Why Are We Looking for Carbon Based Life?
The Future of Viruses on the Internet
By Jim Easton
What many of us have now come to believe is that life (i.e. self-reproducing systems) will arise whenever the environment permits sufficient complexity, stability, and energy flows to permit the growth and duration of complex structures.
An example of non-carbon-based life would be internet viruses. As the internet, including attached devices becomes more complex, the richness of computer viruses has advanced. We can expect “viruses” to increasingly use the technologies that carbon-based life forms have used to occupy more niches and ensure continued survival. Thus we will be seeing “brood pouches,” sophisticated mutation devices, cooperative behavior, etc.
An interesting phenomenon in nature is the often encountered influence of a parasite on host behavior. Parasites will cause the host to engage in behavior that will reduce the survivability of the host and facilitate the parasite’s propagation – for example by causing the host to display itself to a predator which is also the parasite’s intermediate host.
Since our view
of the world is increasingly mediated by what is available on the Internet –
and especially by what one finds using search engines, manipulation of the
“host” by information control would seem to be well within the
potential purview of internet “life.” (One assumes that Google is
already in close contact with branches of the
However, physical devices are also increasingly being controlled through the internet. Thus the extent of the manipulation of the physical environment by Internet dwelling denizens is potentially quite large. One could fanaticize the power being turned off on an anti-virus company as a way of slowing its impact on an “intelligent” virus.
One of our blindnesses is our human belief in the superiority of conscious intelligence. Because we are examples of conscious intelligence, we tend to believe that any serious intelligence must be conscious. This is not necessarily true, and it is not even clear that consciousness promotes survival in the long term. While it has promoted our survival to date, we should be warned by the dramatic limitations built into our own thinking mechanisms (Contrast the computing ability implied by recognizing a friend’s face in a crowd with our inability to follow even relatively trivial logical sequences.) This enormous disparity in computational resources between what is devoted to image analysis and that devoted to logical thought in the human brain one may assume comes from image analysis contributing much more to human survival than logical thought. It is even possible that consciousness and the ability to reason logically will turn out to be evolutionary dead ends.
Given this, even without having consciousness, we should expect that Internet based life will act in increasingly “intelligent” ways and impinge on and interact with human (organic) civilization with increasingly impactful and probably sometimes bizarre and possibly devastating results.
Dormancy, Carriers, Intermediate Hosts, and Reservoirs. In light of the “warfare” between the various entities associated with the internet – or human civilization in the wider sense, it is likely that it will be increasingly important to survival to adopt a variety of strategies for surviving attack. Mutation alone is likely to result in an entity being forced into a suboptimal “genome.” By having places where it can hide “under the radar” or in a host that does not support its attacker (A Windows virus hiding in a UNIX system, for example.), the likelihood of preserving vigorous genomes is enhanced.
Needless to say, in the search for other intelligences, it would be very foolish to limit ourselves to entities that look or think like human beings. Considering the characteristics of our electromagnetic and neutrino emissions, it is likely that we will be soon known to any technologically competent (by our standards) civilization anywhere within a hundred light years of us. Whether or not this is likely to promote the longevity of human civilization is a matter for debate – and possibly experience.
In terms of technology, we have known for more than forty years that our present approach to outer space (chemical rockets) is a dead end and that alternative technologies (nuclear propulsion, etc.) are necessary for humans to have a significant presence off earth. See Project Orion.
Comments are welcome and should be directed to: Jim Easton.