For those of you into programming, here’s an interesting discussion. It’s in regards to genetic algorithms, a programming technique based on biological evolutionary principles (mutation, selection, reproduction, etc). They were developed to help researchers explore and explain biological evolutionary questions, but were later carried into general computer science.

The techniques are so powerful and innovative that these “organic” programs can often develop solutions to real world problems on par with human designers, and sometime exceed human performance. Some examples of this are here and here.But the reason I’m linking to Dave Thomas’ article above is we get to see a genetic algorithm (GA) take on a human design task “real-time”. First, some background. Dave has developed a new GA that works towards optimizing Steiner problems. His background here explains what a Steiner problem is, and gives examples of the optimal Steiner solutions. He then compares his GA results to those optimal solutions.

He received some criticism from the Intelligent Design crowd claiming he “smuggled” the optimum solution, the Steiner Solution, into his selection criteria. This is a bogus claim. And now Dave is challenging the critics to put their money where their mouths are with this “Design Challenge”.

Basically anyone can submit a “solution” to the seemingly simple Steiner problem of a 3 x 2 matrix of points. He really wants the ID folks to submit some solutions, but anyone is welcome. The main idea is he will compare how many human solutions were correct and how many correct solutions the GA developed. Also he will reveal the optimal Steiner solution and the selection criteria in his GA. The point of all this, I’m sure, is to refute the ID charge that he “smuggled” or “front-loaded” the solution into the program.

But will he succeed? Or will the ID gloaters get to revel in a successful exposition of a fraud? 🙂 I highly doubt the second because Dave is smart and he must have a good idea of what is going to happen.

The results will be revealed next Monday, the 21st. Stat tuned! I’ll report on the findings. I find this stuff fascinating for so many reasons: the very novel programming ideas, the power demonstrated by simple natural principles as mutation and selection, and the many flagrant displays of ignorance and arrogance. Good stuff!

P.S. I did submit a solution that I thought was good. But I doubt it’s right because if it was that easy, I don’t think he’d have issued this design challenge.