Randomness, Creativity and Thought

This may be considered a follow up post to The Future of Computing, but I believe it stands on its own as well. To evade the death of Moore’s Law, scientists have been building innovative new computers and chips, some which extend to three dimensions and some which use light instead of electrical signals, all the while decreasing the size of the transistors, to increase their processing speed and power. All this can do is increase speed, right? There is nothing new the computer chip can achieve, it just performs operations faster than computers of the previous generation.

Computers are inherently information processing machines. They convert a set of binary numbers, encoded using electrical voltage signals, into instructions. Alan Turing, often considered the Father of Computing, hypothesized a device called a Turing Machine, which would manipulate symbols fed to it according to a set of pre-defined rules. All computers ever built have essentially remained confined to this strictly mathematical and idealized model, in the sense that they are not capable of original thought. However, Turing had insisted in his scientific paper, ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ (published in 1950), that computers could be taught to think for themselves: they were capable of original thought.

To this day, our most advanced artificial intelligence is incapable of doing anything beyond its human programming. If many processors were to be gathered and given a task, which is suited for a multi-processor environment, the team effort would only decrease the time in which a task would be completed. It would not make an impossible task possible. On the other hand, when many people team up and brainstorm, they come up with ideas that a single person would never have thought of, even if he sat there for his whole lifetime.

Creativity. Experience. Ideas. Brainstorming. Computers do not exhibit or possess any of these unique characteristics, unlike humans. The human brain is the most complex thing we know of right now. It is fascinating that we still don’t know what makes it tick. I read somewhere, a human brain cannot reverse engineer itself, it requires that a higher organism do so, but I don’t think that makes much sense!

Is anything truly random? Given all information about the universe at a given instant, can we predict the future? This is slipping into the somewhat philosophical realm of the free will versus determinism debate, which the concept of Laplace’s Demon brought up in 1814. It is extremely interesting, but I digress slightly.

What gives our brains that element of randomness? Lets start from the beginning. Information is currently encoded using bits, a zero or a one. I say currently because, like I said in my post about The Future of Computing, the world will slowly but surely move to quantum computers in the near future, where qubits can be a zero and a one at the same time. This information can be used to encode anything you see on the internet today, be it photo or video or text. Each pixel in a full HD video requires three channels, Red Green and Blue, to quantify its state. All the information in a full HD video lasting 30 seconds, at 30 frames per second will require seven hundred gigabytes of information! But what about redundant information?

Anything redundant can be compressed, to save space and time. Anything perfectly ordered can be compressed to pure information. This pure information will be purely random, since it cannot be compressed further.

Information is randomness, or entropy.

The entropy of the universe is always increasing. This is embodied in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Does this single statement discard the determinism theory? If I knew all the information in the universe at one point in space time, I cannot extrapolate it in either direction, since each point has its own entropy. This leads scientists to believe that the brain is intrinsically random, that is, our actions are a result of quantum mechanical reactions in our brains. Maybe scientific theories are our way of compressing the information of the universe!

We are drawn to things that are neither perfectly ordered, containing no information, nor are they perfectly disordered, containing maximum information, somewhere in the middle we can recognize patterns and this is where we derive meaning, in music, poetry and ideas.

This post was supposed to be about reverse engineering the human brain…maybe another time? 🙂 Subscribe for more!

References:

  1. Does God Play Dice?
  2. What is NOT Random?
  3. How much Information?
  4. Images from XKCD – my favourite webcomic
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3 thoughts on “Randomness, Creativity and Thought

  1. Great Post. To pick one point of many, which I find fascinating, is how the mind finds creativity and beauty somewhere between order and, so-called, chaos, disorder, or dare I say randomness.

    It is where the brain can just about make a pattern of something, that things become really interesting, the brain becomes creative, appreciative, transfixed. Teaching my young daughter is always about finding this sweet-spot, which lures her in, the threshold increasing as she grows up. Too much and she gets disinterested for lack of understanding, and too little and the same because it becomes boring.

    I think Music shows the same traits, where total order becomes monotonous and boring, while what might appear to be disorder from someone who doesn’t appreciate guitar, listening to Jimmy Hendrix doing his stuff, might not see the beauty in his music.

    Taking this way of thinking further, one can say that, nothing is totally disordered, and only our lack of comprehension and understanding, the lack of seeing the bigger picture, that stumps our creativity and appreciation. Order and Chaos are of the same form just different resolutions.

    Liked by 1 person

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