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Could it be possible that humans are creating a new form of life?


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I just read an article (Thanks bascule for posting the link: http://www.discover.com/issues/mar-06/cover/) that basically tells of the discovery of a new form of bacteria and describes our current understanding of the role bacteria play in the tree of life. The article even suggests that bacteria most likely played a key role in the creation of the eukaryotic cell, which all multicelular organisms are descendants of. I’m a computer programmer by day, and what I found really interesting is that computer viruses and biological seem to play a very similar roll in thier environments. They both need a host to survive, they replicate, they have a genetic/binary code, they adapt, they respond to stimuli (and in a sense, computer viruses even metabolize using electricity). This got me thinking about the current state of computer technology and how many similarities it has with our theorized view of what early life may have looked like on this planet.

 

Computer programs are becoming extremely complex and some are arguably more complex (I’m taking on a genetic level if you compare the machine code of a program to the DNA/RNA structure of some viruses) then even some viruses. Could the computer programs we are creating be a precursor to a new form or life not based on DNA/RNA? Based on the most widely excepted definition of DNA/RNA based life, something must have organization, metabolism, growth, adaptation, response to stimuli, and reproduction to be considered “alive”. I can argue that computer programs can exhibit all of these characteristics.

 

Question: Could it be possible that humans could someday create a new form of life which exists in an electronic universe of our own making?

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Question: Could it be possible that humans could someday create a new form of life which exists in an electronic universe of our own making?

 

yeh like bonzi Buddy .lol

 

but seriously, i was thinking about this awhile back. If someone know knows more about this subject can contribute it would be interesting

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What if someone wrote a virus that could have random mutations occure in its code each time it coppied it's self. This would make it act a bit more like a genetic code.

 

However ther would need to be some method to "kill" off other viruses as wellas it's self because in an imortal population (death is imposable) no evolution can take place. Evolution occures because of the posability of death. And selection pressure is strongest amongst peers.

 

This competition amongst peers means that there must be something that have to compete over (proccessor time, memory, avoidance of anti virus software, etc).

 

These programs would evolve, die (get deleted), reproduce, comsume resources (memory and cpu time)... But would they be alive?

 

I think so, as that list covers most definitions of "Alive". They don't excrete, unless you consider the junk that remains of the data on your hard drive.

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Computer programs are becoming extremely complex and some are arguably more complex (I’m taking on a genetic level if you compare the machine code of a program to the DNA/RNA structure of some viruses) then even some viruses. Could the computer programs we are creating be a precursor to a new form or life not based on DNA/RNA?

 

Question: Could it be possible that humans could someday create a new form of life which exists in an electronic universe of our own making?

 

1st question: No. Bill Gates says the information in a cell is much more complex than anything he's made.

 

2nd question: how do you reconcile lifeform(inorganic) and electronic(organic)? That's why the evolution origin of life studies or so difficult, getting life from non life is, so incredibly, inconceivible difficult, we are not even on the map. Hypothetically, do you mean like an android?

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The question of "What is life?" is also so inconceivably difficult that biologists gave up on the question as meaningless about 50 years ago. After all, if viruses are "alive," then crystals are also essentially alive (they reproduce themselves from a seed form). If viruses aren't "alive," why not? Especially given the point about the meroviruses that was brought up in the OP.

 

Creation of self-replicating elements of software is clearly possible. Are they alive? Who knows? Moreover, why does it matter?

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The question of "What is life?" is also so inconceivably difficult that biologists gave up on the question as meaningless about 50 years ago. After all' date=' if viruses are "alive," then crystals are also essentially alive (they reproduce themselves from a seed form). If viruses aren't "alive," why not? Especially given the point about the meroviruses that was brought up in the OP.

 

Creation of self-replicating elements of software is clearly possible. Are they alive? Who knows? Moreover, why does it matter?[/quote']

 

If self-replication is the only quality, then on a certain level, that has been around for awhile. It's significant because I think some people take it to the point of life as in human conciousness.

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If self-replication is the only quality, then on a certain level, that has been around for awhile.

 

That was my point. There is no defining quality of life. I tend to think of viruses as alive and prions as not alive, but there is no clear difference between the two. Both are self-replicating.

