Re: Charles Babbage's "Analytical Engine"

From: HARNAD, Stevan (
Date: Mon Feb 21 2000 - 18:41:57 GMT

On Thu, 17 Feb 2000, Kirstein, Simon wrote:

> In my opinion the execution of successive operations does not imply any need
> for reasoning about the problem by the machine. All it does is a step by step
> execution of a 'program' determined by its Operation cards.

Yes, but why should reasoning itself not turn out to be algorithmic
(inference, deduction, case-testing, analogy-application, etc.)?

(By the way, you quoted far too much in your contribution. Please on
quote what you are commenting on, as I am doing here now.)

> But even if the fundamental relations of sounds and musical composition could
> be expressed in a form suitable as 'program' for the Analytical Engine it
> would need an appropriate input as initial value to compute a piece of
> music. In the concept of the machine there is no space for randomness. Each
> input leads to a predefined output.

True, but is pseudo-random not just as good as truly random? (Is
anything, other than possibly quantum mechanics, truly random? Could we
not, in principle, and knowing the initial conditions, predict exactly
the trajectory of a flipped coin or tossed dice?)

And a computer can certainly generate pseudo-random sequences: Even the
decimal expansion of pi looks pretty random, seen as a string of

> The engine is not 'creative'. One could of
> course change its 'program' to create a different piece of music from the same
> input, but the main aim of the machine was to simplify work by computing a
> huge amount of data with the same program.

What has randomness to do with creativity? And is unpredictability (to
us), as in the decimal expansion of pi, not enough to make something
new and original? Perhaps creative outcomes CAN be generated by an
algorithms, but for us to see them as creative, we have to be unaware of
the algorithm...

> Yes, and as there is a clear, predefined correlation between input and output
> of the engine, there is no space for intuition or creativity. Only if
> creativity could be described as a process given a fixed input data (how could
> one establish the 'data' used by a human in a creative process?) derives the
> same output every time it is 'applied', it could be implemented using the
> Analytical engine.

I couldn't follow this exactly, but if you mean that something is not
creative it if does exactly the same thing every time, fine, generate
variation pseudorandomly. But what do you mean by creativity and
intuition, and what basis do you have that it could not be

> Even if the Analytical engine is a very powerful theoretical concept, some of
> the operations discussed in this text are beyond the capabilities of the
> machine. It shows that there are limitations in the things, which can be
> computed. A creative process still cannot and will probably never be described
> in terms of mathematics. Even if creativity 'only' is the 'right' combining
> given facts to discover new knowledge, it will never be possible to prove a
> mathematical description of this process, because one can never establish what
> the 'given facts' were, which led to the conclusion.

It is not clear why one could not do both these things...


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