Re: [asa] Reverse Engineering and ID (was Re: Peer review)

From: Rich Blinne <>
Date: Sat Oct 17 2009 - 12:24:55 EDT

On Oct 17, 2009, at 12:13 AM, Cameron Wybrow wrote:

> Bill:
> I'm not sure I understand you yet. I mean, I understand your bare
> words about the construction of a car, but I am not sure what you
> are driving (no pun intended) at. Or rather, perhaps what is
> puzzling me is that you specifically addressed me on this thread,
> when I've really never offered any thoughts on reverse engineering.
> If you were simply curious to know what I thought, that's fine, but
> I certainly claim no deep understanding of either engineering or
> reverse engineering.
> What I do like about engineers and engineering, however, is their
> very clear understanding that complex integrated systems don't (as
> far as we know) come into existence without design. Simple systems
> might -- planets orbiting a sun in accord with basic natural forces
> -- but complex integrated systems are another matter. Thus, a claim
> that the first cell came into existence without design may well,
> from an engineer's point of view, be regarded with suspicion.
> Perhaps not close-mindedness or hostility, but suspicion. And the
> same should be true for Darwinian evolution. An engineer might very
> well regard its claims with great reserve, and his doubts might be
> all the more heightened by the absence of detailed discussion of
> steps and of proof that the steps were possible given the known
> powers of the mechanisms postulated; for in the engineer's own
> field, such steps have to be spelled out and individually verified.
> I'm not of course saying that there aren't thousands of engineers
> who accept Darwinian evolution. I don't even deny that there are
> many who support it enthusiastically. However, we must keep in mind
> that most scientifically trained people, at least these days, are
> socially trained to defer to other specialists, and an engineer who
> hasn't studied biology since 10th grade, and doesn't feel confident
> in the face of specialist jargon, may well either (1) assume that
> the biologists have the same level of detailed argument for how a
> zebra is built that he has for how a television is built, and trust
> them, or (2) hold back his dissent, or grunt a weak assent, because
> he doesn't feel that he has enough background to give articulate
> voice to his reservations. But however that may be, I don't think
> it's an accident that many of the supporters of intelligent design,
> especially the non-Christian ones, and those (Christian or not) of
> the younger generation (many of whom aren't yet in the public
> limelight), are trained in engineering or related fields like
> computer programming, where end-directed processes are central to
> the intellectual work.

For quite a while Randy and I have been discussing many of the
deficiencies of the Intelligent Design Movement. Your last sentence
reminds me of a sign on one the H.R. desks at work, "Hire a teenager
while they still know everything." It might be good to bring a
perspective of some older engineers. Randy was vice president for
systems, technology and science research at IBM's Thomas J. Watson
Research Center. He ran the Blue Gene project that just won the
National Medal of Technology.
  I've also worked in the semiconductor industry for decades. The
first chip I worked on is in the Smithsonian Museum of American
History. I have eight
issued patents and six pending ones. Patent 5274568 has been used as
an example in law schools as one of the earliest software patents.
Because of the number of successful patents, I have been on our patent
review committee and have been a peer reviewer of patents. This
process is very, very similar to the peer review process for
scientific papers. In our case, it's double blind. Neither the
reviewer nor the reviewee know the identity of the other. (We cannot
file every patent idea because it costs over $30,000 to file for a
patent and only the most valuable ideas get patented.) I have also
been one of the go-to people of our patent attorneys when they are
prosecuting infringement. Part of our patent portfolio comes from the
former Bell Laboratories.

It's from this background that drives our collective skepticism that
IDM has actually produced a successful design inference and our even
stronger belief in the value of peer review. When I review a patent
it's on the basis of the following criteria: novelty, non-obviousness,
not overly broad (these come from patent law), and (the one that is
most important to the company) the ability to detect infringement.
It's on the last category that I have bounced many a patent
application. In short, can we successfully infer to the satisfaction
of lawyers and not scientists -- a much lower standard -- that our
competitors may have used one of our patented techniques. This turns
out to be extraordinarily difficult. In other words, can we decap a
competitor's part and literally "see" the design. We have to make the
inference based on only public knowledge because to do otherwise could
potentially and often actually violate non-disclosure agreements. If
we would receive one the IDM proposals it would quickly be placed in
the do not file pile. The so-called inferences are non-sensicle,
wrongly reasoned, and way too broad. It has nothing to do with the
introduction of the supernatural because in my opinion it's easier to
prove deity than design. Just claim to be God, be raised from the
dead, and present the evidence to many witnesses.

I'll close with an example of where it was easy to prove infringement.
We had a patent on a CAE tool we had written. But how do you know if
another tool used the same technique? The chips look exactly the same.
(Part of the innovation was how fast we could do things.) I mentioned
this turned out to be easy. How? The lead designer made a presentation
at a user conference sponsored by the company in question with the
words patent pending on his slides. The company then released a tool
that did something very similar WITH THE SAME NAME. When an ID
proponent made a presentation at my church, he gave the following
example of walking in the art museum and seeing the paintings and
asked how do you know that these were painted by intelligent agents?
My reply: the names on the plaques below the pictures. The best way
you do a design inference is to have the designer tell you. In the
realm of ID, you start with Scripture and you infer design because God
told you so. The people who oppose IDM do not oppose intelligent
design. We just argue from the intelligent designer to the design and
not the other way around. People who don't have a long background in
design greatly overestimate their ability to make such inferences.
They then attack the people who bounce their ideas and insist on peer
review from people with experience as having an "agenda". Nothing can
be further from the truth. All they end up doing is offending the very
people who are out there to help them.

Rich Blinne
Member ASA

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Received on Sat Oct 17 12:25:20 2009

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