 

It's significant because I think some people take it to the point of life as in human conciousness.

 

They do?

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The question of "What is life?" is also so inconceivably difficult that biologists gave up on the question as meaningless about 50 years ago. After all' date=' if viruses are "alive," then crystals are also essentially alive (they reproduce themselves from a seed form). If viruses aren't "alive," why not? Especially given the point about the meroviruses that was brought up in the OP.

 

Creation of self-replicating elements of software is clearly possible. Are they alive? Who knows? Moreover, why does it matter?[/quote']

 

I agree. The line between life and non-life is arbitrary. It's a question for lawyers, not scientists. There is no "correct" place to draw the line, and so sure, under plenty of definitions (including what I consider to be the better ones), computer programs could easily be considered alive.

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The Age of Spiritual Machines is about that. I'd like to use the word complete idiot but it's definitely short-sighted to believe that computers will become smarter than people and then have self-conciousness. For some people it's realistic because:

1) They do not believe in a Creator, soul, etc

2) Therefore conciousness is a product of having a brain, just like making a fire makes smoke

 

Essentially, he is saying computers are the next step in evolution. Whatever he smoked, must have been good.

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1st question: No. Bill Gates says the information in a cell is much more complex than anything he's made.

 

2nd question: how do you reconcile lifeform(inorganic) and electronic(organic)? That's why the evolution origin of life studies or so difficult' date=' getting life from non life is, so incredibly, inconceivible difficult, we are not even on the map. Hypothetically, do you mean like an android?[/quote']

 

Milken,

 

I did not say computer programs were more complex then cells, I said that some were at least as complex as the genetic code of some viruses. The typical virus only needs 10 genes. A human cell for example, has around 30,000 genes.

 

You asked if I was referring to androids. I’m actually speaking of life on its very basic level. It is possible, if you can maintain a stable environment long enough, for an electronic life form to evolve into a cell or even a multicultural life form. When I say multicultural, I mean it would be made up of individual programs working together as a single life form.

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1) They do not believe in a Creator, soul, etc

Would a bacteria have a soul? Would you considder a bacteria to be alive?

 

The OP was not about consious machines, but machines (and/or software) that would be recognisable be alive, even in the most primative sense of virus and bateria.

 

AFAIK super computers exist now that can simulate a simple virus internally down to the molecular level. It is not as fast as in the real world. Could you considder simulation to be alive?

 

But would this even be nessesary?

 

If we had a system that could fulfill as many items in a list of what would think would define a living organism than could we not considder that system to be alive? Each iutem in the list must also be justifiable and testable for living organisms (thus you must be able to at least demonstrate that it does exist in living organisms).

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Would a bacteria have a soul? Would you considder a bacteria to be alive?

No' date=' Yes[/b']

The OP was not about consious machines, but machines (and/or software) that would be recognisable be alive, even in the most primative sense of virus and bateria.

 

AFAIK super computers exist now that can simulate a simple virus internally down to the molecular level. It is not as fast as in the real world. Could you considder simulation to be alive?No, because I typically associate simulation as not real

 

But would this even be nessesary?Guess it depends on the purpose. .

 

If we had a system that could fulfill as many items in a list of what would think would define a living organism than could we not considder that system to be alive? Not quite sure what you're asking, guess it would depend on the criteria chosen. If you're asking me to make a list, whew, that would be tough, the easy answer would be to go with the characteristics of a zygote, which is probaly simulatable. Each iutem in the list must also be justifiable and testable for living organisms (thus you must be able to at least demonstrate that it does exist in living organisms).

ignore this

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The current definition of life (well, I shouldn't call it a definition but rather a description) is "a chemical system that is capable of Darwinian evolution".

 

What if someone wrote a virus that could have random mutations occure in its code each time it coppied it's self. This would make it act a bit more like a genetic code.

 

However ther would need to be some method to "kill" off other viruses as wellas it's self because in an imortal population (death is imposable) no evolution can take place. Evolution occures because of the posability of death. And selection pressure is strongest amongst peers.

 

This competition amongst peers means that there must be something that have to compete over (proccessor time' date=' memory, avoidance of anti virus software, etc).

