February 12, 2011


For this Darwin Day let us discuss anniversaries, and we will begin with a riddle.

What is the common link between the years 1809, 1852, 1859, 1949, 1984 and 2011? I’ll explain, but perhaps it is best to take these a little out of order. This may seem a bit chaotic and some may begin to doubt my sanity… but here goes.

Today is the 12th of February, 2011… which is just another date on the calendar to most… except that today marks 202 years since the day of Charles Darwin’s birth… in 1809.

It was in 1949 that author Eric Arthur Blair published what would become his most popular work. Blair was a popular author in his time, with eight books already in print. One of these was a runaway best selling novel relating a fairy tale of animals on a farm and illustrating the failures inherent to communism.

Never heard of him? Perhaps that is because all of Blair’s works were published under a pseudonym, including that 1949 futuristic novel that raised the ominous specter of Big Brother watching.

It is perhaps simple coincidence that George Orwell’s epic work is titled 1984, which is the year Alex Trebek first hosted the very popular and long-running television game show we know as Jeopardy.

Another very popular author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is best known as the creator of the fictitious super sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. All but four of the Holmes novels were narrated in the first person by another fictitious character, John H. Watson, MD. Dr. Watson’s birth date, according to Doyle, was July 7, 1852.

This may seem like circles upon circles, but as unlikely as it may seem, Doyle’s character Dr. Watson is the common thread linking most of the pieces of this seemingly chaotic piece. I’ll let IBM’s newest supercomputer explain… the IBM computer that goes by the name… Watson.
IBM’s Watson, a very high level of development in the evolution of artificial intelligence, is the product of a collaborative international team of some really bright nerds. These engineers are as representative of high-level human evolution as Watson is of computer evolution. Cream of the crop… they are.

IBM's Watson seems to enjoy playing Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy, and in the next few days the machine will have the chance to match wits with the two highest scoring human Jeopardy champions in the history of the program; Ken Jennings and Brad Rutler. Watson sparred with these two in practice matches already, and so far has triumphed. Practice likely will have honed both the organic and electronic minds, so the contest will likely be worth watching. We get that chance day after tomorrow, with a three-game match starting February 14th.

By now you may have guessed that this message is about evolution. Indeed it is, and it is the theory of evolution that gives us reason to celebrate this anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Darwin’s observations over the five-year voyage of the HMS Beagle led eventually to another book of note… a wholly insignificant little tome titled On the Origin of Species.

An insignificant little tome that helped change the worldview of one specie in particular.

Happy birthday, Mr. Darwin. I raise my glass to you.


This is not the Darwin Day message I had planned… but for some reason it seems so much more appropriate. The piece I’d originally drafted will be posted at a later date.



Rogue Medic said...

Thank you for the interesting perspective on things.