Posted by: zyxo | December 30, 2007

Emergence or Magic ?


In an interesting paper on baysian statistics (”a technical explanation of technical explanation“) Eliezer Yudkowsky radically destroys the “emergence” hype. I follow his reasoning when he says that everything is called “emerging” without any logical reason. What does the word “emergent” means in sentences like (the sentences are his‘):

  • human intelligence is an emergent product of neurons firing
  • the behavior of an ant colony is the emergent outcome of the interactions of many individual ant

It is simple : the word “emergent” in these sentences has no meaning ! You can eliminate the word and the sentences do not lose any significance.

Moreover : in some other sentences you can even replace the word with another nothing-saying word : “magical”

  • life is an emergent phenomenon => life is a magical phenomenon
  • human intelligence is an emergent product of neurons firing => human intelligence is a magical product of neurons firing

I did a little test and typed “emerging patterns” in google. As a result I got things as

  • Efficient Mining of Emerging Patterns: Discovering Trends and Differences
  • We provide an executable file for users to discover emerging patterns from binarized data files
  • Classification by aggregating emerging patterns
  • Mining emergent substrings
  • instance-based classification by emerging patterns

In each one of these and many other uses of the word, you can just eliminate it without consequence for the meaning of the sentences.

And especially in data mining (I am a data miner myself) you should not use the e*-word. Yes, data mining is about finding patterns in data. But the patterns do not “emerge”. They just are there in the data and it’s up to you to find them, to do the hard work of sampling, calculating, quality checking etc…

So let’s finish by saying that swarm intelligence is the result of patterns in the behaviour of for example individual bees in a swarm. Did you miss the e*-word ?


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