 

These programs would evolve, die (get deleted), reproduce, comsume resources (memory and cpu time)... But would they be alive?

[/quote']

 

I think you have the most important bit of the "definition" covered this way, so I wouldn't have a problem calling it life.

In fact, I remember that years ago someone wrote such a program. It ran for months? years? and showed all kinds of interesting Darwinian traits. I don't remember enough of this project to google it for more information, can anyone help out?

 

Airmid.

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ignore this

Why?

 

If you wrote down a list of processes that occure in a bateria and I wrote a program that could relpicate all of the. then what is to say that the program dose not have as much claim to be alive as the bateria.

 

Admittedly bateria are fairly complex organisms in their own right, and simpler organisms exist, but some people may be able to argue that those simpler entities do not qualify fully as life, most (afaik: all) people would clasify a bateria as a living organism, that is why I chose that for the example.

 

"a chemical system that is capable of Darwinian evolution".

What is so special about chemicals? If you want to get inot quantum mechanics as an explainatiomn of life, then how does one (on a chemical basis) determine what is alive. A group of atoms in no set pattern would have quantum physic applied to it, the same as if one ha those atoms assembled into a living organism.

 

What it looks like when you closely examine living systems is that they are system; processes that occure and they don't seem to be dependant on the constituants to a great degree. What they are made from can dictate the structure nessesary, but that structure can be widely different between organisms and some structures seem to be nessesary.

 

If we look at what is nessesary (DNA for instance) and look at what it does, it appears that the kinds of processes that DNA is involved with can be replicated on computers.

 

Each individual component (that has been identified so far) seens to be able to be replicated accurately on computers. All that we seem to be lacking is the processing power to do this in real time.

 

There does not seem to be a fine dividing line between Alive and Not Alive. It is a continuum. There is no "Elan Vital" that make something alive.

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What it looks like when you closely examine living systems is that they are system; processes that occure and they don't seem to be dependant on the constituants to a great degree.

Im not sure if i got you right but i think i have to contradict.

Have a look at structure-function relationships in biology. At the molecular level structure and function are the same thing. Every process that occurs strongly depends on the constituants.

 

If we look at what is nessesary (DNA for instance) and look at what it does, it appears that the kinds of processes that DNA is involved with can be replicated on computers.

 

Each individual component (that has been identified so far) seens to be able to be replicated accurately on computers.

No. The models science developed in order to describe these processes can be "replicated" or simulated in an idealized fashion. Nothing more.

A computer programme is a closed system where everything what happens is predictable. You cannot idealize life on the basis of scientific models and than claim that this should be alife. Even if all components were known your programme would still be a descriptive simulation.

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The models science developed in order to describe these processes can be "replicated" or simulated in an idealized fashion. Nothing more.

A computer programme is a closed system where everything what happens is predictable. You cannot idealize life on the basis of scientific models and than claim that this should be alife. Even if all components were known your programme would still be a descriptive simulation.

True. The science is just models, not reality. But, if a model produces identical results then this model has a high degree of fidelity, and if the results are identical then what is there to say that the orginism that is simulated is not alive?

 

At the molecular level structure and function are the same thing. Every process that occurs strongly depends on the constituants.

If you look at a system as a process then this is not true. If I can replicate the relationship between input and output of a system with other components that would not the process be comparable?

 

Take for instance two different computers using different harware (eg Macintosh and IBM compatable). These two computer CPUs have very different architecture and are incompatable (ie software designed for one will not work on the other). Howeve, there can be written software that will allow programs written for one to be run on the other. This software is called an emulator. Furthermore, softwre written for one computer can have the exact samfe functionallity (the input and output of the proccesses are identical) by using the components of the hardware in a different wat, but to the user it would appear to be an identical piece of software.

 

Also I dispute the fact that computer circuits are absolutly deterministic. There was an experiment in evolutionay algorithms that use a programmabe logic array. This is a device that it's internal conections to logic gates is configurable from outside the chip. The experiment was to evolve a solution t to a basic electronic enginering problem of having an input of 2 different alternating signals and have the device produce one of 2 steady state signals depending on the input signal. They use a crossbreeding method (mixed the algorithms from 2 different successfull algorithms randomly) to generate the new algorithm for the programmable logic array.

