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Author Topic:   The Minkowski's challenge
Albert Godwin
Inactive Member


Message 1 of 120 (352082)
09-25-2006 11:37 AM


Know computer viruses?
You know that the virus writers started using encryption in the late 80's to avoid detection. If you have a PC virus that mutates, can you force it to evolve an encrypted virus?
And if you can't, will you please stop saying that the whole of those creatures did evolve?

The argument is simple: Selective forces will trigger only minor improvements in a living organism.

I have came to all this stuff while reading about a program called Watching the Blind Watchmaker.

I stumbled on it while reviewing a novel,
http://www.lulu.com/content/438633

It consists of two parts. the first part acts as a replicator and the second one act as a selector.

The program verified the occurrence of microevolution yet it totally stands against macroevolution.

I will contact the author and get his permission to publish the source code here. If he agrees, i will submit it. And evolutionists will have a practical challenge.

Bye.
Albert

Released from PNT using Message 1 of thread The Minkowski's challenge. The details of the underlying argument may be found in Message 4 and Message 5 of that thread. --Admin.


Replies to this message:
 Message 2 by Dr Adequate, posted 09-25-2006 11:45 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action
 Message 3 by Dr Jack, posted 09-25-2006 12:07 PM Albert Godwin has taken no action
 Message 4 by PaulK, posted 09-25-2006 12:07 PM Albert Godwin has taken no action
 Message 5 by Percy, posted 09-25-2006 12:53 PM Albert Godwin has taken no action
 Message 6 by Barbarian, posted 09-25-2006 2:13 PM Albert Godwin has taken no action
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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 285 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 2 of 120 (352084)
09-25-2006 11:45 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Albert Godwin
09-25-2006 11:37 AM


You know that the virus writers started using encryption in the late 80's to avoid detection. If you have a PC virus that mutates, can you force it to evolve an encrypted virus?

You appear to be challenging us to explain, or simulate, the evolution of something which we know did not evolve.

Why?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-25-2006 11:37 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
Dr Jack
Member (Idle past 1339 days)
Posts: 3507
From: Leicester, England
Joined: 07-14-2003


Message 3 of 120 (352089)
09-25-2006 12:07 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Albert Godwin
09-25-2006 11:37 AM


From message 4

quote:
Note: This chapter includes deep details that need a basic knowledge of evolutionary biology and computer programming. If you are not experienced in those fields please skip to the next chapter. Bypassing this chapter will not prevent you from following the storyline.

I rather suspect the author of this peice hopes you don't, in fact, have such knowledge. Having it allows you to pick up on the factual inaccuracies in the text that follows and the weakness of the analogies he tries to get you to draw.

For example,

quote:
“No!” he said nervously as he boxed the chair arm, “Encryption requires a decryptor to decipher the encrypted body and it also needs a part to encrypt the program before it is copied. Each part consists of a handful of bytes. I didn’t put blank places for any of the two. And even if I filled the appropriate sequences with NOPs it will make no difference. It’s too improbable that either of the two would emerge ‘just like that’. And even if any of the two would ‘miraculously’ exist it would still be useless, in fact it would even be fatal for the file that holds it.”

“Why?”

“If the decryptor evolves alone, it will decrypt bytes that are already unencrypted, thus it will corrupt the main body of the program. And if the encryptor evolves alone, it will produce encrypted offspring that lack a decryptor to decipher them. Thus the offspring will be actually corrupted files.”

“I see…”

“Even if I’d put in the whole encryptor and decryptor and just put the XOR key as zero the resulting program will be practically unencrypted and thus be eliminated by the selector, for the byte sequence will still be visible.”


Is an absolute doozy. Let me explain why:

Encryption only requires an encryptor and decryptor if the two processes aren't the same. It's entirely possible to have an encryption algorithm in which the two are the very same function. One such an example is actually refered to in the text: XOR.

