imaginary number, isn’t that an invention? There’s been a long tradition to believe that geometry and then mathematics captures fundamental reality. But it is less accepted that discoveries in the theory of computation are just as fundamental to reality as that of analytical mathematics.
Computation is rarely understood as part of the natural world (implies biological). Yet we humans are biased to believe that geometry is natural. After centuries of physics, we also believe calculus as being natural. Yet the 1940s discovery of computation remains unnatural. Cryptography seems to me both discovery and invention. Like engines are masterful recombination of physical things, cryptography is masterful recombination of abstract things.
Technologies are the useful recombination of what is discovered in nature. Human inventions are technologies just as biological inventions. But what is surprising is that certain advanced human technologies were also discovered by biology.
It is surprising only because we have an anthropocentric bias of what can be invented. How can a process without a mind (i.e. evolution) invent something like digital information (i.e. DNA)? We cannot intuitively grasp this, yet we have chess engines that learn from scratch.
Grasping an idea is different from knowing that something is true. We know that it is true that we have minds that are capable of reading this tweet and building all the technology around it. We just don’t grasp how we are able to do it (i.e. General Intelligence).
There is a vast difference between being mindlessly competent and being able to craft abstractions to explain why things are the way they are. Geometry, algebra, and computation are all abstractions of what we have discovered. It is the masterful recombination of these abstractions that we are mindlessly competent in doing. Von Neuman may have been on to something when he said “Young man, in mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.”
Ramanujan understood his intuitive understanding of infinite series as something revealed to him by a god. He called it an expression of the thought of God. Ramunujan’s thoughts from god were not always right, but they were often approximately right. His brain did not have the analytic computational prowess of today’s computers to work out the infinite series in its full detail.
Thoughts are expressions of the recombination of concepts. We are able to recombine words to create sentences to express our thoughts. Geometry and mathematics involve the recombination of observations to express a proof (and hence a truth).
We are actually unaware of how we translate our thoughts into a sentence. It is a habit that happens quickly and automatically. You see, fluency in a language is a habit that is developed through experience. Everything we do is a consequence of habit. The thing about a habit is that it is mindless. It is competence without comprehension. To be a good artist, musician, or athlete, you must learn good skills that have become second nature (i.e. habitual). It is no different from any other intellectual activity.
Our default mode of operation is a consequence of the multitude of habits that we have acquired since inception. We are intuition machines. Code duality (i.e. language and intuition) is how biology and humans achieve the creation of complex and robust systems.