Will the Internet Evolve into a Lifeform?

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September 16, 2008

Will the Internet Evolve into a Lifeform?

Lifeform Some think that sentience could emerge from any sufficiently complicated system.  By the way, you're reading this on a massively-crosslinked network built from millions of routers, allowing any of a billion individual units to access, modify and reply to the others.  Interested?

Computer programs are already exhibiting many of the characteristics of organic lifeforms, up to and including evolution - hilarious, since they're the only things that really are "Intelligently Designed" - and there's no reason to believe that life or awareness are exclusively organic attributes.  You could say we've only ever seen chemical-based constructs which are alive, but in the past the same argument could have been applied to things moving under their own power, flight or the ability to count - and it turns out we've built machines that are sort of far better at all those things than the fleshy equivalents.  If there is a magic "life-chemical" mixed in with all the blood and guts, we haven't found it.

Others would object that only beings with souls can ever be truly alive, but such people rarely have anything useful (or even sensible) to say on the subjects of evolution or technology and so can be safely ignored.

The question is now what form this life would take.  While the movies teach us that evil cybernetic intelligences are created in military research labs, with the occasional time-traveling component mixed in, the most likely environment is wherever has the greatest connectivity, diversity and sheer quantity of data flow.  That's right, the internet.

One route is the evolution of electronic intelligences in situations like the internet-arms race between spammers and shielders.  It might sound silly, the idea that new life could be created in an attempt to offer you a great deal on C1@Lis!!, but have you tried registering for a forum recently?  Even gaining access to the lowest level of interaction online now requires elementary Turing tests to tell the humans from the robots.

Another option is the idea of the net itself becoming sentient, a vast self-modifying array of connections and information storage with limited connections to the outside world (kind of like that glob of grey goo you carry around in your skull).  If that happens then Gibson help us all - remember that the net is made of about 90% spam, 9% porn, and quite a lot of whining blogs.  If that mixture ever becomes self-aware we're not quite sure what it'll do, but the odds are against it being anything good.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

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Artificial life?


silicon chip networks -- as complex as they may be -- are still input/output systems. the networks "adapt", sure, but not the silicon "neurons"; when it comes down to it, it's still just plain old number-crunching.

on the other hand, there are promising organic computers on the horizon, whether DNA or protein-based, or even neuronal (see this: http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/11/02/brain.dish/).

truly aware living systems will be here soon; but i personally doubt their major components will be silicon.

You don't have to be a jerk to religious people in order to prove a point, my good sir. You are just lowering yourself.

Nice post, btw :)

I think an inorganic intelligence that was compsed of porn and spam (much of which is also porn) would be very, very confused.

However, I don't think we have to worry about it. The brain is a very different organizational entity than the Internet. The brain ultimately has a single purpose that overarches all it's other functions - keeping the body alive. Whether it be in keeping the heart pumping or deciding whether the squirel or the tiger will make the better meal, the brain's main job is to keep the body alive, and if it fails in this job it's unable to do anything else. This simple fact has massive implications for the way it evolves.

The Internet, on the other hand, just exists. It has no ultimate purpose that it must either fulfill or perish. Without this kind of external pressure, it will likely evolve in a very different way and in a very different direction than the brain has. In the end, if the Internet ever becomes intellegent, I don't think it'll be intelligent in any way we'd recognize. I doubt it would have the kind of individuality necessary for it to adopt an "us vs them" or "me vs them" mentality.

Of course, we could always try to design a computer that will learn and evolve into something that thinks like us. There may be many reasons to do so (Hello, Mr. Data.). On the other hand, there are some pretty good reasons not to...

Check out Turing, Searle or J.C Smart's philosophy of mind. By this line of reasoning, the nation of China could be considered a life-form. Each citizen is considered a 'node' in the network that possesses and processes information/data by communicating predictably with other nodes according to rules and systems. The argument just doesn't hold up.

This is a pretty silly notion. Sure, the Internet is a vast, complex network. But so is the network of molecules that make up the soil in your backyard. Complicated organization is a *necessary* condition for sentient life, but it is NOT sufficient in its own right to create sentience.

ever heard of serial experiment LAIN

Makes perfect sense to me. Wow, never thought of it that way.


An amoeba sensed a threat by evolving forms....some of us may well. We are facilitators, and progenitors both.

It's a great time to be alive, if your mind is.

"SkyNet becomes self-aware on August 29,1997 at 2:14am "
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governator of California.

So the internet has been a lifeform for over ten years.

Can you say Skynet?

It already did evolve into a lifeform, and
it lives at filthyrichmond.blogspot.com

you have a point, but why did you turn around and bag on it after making it seem like such a good thing at first? Everyone see's human created sentience as a horrible thing. if you believe in evolution, this is why we dont evolve anymore. In order for survival of the fittest to take place, there has to be a strain for survival. right now there is not so there must be a durastic change for evolution, one made by humans. this sentience will increase our own intelligence and we will never be less intelligent than computers.

at least thats what i think haha.

