Saturday, 9 March 2013

BioTRIZ and ID

I attended a very interesting workshop at Bath on BioTRIZ yesterday. BioTRIZ is an amalgamation of TRIZ (the acronym originating from Russian meaning "the theory of inventive problem solving") and biomimetics. TRIZ is an empirical theory of invention. Its main contribution is in formulating a set of basic principles of innovation. These principles — there are forty of them — are, figuratively speaking, symbols of the alphabet of a language for cross-domain interpretation of innovation ideas.

BioTRIZ presents an analysis of biosystems from the point of view of TRIZ in the hope that information useful in advancing technology can be obtained. Looking at bionics through the eyes of TRIZ enables an efficient and effective transfer of information from biosystem design to solve human technological design problems. The TRIZ methodology consists in actively using obstacles on the way towards one or more goal states. It is akin to constraint programming in that there too we utilise constraints which are viewed as adverse factors in other contexts. This in turn helps deduce information about combinatorial search states to provide intelligent/automated guidance in problem solving.

BioTRIZ put in the context of Intelligent Design, does not lose anything. On the contrary, it even gains an extra level of depth. In my opinion, the basic innovative design principles formulated by TRIZ can be naturally transferred from biology to human technology for one simple yet profound reason: this happens because biological systems themselves are artificial. The difference between the Evolutionist view and the ID-based take on the problem, albeit deep, is purely interpretational. The difference is philosophical and stems from the fact that these two modes of explanation rest on entirely different metaphysical assumptions. However, what is important for us now is that the mentioned difference is limited to where the two paradigms see the source of novelty in biosystems. While the Evolutionist interpretation maintains that errors in replication and the selection filter (i.e. death) act as the major source of innovation, common sense, logic and experience drawn from the entire technological history of humanity lead us to acknowledge the obvious fact that the only source of true novelty in practice is intelligence.

There exists a deep analogy to what we are discussing now. Undoubtedly, scientific formalism is a product of human intelligence. Science forces us to conclude that the reality of our world is at least partially formalisable (obviously, provided we accept that our world is objective reality). Consequently, this formalisation is only possible due to the fact that our reality itself is a product of intelligence, albeit a lot more powerful than human.

I also enjoyed scientific debates at the workshop. In particular, we discussed whether it was possible to define what life is. One opinion was that the key property of living systems is decision making. Although I agree with its importance, decision making alone does not make a system alive. I can create a software decision maker which cannot be considered living. In order for a system to qualify as living, it must meet a whole number of properties including autonomy, cybernetic control and replication. All these properties are in principle included in one generic property: teleology in a specific context.

As we know, non-living matter is inert to goal stating, whereas minimalistic replication can be observed even in crystals. However, neither replication nor decision making alone is enough to be called life.


Life = Chemistry + Cybernetics,

while cybernetics, control and formalism are traces of purposive intelligent agency.

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