But even if it were a valid example, it wouldn't count against biological evolution. There are plenty of things that could never evolve: Kevlar armour, for example, or Catapilar Tracks, or silicon chips. These things, I'm pretty sure, can never evolve as naturally occuring elements of biological organisms; guess what: we don't see them in biological organisms. In fact, there's nothing we can observe in biological organisms that there is any credible reason to believe can't evolve.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-25-2006 11:37 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
PaulK
Member
Posts: 17167
Joined: 01-10-2003
Member Rating: 3.7


Message 4 of 120 (352090)
09-25-2006 12:07 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Albert Godwin
09-25-2006 11:37 AM


The argument is very simplistic.

In biology we are dealing with more complex systems which are generated in a completely different way from the virus (i.e. the virus has no equivalent to developmental biology - interestingly Dawkin's biomorphs DO have a very simple analog to developmental processes)

Any experiment based on a single selective pressure is oversimplified. In real biology there are multiple selective pressures - and there is iteration (i.e. real evolution will offer a series of selective pressures).

To prove the point the argument either has to show that the proposed limits are inherent to any evolutionary process or that biological evolution shares the same limits. That means that it has to address the two points I raise above.

So, at present I cannot see why that the argument tells us anything useful about biological evolution.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-25-2006 11:37 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
Percy
Member
Posts: 20752
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 2.2


Message 5 of 120 (352098)
09-25-2006 12:53 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Albert Godwin
09-25-2006 11:37 AM


Albert Godwin writes:

Know computer viruses?
You know that the virus writers started using encryption in the late 80's to avoid detection. If you have a PC virus that mutates, can you force it to evolve an encrypted virus?
And if you can't, will you please stop saying that the whole of those creatures did evolve?

As previously noted by the first reply, no one is saying that PC viruses evolved.

The larger argument encompassed by the Minkowski/Faust dialog back in the thread proposal that asserts that microevolution doesn't lead to macroevolution isn't very precise, so I'll have to make some assumptions.

If microevolution is evolutionary changes within a species and macroevolution is evolutionary changes that result in change from one species to another, then Minkowski has to define species in his simulated world. If, for example (and simplifying for the sake of easy discussion), the "genes" of the original organism were "ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP", how much change indicates a new species? Minkowski never says. His simulated organism is asexual, so the criteria of interbreeding cannot apply. There therefore needs to be a "genetic" definition of speciation.

--Percy


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-25-2006 11:37 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
Barbarian
Inactive Member


Message 6 of 120 (352120)
09-25-2006 2:13 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Albert Godwin
09-25-2006 11:37 AM


Albert,

although it has been a while since I last had to I proofread 16 bit Intel assembly and QBasic of MSDOS 5.x fame, I am pretty comfortable telling you that the code has unnecessary built-in limitations which make its "macroevolution" impossible.

(a) The virus code is severely limiting the potential length of the resulting code. It can generate extra bytes at the end of the code, but the resulting byte sequence is truncated to the original file size when written out. There is simply no room for any novel functionality to arise in those fourteen extra bytes available for growth.

If you remove this limitation, it becomes possible for the copier to replace the whole code with a totally different program, although the probability of it happening would be minuscule. Note that this is not how evolution works in the wild, this is how tornadoes assembling JumboJets in junkyards would work.

(b) The selector is deterministic, i.e. it always kills a virus if it finds one. This makes it necessary for the whole new functionality to evolve in a single jump, already with its effects / encryption? / showing in the code, or else the selector finds it and eliminates it, resetting the evolutionary clock. Real NS is more stochastic: bad design is not immediately eliminated, it has a higher probability to disappear over generations. So if the selector was a bit more lax (more in line with real NS), it would allow imperfect new functions to survive for the next round of replication.

With those two restrictions removed, it is possible to evolve any program at all from the original replicator, as long as all versions along the path can replicate themselves. This is no restriction at all: you could grow the new program at the end of the copying code and lead execution flow through it only after it is complete.

This is not how real evolution would work, though. For a better analogy, you could for instance have functional blocks in the code, which can be duplicated as a whole and then one of the duplicates hijacked for the new functionality, presumably somehow related to its previous functionality and thus requiring fewer mutations. You could have a notion of fitness of functionality, allowing barely better functionality to confer a reproductive advantage over minimally worse functionality <-- this is what really speeds up the pace of evolution compared to tornadoes in junkyards.

