What is the physical cost of creativity?

Computers sometimes give the illusion of being creative, but innovation is ultimately based on choices. Programmers and users make all the choices that determine how software executes. Therefore, computer creativity originates strictly in the human mind, and is actually a form of human creativity.

Everything that happens in software can be reduced to well-defined algorithms. Software is really nothing but a set of definite rules. Computer systems hold no fundamental surprises, unlike living systems.

Consider a hypothetical information-processing system whose operation could not be reduced to predictable rules or deterministic algorithms. Suppose new structures could emerge spontaneously from that hypothetical system without receiving instructions from an outside, human source of original ideas.

If such a system could spontaneously produce new structures without depending on an external source of creativity, and if those new structures played a role in making a given process of energy transformation more efficient, then that efficiency would have emerged spontaneously.

For example, if the system created an enzyme that improved the likelihood of a reaction, what could we say about the cost of creating that enzyme?

Although the thermodynamics of the reaction could be accounted for, what could we say about the cost of overcoming the unlikelihood of the enzyme’s spontaneous emergence?

In other words, what is the cost of creativity, and how is that cost paid? If a hypothetical information-processing system could truly originate new designs, is there a conservation law that would exact a price for the designs that emerged in the system? What is the fuel that powers evolution?

Michael Webb, 2000

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