Intelligent Systems And Their Societies Walter Fritz

Senses

 

Questions that arise
Let's explore what a system, be it natural or artificial, can possibly know about its environment. Immediately, the following questions come to mind:

How do communications about the environment reach the IS?
How are they transformed into information and how good is this information?
How does the IS represent its environment internally and how good is this representation?
Does it really correspond to the environment?
Is this representation useful for reaching conclusions and predicting the future environment?
While all of these questions may have arisen easily and naturally, their answers are not so easy, nor are they obvious.

 

Frontiers of Systems & Their Crossing
Information about its environment does not occur spontaneously within a system. Rather, it has a frontier that limits the system from its environment. Communications from the environment can only reach the system by crossing its frontier at a part of the system that we call a sense organ.

 

Sense Organs
A sense organ is usually able to receive only a certain kind of stimulus, and thus only certain kinds of communication from the environment. The eye or TV camera, for instance, can receive a certain band of electromagnetic radiation, but nothing else.

In order to compensate for this limitation, different sense organs have evolved to receive different communications. And of course, evolution has helped different species develop differently. For example, some fish have sense organs for receiving communications about the electric fields existing in their environment. Some birds can sense magnetic fields. Artificial systems can be built which sense x-rays.

 

Limitations
But for all intelligent systems (IS), the number of different types of sense organs they possess is not infinite: their number is severely limited. This also limits the type of communication an intelligent system can possibly receive and thus this limits the information, and thus the knowledge that the system can have about its environment.

For example, our ears can hear only a few octaves of the sound spectrum. Our eyes can see only "visible light", which is less than 2% of the known electromagnetic spectrum. This limits us to the use of a very small portion of the total communication available. We humans cannot currently imagine, for instance, what may be the wonderful and beautiful hues of electric potential a landscape would present to an electric sense organ. Nor can we understand what additional environmental knowledge that electric sense would open up to us.

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Last Edited 4 November 2014 / Walter Fritz
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