Check Avida for an example how does this work in a correct simulation.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-25-2006 11:37 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
Albert Godwin
Inactive Member


Message 7 of 120 (352290)
09-26-2006 3:30 AM


You are all trying to convince me that forcing a small stupid self replicator to evolve encryption is harder than the whole evolution of men?

Dear Barbarian,
I am not assembly expert, but please notice that the least mutation in biological systems is disastrous as well. so this program is no difference.

But after all said and done,
Can i now conclude that you all failed to force this program to evolve encryption?


Replies to this message:
 Message 8 by PaulK, posted 09-26-2006 4:50 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action
 Message 9 by Percy, posted 09-26-2006 8:10 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action
 Message 10 by Barbarian, posted 09-26-2006 8:51 AM Albert Godwin has replied
 Message 15 by Dr Adequate, posted 09-26-2006 10:59 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
PaulK
Member
Posts: 17167
Joined: 01-10-2003
Member Rating: 3.7


Message 8 of 120 (352297)
09-26-2006 4:50 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Albert Godwin
09-26-2006 3:30 AM


quote:

You are all trying to convince me that forcing a small stupid self replicator to evolve encryption is harder than the whole evolution of men?

It would be very misleading to say that. It would be more accurate to say that GIVEN the circumstances of the "experiment" it would be more difficult to evolve encryption there than it would be to evolve a human-equivalent under the conditions that actually applied to the evolution of life.

The viruses of the experiment are less capable of evolving than living things are.

Selection is restricted to a single, relatively simple and unchanging criterion.

quote:

Dear Barbarian,
I am not assembly expert, but please notice that the least mutation in biological systems is disastrous as well. so this program is no difference.

Perhaps you would liek to support that claim. My understanding is that biological systems are far more robust than that.

quote:

But after all said and done,
Can i now conclude that you all failed to force this program to evolve encryption?

Yuo can conclude that nobody has bothered to try because nobody feels that it has any relevance to biological evolution. If you disagree it is up to you to make your case.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 7 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-26-2006 3:30 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
Percy
Member
Posts: 20752
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 2.2


Message 9 of 120 (352328)
09-26-2006 8:10 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Albert Godwin
09-26-2006 3:30 AM


Albert Godwin writes:

Dear Barbarian,
I am not assembly expert, but please notice that the least mutation in biological systems is disastrous as well. so this program is no difference.

Albert, do you mean to say you posted material you don't understand and can't defend? Tch, tch!

But after all said and done,
Can i now conclude that you all failed to force this program to evolve encryption?

Let's see if I have this straight. You didn't understand what you posted, you didn't understand the rebuttal, but you want everyone to concede anyway. Is that about right?

Proofs of the fallacy of evolution don't come from poorly written novels. I think the suggestion back in the thread proposal that you go off and learn a little about artificial life and genetic algorithms was a good one.

--Percy


This message is a reply to:
 Message 7 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-26-2006 3:30 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
Barbarian
Inactive Member


Message 10 of 120 (352337)
09-26-2006 8:51 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Albert Godwin
09-26-2006 3:30 AM


quote:
You are all trying to convince me that forcing a small stupid self replicator to evolve encryption is harder than the whole evolution of men?

I do not see it this way. I am trying to convince you that forcing this particular small stupid self-replicator to evolve any significant new functionality is flat out impossible because of built-in unnatural limitations, enumerated under (a) and (b) above.
quote:
Dear Barbarian,
I am not assembly expert, but please notice that the least mutation in biological systems is disastrous as well. so this program is no difference.

I disagree: the program is an exceptional case, and its failure to evolve novel functionality has no bearing to the feasibility of biological evolution. The program is limited to create offspring with the same size as itself. Since it is impossible to fit the mechanism needed to evade detection into that size, and the selector immediately kills all offspring with a less than perfect evasion mechanism, we can conclude that there is no evolutionary pathway starting from GEN.COM and resulting in a virus with detection evasion mechanisms because of these design decisions.

