A partial index of discussion notes is in http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/misc/AREADME.html
Last Monday I wrote: > If nobody else wants the slot next week I'll be happy to give an > informal, interactive, introduction to some ideas about > meta-morphogenesis, partly expanding on previous presentations of the > ideas: > > http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/misc/meta-morphogenesis.html > > (I am working on a conference paper on this.) Nobody offered an alternative, so you'll get another of my rambles at 3pm today. For people who don't know me here's an introduction to the topic. Biological evolution (in cooperation with a host of environmental features, some of them products of evolution) has obviously produced a staggering variety of physical forms on many scales from sub-microscopic to individual organisms weighing tons (the largest of which, I believe is a fungus), and also multi-organism ecosystems of many kinds. It has also produced a staggering variety of types of physical motions and other physical/chemical changes -- of size, shape, speed, colour, chemical constitution, strength, rigidity, flexibility, elasticity, articulation, and individual behaviours in which those features and relationships to things in the environment change. Many of those processes remain utterly amazing, including multi-stage developmental trajectories, such as: fertilised egg -> larva/caterpillar -> pupa containing soup, -> flying insect -> new eggs, .... I think much of that was obvious (after years of research) to Darwin and his contemporaries, though new details are constantly being added to the list. What Darwin and his contemporaries were unable to think about, or to discover, because they lacked the required concepts, was the staggering variety of forms of information-based control required for, and enabled by, the other more obvious changes. Most people on the planet, including many philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, educators, politicians, social scientists, economists ... are still unable to think about forms of control that are not merely physical (e.g. geometrically constrained movement produced by changing forces) and, not merely quantitative (like gravitational control of planetary motion, or changes in signal strength or frequency), but are also *informed*: i.e. those forms of control cannot be understood or modelled or replicated without understanding the information-processing involved. What is not at all obvious is how many types of information content (ontologies), types of information encoding, and types of information manipulation, biological evolution produced -- stimulated and aided by changing features of physical and biological environments, then later social environments. Some of those forms of information processing produce new forms of information processing, e.g. through learning and development. The notion of "morphogenesis" was originally applied (e.g. by Turing and others) to controlled physical changes of form. We can extend it to include changes in information processing, especially types of informed control. Some of the simplest types, though not necessarily the oldest types, include homeostatic feedback loops using only quantitative variation in sensory and motor signals, e.g. kinds that can be expressed in differential equations. More complex forms require use of information about structures and structural changes, e.g. using grammars, and their derivatives such as parse-trees, graphs, etc. Meta-morphogenesis includes changes in the morphogenesis of information processing, e.g. evolving evolvability, learning to learn, developing new forms of learning, and recursive interactions between these. Previously evolved cognitive capabilities (e.g. perceptual, or reasoning abilities) can be used in mate-selection processes or selective nurturing of offspring, both of which can speed up evolution, as can selective breeding of other species. Understanding all of that (and more) requires us to understand the variety of types of information content, the variety of types of forms of representation/encoding of information, the variety of types of mechanism for acquiring, interpreting, storing, manipulating, constructing, deriving, and using information (is that list complete?), and also the variety of types of information-processing *architecture* within which such processes can occur, interact and cooperate, especially self-constructing architectures. And we need a way of investigating and characterising the variety of biological (including cognitive, cooperative and social) functions that all those things can serve. The meta-morphogenesis project is not a three, five, twenty, or forty year project -- though I don't know how long it will take to acquire something like the breadth and depth of the physical sciences, which took centuries. It is very difficult, for it requires us to do one of the hardest things in science: extend our forms of thinking, as opposed to applying existing forms to new problems. The development of science is a type of example of meta-morphogenesis.[*] Another, closely related, type is development of mathematics. Smaller scale examples include the processes Karmiloff-Smith calls "representational redescription" (in Beyond Modularity, 1992). As many of you know, I have been struggling for a long time (with help from many of you) to articulate the problems and identify possible lines of progress (at least since 1971, when I wrote my first AI paper). I think one way of pushing ourselves forward is to try to identify changes in evolutionary pressures (changes in niches) that created opportunities and/or requirements for new forms of information-processing (including new information contents, forms of representation, mechanisms, architectures, applications, interactions) and in particular cases where the new developments can contribute to future developments in new ways. (Hence the 'meta-'.) One of the requirements for making progress is finding good ways to decompose this huge and intractable collection of problems into manageable sub-problems. Today I'll invite people to consider some of the earliest forms of meta-morphogenesis that might have been involved in transitions in types of information processing from microbes in chemical soups to articulated organisms, with multiple needs, in structured partly static and partly changing environments requiring actions on different spatial and temporal scales. For practice, try to identify changing information-processing requirements from single-celled organisms in chemical soups to things more like ants. I hope to learn from your ideas. Aaron PS The earliest forms of information processing used chemical mechanisms. I suspect chemical information processing continues to play a far more important role than most researchers acknowledge. E.g. it's required for building brains, a process that goes on in humans for many years. [*] There was a wonderful BBC4 program last night (nearly ruined as usual by obtrusive acoustic accompaniments inserted by knob-twiddling producers who don't understand the difference between entertaining diversions and mind-stretching educational communications) still available here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00kjq6h, on the development of ideas about electricity in the 18th century (including people like Cavendish, Franklin, Volta, Galvani, and others, all struggling to create an ontology to make sense of the exciting and mystifying observations of electrical phenomena, not all originally classified as such).