Saturday, August 09, 2008

It's Alive 

In reading the description of an old Virus (Storm) traveling in a new guise -- as FBI vs. Facebook or CNN Top 10 emails -- I had the possibly naive, possibly not realization that the internet and the world wide web really have achieved the status of sentient life. What does a virus do to a computer network? Cause the infected computer to attempt to reproduce copies of itself and transmit them to other computers. Another form of malignancy, a DOS attack, tries to cut off a particular computer or server from the outside world -- think bacterial infection instead of viral. Finally, web search spiders and bots crawl the net constantly to keep a record of itself, in effect expanding self-awareness. In transmitting information from one place to another, the internet will attempt to work around bad connections or dead-ends -- shades of a neural network.

The only thing it is incapable of doing that life does is grow -- that still requires the interaction of humans. The same is true of viruses and the entire network. But how soon will it be before some idiot writes a virus that is meta-stable; one that is so well-defended that it cannot be cured by even its creator? One that would reproduce exponentially without need of human action, the end result being a runaway program that would absorb all of the available resources of every connected device on the planet? A simple doubling progression -- 2, 4, 8, 16, etc. -- will exceed ten times the number of internet connected devices on the planet in just 36 iterations, which is an eye-blink in computer time. A progression by powers, on the other hand, would result in a number larger than a googol (10100) in just three iterations: 22, or 4; 44, or 256; and 256 256 -- which exceeds the mathematical capabilities of representation of my computer.

Of course, if you really want to eliminate viruses, you'd have to program the system to detect and destroy them on its own, in effect giving the web an immune system.

We're only two steps away now. We just need self-replicating machines and primitive AI before we can truly declare our created systems as alive. And I'm not sure that's actually a bad thing. A self-aware, self-replicating system with a mind based in absolute logic might bring a lot of benefit to the world. If it were tasked with the goal of improving the lot of every human on the planet, it might come up with answers that were the most helpful with the least economic or social impact. Or it might decide that killing four billion of us would leave the remaining two and a half billion better off.

Although I think that latter option is the thing of paranoid science fiction. More likely, such a system would end up with solutions that would allow everyone the highest standard of living with the least effort required. Most likely, this would involve the elimination of dividing elements, like national borders, political parties or religions -- but the benefits would outweigh the inconvenience of giving up useless beliefs.

Besides, when the web does come alive -- as it will within ten years -- can you blame it for thinking globally and acting locally? It's been practically designed for that from the beginning.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Do you read much William Gibson?
Heh heh. No. I've only read "The Difference Engine".

But he may have been on to something. And why is it that Luddites always nail it when it comes to future evolution of technology?
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?