As for biological systems being brought down by mutations, I am no biologist, but genetic mechanisms look to me like they are padded with redundancy and loose coupling of functionality all over the place. IOW they are suboptimal in terms of representation of offspring-building code, and therefore point-changes have a hard time to bring them down. The problem is with the human frog-perspective on replicators or indeed on iterative systems: if we need a mental image, we build a minimal one, and that is prone to be locally optimal as a side effect of being kept simple. A locally optimal replicator could indeed admit harmful point-mutations only, but these replicators we build for easy illustration, like the program in the OP, are in no way representative to biological replicators. In fact, by saying that all mutations need to be harmful, you say that all replicators, at all times, are locally optimal. Given that the environment keeps changing and renders even optimal solutions moot, this cannot be the case in the real world.

I also would like to urge you again to check out the Avida site I linked to in my previous post, and explain why does Avida work if all mutations need to be disastruous.

quote:
Can i now conclude that you all failed to force this program to evolve encryption?

As far as I am concerned, you can conclude that. However, this does not mean what you said in the OP:
quote:
And if you can't, will you please stop saying that the whole of those creatures did evolve?

I do not see why should I do so.

---------------------

On a different note, if we are going to discuss the program itself any further, I would need to take another look at it, because as we stand now, I am going by memory.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 7 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-26-2006 3:30 AM Albert Godwin has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 11 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-26-2006 9:56 AM Barbarian has replied

  
Albert Godwin
Inactive Member


Message 11 of 120 (352345)
09-26-2006 9:56 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by Barbarian
09-26-2006 8:51 AM


Dear Barbarian,

I am speaking to you, and only you because it seems that you are the only one here who understands programming.

Let's make a discount:

You can fully rewrite the replicator and insert all the features that you'd like.

If you think that the original program did anything that can prohibit evolution of encryption, remove that thing. and if you believe that there is any addition that is needed to be made, make it!

If you'd like to rewrite the whole repicator in assembly, do it! ( I guess i am damn fair now, no?)

just one rule: Don't put any encrypting/decrypting code.

If this thing (i.e. YOUR program) Evolves encryption then i will become an atheist tomorrow and believe in evolution.

IF you don't remember assembly then I PUT THIS CHALLENGE TO EVERY PRO-EVOL ASSEMBLY PROGRAMMER IN THE WORLD:

WRITE _YOUR_OWN_REPLICATOR in assembly and force it to evolve encryption by any selective pressure you would like to think about.

pretty damn fair, no?

But if you can't don't keep on writing theoritical posts here. Fine ?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by Barbarian, posted 09-26-2006 8:51 AM Barbarian has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 12 by RickJB, posted 09-26-2006 10:14 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action
 Message 13 by Barbarian, posted 09-26-2006 10:48 AM Albert Godwin has replied
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RickJB
Member (Idle past 4224 days)
Posts: 917
From: London, UK
Joined: 04-14-2006


Message 12 of 120 (352347)
09-26-2006 10:14 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by Albert Godwin
09-26-2006 9:56 AM


Albert writes:

But if you can't don't keep on writing theoritical posts here. Fine?

So let me get this straight. Barbarian has to spend time writing assembly code to to prove you wrong?

Why not get off your behind, learn to code and demonstrate your OWN position?

Edited by RickJB, : No reason given.

Edited by RickJB, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 11 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-26-2006 9:56 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
Barbarian
Inactive Member


Message 13 of 120 (352355)
09-26-2006 10:48 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by Albert Godwin
09-26-2006 9:56 AM


Hi, Albert -

quote:
If this thing (i.e. YOUR program) Evolves encryption then i will become an atheist tomorrow and believe in evolution.

the temptation is big, very big indeed, although perhaps evolution is not a thing to be believed on: we merely say that it is the only possible explanation we have at the moment. Besides, I am ambitious enough that I would do this just for the sake of putting this particular claim to rest before it finds its way to the Index of creationist arguments.

