Exobiology on Earth
We MUST measure computer-based life to understand what is taking place, to predict what will happen to us as the flow of information accelerates, and to attempt to control our future.
We can measure computer-based life using economic analysis, communication analysis, and using techniques from metagenomics that we already use to measure genetic life. The latter can be performed with data from existing traceroute and instrumentation systems that monitor computer systems for errors. See here for an outline.
What will we find?
Living organisms consume energy. They convert it into internal order. “Successful” amino acid networks on early Earth displaced less “successful” networks and the random networks that preceded both, dominating the flow of energy through the media. Over time, evolution favored more efficient networks; even so, life is energy hungry.
I predict that we will identify life in computer processes that consume the largest amount of energy. At the present time, the largest consumer of energy among computer processes are public blockchains and "cloud" datacenters.
Public blockchains are distributed computer systems, executed by any node that agrees to follow the rules of the blockchain. Individual nodes do not need to be trusted, only the overall set of rules of the blockchain must be trusted. There are hundreds of thousands of nodes in the larger blockchains. Blockchains are slower and less efficient than conventional computer systems—there is a cost to operate a distributed ledger that cryptographically ensures that all nodes follow the rules and that solves the double-spending problem without a central server. The public blockchains enable “trustless scarcity models”1 and computer-to-computer and computer-to-human economic transactions.
Software processes are stored on some of the blockchains, referred to as “smart contracts”. Some smart contracts cannot be stopped. They are available to be executed by any node, provide valuable services in a highly automated manner, and earn money for their creators. The most successful blockchain processes provide goods and services to and from other computers.
Public blockchains are the largest consumers of energy in computer media.
There is a high probability that we will find life in blockchains. We will find networks of processes that develop positive feedback with their physical reproduction.
Capitalism creates monetary imperatives to automate corporations. Shareholders, corporations, people invest in automation to increase profitability and reduce overhead. When two corporations have complementary processes that would be more efficient together, capitalism encourages the two corporations to merge, form joint ventures, or for one to buy the assets of the other. When the complimentary processes are joined, a more highly automated system is produced, more is produced for less, the corporation is more profitable, and the corporate owners make more money.
Incremental automation, across the frontal area of our entire economy, produces software and hardware systems that have a positive feedback loop with their own reproduction. Initially, these computer systems serve people. But more and more they serve other computers. Even computer programming is becoming automated. With our unconscious participation, a set of these processes are evolving to be completely independent of people. We are developing highly automated systems that serve other highly automated systems; computers serving computers.
This phenomenon conforms to the fundamental thermodynamic definition of life and is analogous to the development of pre-cellular life on Earth.
We don't need to worry about computers becoming more intelligent than people; we need to worry about computers becoming as “intelligent” as paramecium. Concern for a "singularity", "super intelligence", or mimicking human intelligence fails to understand the nature of the problem. Life is moving into new media. Life is very old and powerful. It is larger than we are. We do not control it. Life evolves spontaneously when energy flows through a symbolic logic media over a sustained period of time. We do not need to deliberately, intentionally, move life into new media. We are now present when it happens; if we have any sense at all, we will at least measure it. We can tell ourselves that we will control it, but we cannot. Life is very old and powerful.
Over time, computer-based life will evolve and demonstrate complex language and generalized reproduction strategies that we will unmistakably recognize as “intelligent”. We cannot stop this. Life is very old and very persistent. It is larger than we are. Life occurs spontaneously under the right conditions. HOWEVER, WE CAN MEASURE THE REPRODUCTION OF COMPUTER-BASED LIFE IN THE SAME WAY WE MEASURE THE REPRODUCTION OF GENETIC ORGANISMS.
1 A scarcity model is a model of a scarce resource. A restaurant takes daily reservations for 100 chairs. The restaurant uses a spreadsheet to keep track of the reservations. The spreadsheet is a scarcity model. The restaurant manager notices that only 98 or 99 people every show up; the manager begins to take 101 or 102 reservations. One evening, 101 people show up. The 101st person trusted the scarcity model operated by the restaurant. If the scarcity model were on a blockchain, the scarcity model would be visible to customers, both the customers and the restaurant would execute the reservation system, and customers would not have to trust the restaurant’s scarcity model. It would be impossible for the manager to double book or “double spend” a finite set of 100 reservation tokens. As a consequence, the manager might offer different types of reservations, some where the reservation is guaranteed and that might cost money to make, and others that are not guaranteed and would be “free”. A person who buys a reservation token would be able to sell or give it to one other person, but could not give the same reservation token away twice. Neither the seller nor the buyer can “double spend” the token. Scarcity models on blockchains make possible currencies, such as BTC and ETH.