I wrote a similar post a while back called evolutionary computing. orginal link > http://elasticvapor.com/2008/08/evolutionary-computing.html

Life doesn't necessarily have to be self-aware in order to be alive. A single cell bacteria is arguably just as alive as my dog Winston and Winston just as alive as a human. Whether an application is simple or complex isn't important either, the common thread among all life forms is its ability to reproduce and adapt. The more important aspect is that of the life cycle; birth and death, mutation and evolution. In order to enable this type of life cycle computing (evolutionary computing), we need to create a software system capable of creating its own source code and then being apply patches to itself, then repeating the process over and over. The system should be capable of seeing any quantitative changes for better or worse overtime in each iterative version. These improvements could be a kind of artificial evolutionary process where certain branches may result in dead ends and where other branches may evolve into improved versions of the software. It should also be able to examine other source code as a basis of comparison and apply certain aspects when and if needed. (As a developer its easier to go modify some else's code then to create it from scratch.)

This was a rather ham-handed attempt at articulating a concept that has been around for some time. Most notable, Arthur C. Clark wrote about this possibility in one of his last books Time's Eye. The Author and artificial intelligence researcher Ben Goertzel has gone over this ad nauseum in his book Creating Internet Intelligence. Oddly enough, no one else has found it necessary to wield intolerant stupidity in order to make their point.

This idea is somewhat old. The TV show Odyssey 5 was built around it. In it, AI bugs, that could evolve and mutate by incorporating competing AI bugs' programs into themselves, escaped onto the internet and evolved sentience (they are called Sentients on the show) and 'hyper intelligence'.

They then promptly destroyed the world, but that is besides the point.

forget skynet, how about Idoru

Being a progammer,a computer cannot think for itself. It can be programmed but there is no self awareness.
Go watch another movie,

"Being a progammer,a computer cannot think for itself."

You're not a very good programmer.

Its a fallacy.. A lifeform need to breath.. Have carbon bonds.. Etc..

@charles (unless you were stating the fallacy)

I don't remember either reading or hearing anywhere that a lifeform needs to breathe or have carbon bonds.

That's a commonly held belief, and there is evidence to support this belief everywhere you look.

However, evidence of one theory does not always invalidate all other theories. Just because I breathe, and my cells are based on carbon compounds, and I see many other forms of life around me that follow this same pattern, does not mean that this is the universal pattern for 'life'.

I wrote a program (on an old Atari ST years ago). A number (I remember about 200) of bits of code, or behaviours, were randomly generated. They were randomly placed on a 2 dimensional grid. After an hour or so, random behaviours gradually evolved into successful behaviours as poor performers died off allowing the better performers to sustain themselves.

I'm not naïve enough to believe that my computer program was exhibiting life, but I had to try it to prove to myself that complex emerging behaviours could be born from random environments, given the opportunity.

Life is an immensely difficult thing to categorise or define. According to one's point of view, it is either ubiquitous or rare. To me, life is merely the current side effect of a universal evolutionary process. We are merely one step in this process that has been going on for billions of years. 13 billion years ago, the universe was a very different place. Matter hadn't settled down into the regular clumps that we live on and study today, but the precursors for life were already there, sustaining themselves in the same way my bits of code did. There was no intelligence, but there was pattern, and behaviour. The energy and matter of the time evolved into a next stage, then into the next stage, ad infinitum. This process will continue, but I have no idea what the next stage will be.

It's gonna be cool to find out, though!

There is a book on the subject:

Computer Theology
Intelligent Design of the World Wide Web
Bertrand du Castel and Timothy M. Jurgensen
Midori Press, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-9801821-1-8

A massive amount of data & weblinks can't become a life - form in & of itself. There would have to be some kind of software to form connections between files, HTML links, & so forth. Something like an intelligent computer mega - virus. This was the premise behind the 1st " Ghost In the Shell " anime movie. Slap a bunch of data & application files together, they aren't gonna spontaneously form a cybernetic " life form " anymore than chemicals in a chemistry set are going to bond together when spilled in a lab accident & create some type of new creature -The basis of some early 50's - late 60's comic books stories.

Maybe a very clever computer virus, or a honking big app file could do it.....

There are some IMMENSELY clever programs that " learn " / " mimic " some aspects of human behaviour, but they're designed to do just that. They're not random aggregations of files, etc. Whether they're actually intelligent is a question for philosophers to debate.

I actually read something like this on this link:


It's in spanish, but that dude is light years ahead of everyone else I know in thinking about these things.

The internet really can't become self aware cause of the fact the ability for it change paths like that in your brain are controlled by people and other little programs and not the Internet as a whole. Imagine if you couldn't change the paths in your mind, you wouldn't work too well.

If the Internet could develop into a sort of cyber -
" life form ", it would have a very limited existence, seeing as it would be dependent on humans inputting data from the sublime to the ridiculous into it, even if it WERE sentient, it would have a very limited & skewed picture of the world outside of cyber - space.

Your views seam to be very fictional, and yes all life forms are carbon originated.
Learn to program and then try and make your statement again.

Without some manner of access to sensory input or virtual analogues, an internet gestalt ( ? ) " life - form " would be deaf & pretty much blind. How far could such a thing develop, even IF it DID exist ??

Think in real world terms.

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