 

The result of this experiment was a device that no engineer could have designed. It used far less logic gates in the chip than any human could have designed. Also it appeared to contain locgic gates that were not connected to the main circuits. It was discovered that some of these unconnected circuits were not nessesary for the operation of the device, however a few of them were important and if they were not included in the device then it would stop working.

 

This kind of emergant behaviour is not predictable, and so is not deterministic. A computer program that evolves on a computer may "discover" as yet unknown exploit in computer hardware that it can use. This kind of exploit is used today be virus writers to over write memory outside of it's allocated excecution space (although this is a fairly logical exploit but there could be others that are not known about). Also there might be exploits that occure due to different computers comunicating between each other.

 

These exploits occure because of emergant properties of the systmes that they inhabit and are not predicatable or deterministic (but their behaviour once known may be). The amount and complexity of data and processes that go on in a computer or the networks that it is connected to is an imence source of nondeterministic potential.

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You're the only one who's drawing that line. In fact, since everyone in the entire world has a different, personal definition of life, nobody can say for certain whether electronic life existed 80 years ago (as per bascule's reference), exists now, will possibly exist in the future, or will never exist.

 

You give me your definition of life, and I'll tell you why it's wrong (because everybody's is), without resorting to God.

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Ignore this only meant those two words

The links didn't work for me

 

Is the line being drawn that if you believe in God these simulations aren't alive and if you do not then they are?

 

I don't think that believing in the idea that humans can create life means that you must be an atheist. As far as I know there isn’t anything in any religious text that even addresses the question.

 

If humans are able to create a new form of life it is because we have learned how from studying life that already exists, and are able to organize the necessary elements in a manner that allows it to take hold. That still doesn’t explain how life can just magically begin from nothing. I personally am not sold on the idea that it can (spring from nothing) although scientifically speaking, there is no other way it could have come into existence.

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That still doesn’t explain how life can just magically begin from nothing.

This problem only occures if one thinks of life as something special, somthing that exists beyond the physical. I do not believe there is an "elan vital", a living force that seperates life from non life. Living entities are essentially a (very) complex chemical reaction. It is the complexity and emergent properties and behaviours od the "living" system that are important.

 

The important properties of the system are that it maintains it's system integerety, self catalizing, growth, transfers energy through it internal systerm (the source of metabolism) to do work, organisation and disequilibrium with it's suroundings.

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This problem only occurs if one thinks of life as something special, something that exists beyond the physical. I do not believe there is an "elan vital", a living force that separates life from non life. Living entities are essentially a (very) complex chemical reaction.

 

Edtharan,

 

That is probably the most sterile description of life I’ve ever heard lol. If you are talking about life on its very basic level, then I agree with you. I think we may even find that life with the average complexity of a virus here on Earth, may even be common in the universe. However, I would think that even you would agree that life as complex as the one that occupies your chair right now, is a very, very rare.

 

Lets look at a complex system, like weather for example. Weather on this planet is infinitely complex. It is “driven” by uncountable external forces, chemical reactions, and particle interactions. It is many more times complex then let’s say, a single bacteria or even a single cell organism. However, the weather is not alive. So to say that life if essentially just a complex chemical reaction doesn’t hold any water for me. There is something “extra” there driving that tiny little glob of chemicals to start making exact copies of itself, and then to ultimately jump aboard the evolution train. I’m not saying this little extra thing has to be god, I’m just saying that life is a “special” occurrence in the universe.

 

Here is a challenge for you. Since you do not believe in an “elen viral” Are you able to describe to me the final series of events, or provide an equation, or graphical representation of the chemical reactions that show the point at which a “lifeless” chemical reaction becomes life?

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Here is a challenge for you. Since you do not believe in an “elen viral” Are you able to describe to me the final series of events, or provide an equation, or graphical representation of the chemical reactions that show the point at which a “lifeless” chemical reaction becomes life?

 

People in labs routinely assemble viruses from "nonliving" components: protein shells, nucleic acids, and accessory proteins. What made it so "special" in the transition of mixing these chemicals together?

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