Monday, May 26, 2008

Wright & Wright on the cooperation arms race

Well this couldn't come at a better time - the great Will Wright says that Cooperation & Competition are a big part of his motivation for working on Spore. Spore is a simulation coming out this fall which looks to re-invent the definition of computer "game" for all of us. Here's Will:

Quotes from this video which are most pertinent to stuff I've talked about before:

"You'll have little cells competing, then at some point, some of them decide to group together and cooperate & become specialized - and you get multicellular creatures. You see a similar pattern when individuals group together, forming very simple societies and out-competing the individuals."

"I see evolution as...this interplay of competition driving cooperation, driving specialization which then brings the competition to the next level."

In other words, competitive pressure drives organizational structures towards ever-greater complexity as previously unrelated entities are forced to either stand together or fall apart.

This is very similar to what Nonzero calls the "logic of human destiny": the reason why sentient life, societies, and world wars were inevitable from the time the first single-celled organisms appeared. I think Robert Wright (author of Nonzero, no relation to Will Wright that I know of) also refers to this as the "arms race" of cooperation: stubborn individualists are eventually dominated by coalitions of their enemies, whether we're talking about cells, species, or societies.


easyrider said...

The overly cautious person that I am, I will add to the idea of the inevitability of human complexity, by saying that even though some organisms are more complex than others, it is wrong to claim that they are "more evolved". They are simply well adapted to their particular niche. Humans, though complex, would not do so well in the inside of a volcano, at several hundred degrees, where some bacteria thrive.

All life on Earth at this time is more or less equally evolved to their current individual environmental niches, but some have not had to change much in the past few billion years to achieve that level of adaptation (because their niches have not changed enough to affect their survivability).

If we consider ourselves to be more advanced in anyway, it would be in the area of being able to anticipate future changes to our niches, and to create buffers against them in the forms of various technologies.

Johnny GoTime said...

On the subject of having "adapted to their particular niche", there's a fascinating (and sad) study by Lenore Fahrig at Carleton University called "Non-optimal animal movement in human-altered

The study shows how animals who've had their habitat encroached upon by humans don't recognize that the landscape is no longer natural, and instinctively take a sort of best guess to classify it as though it were a familiar type of wilderness. The result is that "mayflies lay their eggs on roads, mistaking them for water...female turtles attempt to nest on gravel roadsides, thus increasing their susceptibility to road kill...dragonflies mistake oil pools for breeding habitat."

The article explained that these creatures are caught in an evolutionary trap: previously successful adaptations to their niche are now harmful because of humanity's changes to their environment.