However, let me ask a few questions first:

(1) is the task to evolve a mechanism which helps eluding a selector looking at patterns of N bytes? What is N? (I could tell right away if I saw the QBASIC code.) Am I right in calling this a stealth mechanism and not an encryption one?

(2) do I get to change the selector too, to be more stochastic? Right now the selector goes and kills on sight all viruses (= programs containing a certain sequence of bytes). It should measure the difficulty of recognizing a virus and give them a chance of survival proportional to that difficulty.

(3) do I have to use Intel 8086 machine code in a PC BIOS + MS DOS environment, as the OP does? I could easily do that - all I have to do is break out the Norton Guides and feel young again -, but I think I could propose a simpler virtual machine code, which would allow me to do 4) below, do away with the fundamental DOSyness of the OP program and make us start from the same base, as both of us would be beginners for that kind of code.

(4) it may be that the evolution of a stealth mechanism becomes possible but not in human timeframes. If that is the case, would you accept a formal proof instead of a physical experiment? The proof would try to show that after a huge number of iterations the probability of having a working stealth code goes above 90%.

(5) is there anything to speed up the process of approval from the original author to publish the code again? I would want to keep the solution as close to the original one as possible.

(6) would you be so kind as to check out Avida?

quote:
But if you can't don't keep on writing theoritical posts here. Fine ?

No, that is not fine at all. But I might of course reconsider if you told us what is your objection to making theoretical posts here.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 11 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-26-2006 9:56 AM Albert Godwin has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 17 by Percy, posted 09-26-2006 11:26 AM Barbarian has replied
 Message 20 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-28-2006 6:03 AM Barbarian has replied

  
Percy
Member
Posts: 20752
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 2.2


Message 14 of 120 (352356)
09-26-2006 10:53 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by Albert Godwin
09-26-2006 9:56 AM


Albert Godwin writes:

Dear Barbarian,

I am speaking to you, and only you because it seems that you are the only one here who understands programming.

Only Barbarian? Darn! But then where did all the code for EvC Forum come from? :D

If you think that the original program did anything that can prohibit evolution of encryption, remove that thing. and if you believe that there is any addition that is needed to be made, make it!

As Barbarian explained, because the code truncates offspring code, it isn't possible for novel features to arise. As he further explained, generating new code from nothing isn't the way evolution usually works. One common way for new genes to arise is through duplication and divergence, where first two copies of a gene are made instead of one through a copying error during reproduction, then the genes accumulate different mutations and diverge in function through subsequent generations. Your code doesn't model this possibility, nor many others.

The other problem you have is that there is no selection pressure for encryption. Minkowski says he can't think of any selection pressure that would evolve encryption, and I can't either. But I also can't think of any selection pressure that would cause horses to evolve wheels. Why do you think the evolution of encryption is a good example of actual evolution in action?

I still think you'd be best served by going off and learning about artificial life and genetic algorithms before attempting to discuss the subject. Barbarian provided the example of Avida, and I agree that that's an excellent example for you, since it also models evolution through assembly code creatures. There are many other examples of artificial life out there, but Avida is very similar to Minkowski's approach. Tierra is another example of the same approach, and both Avida and Tierra are part of active ALife research efforts.

Alternatively, we could discuss artificial life and genetic algorithms in this thread, and you could learn about them through the discussion.

--Percy


This message is a reply to:
 Message 11 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-26-2006 9:56 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 285 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 15 of 120 (352358)
09-26-2006 10:59 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Albert Godwin
09-26-2006 3:30 AM


You are all trying to convince me that forcing a small stupid self replicator to evolve encryption is harder than the whole evolution of men?

Well, you seem to have arguments against the evolution of encryption and none against the evolution of man; so yes, this would seem to be the case.

The problem with encryption, as far as I can see, is that it has to be achieved in a single bound. Human evolution, on the contrary, can (and, vide the fossil record, did) progress through a series of viable intermediate forms.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 7 by Albert Godwin, posted 09-26-2006 3:30 AM Albert Godwin has taken no action

  
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