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Will the Internet Evolve into a Lifeform? -A Galaxy Insight

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.

Related Galaxy posts:

Quest for Identity in the Digital Village -Daily Video Classic
Internet Going Galactic -To & Beyond
Beyond Google 3: Why a Semantic Web Will Be Smarter, Faster & All-Around Better
Quantum Physics & the Quest for the Perfect Internet
IBM "Cell" Tech Driving Emergence of the 3-D Web


Artificial life?


Can you say Skynet?

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.

If the internet would become alive would it LOL a lot?

(Do androids dream of electric sheep?)

I recall a short story written in the 60s by Arthur C. Clarke (I think) where the phone network, having reached a certain level of complexity, becomes sentient. It makes more sense that computers, connected by the internet, might do so one day. Each PC would be a node in an enormous brain. Possibly a scary outcome depending on what actions that intelligence takes as so many medical devices and bomb launchers are tied to computers.


Agree with comment above . The idea is old and somewhat difficult.

It is a matter of 'definitions'...somewhat forgotten even by A.I. serious searchers.

Is Touring machine test obsolete ?? Yes.
Are robots conscius ?? NO are automated.
Are powerfull NASA (or similar) Teraflop computers cognitive ?? NO are cold silicium powerfull machines well programmed.

Can future computers be selfprogramming ?? YES in a far future....but under external (human) commands...and with substantial technology changes.

What are the limits for high level cognition functions ??? 'High' even for the most intelligent mammals...Human only are known to posess those.

Can computers be kwnolegeable of their inscribed codes of the knowledge in their memories so as to modify and increse by learning ??? NO as far as known.

Is the human brain a vast mass of interconnections only ??? NO it is much more.

Can the internet grow up to become a cognitive network ?? NO . The actual fundamental technology of silicium devices does NOT allow much grow up to cognitive functions.

Then the question posed by the article must refer to a far future network...Non silicon based or Hybrid as a minimum.

The question ...still unresolved has its validity however...and it is NOT stupid ....regards

Checkout Dan Simmons' books Illium and Olympos. Specifically, Olympos (if I remember correctly) describes the evolution of the internet into a self-aware being.


How would one know if this entity became "Self Aware"?

I know I'm self aware, I can only assume the rest of humans are - not prove. If the "Minds Eye" cannot/has not been identified in organic entities, how then would it be confirmed in inorganic life?

nice share, thanks.

Suppose and then suppose and then suppose
That wires on the far-slung telephone black poles
Sopped up the billion-flooded words they heard
Each night all night and saved the sense
And meaning of it all.

Then, jigsaw in the night,
Put all together and
In philosophic phase
Tried words like moron child.

Thus mindless beast
All treasuring of vowels and consonants
Saves up a miracle of bad advice
And lets it filter, whisper, heartbeat out
One lisping murmur at a time.
So one night soon someone sits up
Hears sharp bell ring, lifts phone
And hears a Voice like Holy Ghost
Gone far in nebulae
That Beast upon the wire,
Which with sibilance and savorings
Down continental madnesses of time
Says Hell and O
And then Hell-O

To such Creation
Such dumb brute lost Electric Beast,
What is your wise reply?

Ray Bradbury, "Night Call, Collect"

like Shakatany I also once read a short story on the same thing. Except it was a little more recent and it takes place as an IM conversation one person had with the interenet it's self who thinks it's the new god. it get a little funny when the person has to teach the internet what an emoticon is.

Once again, love the story, hate the hate.

Can't there be one story on here that doesn't bash spiritual or religious people? From what was said in this story, I guess Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and other such figures have "rarely have anything useful (or even sensible) to say".

Like many other commenters here, I observe that the notion of a self-aware net is fairly old. Wrote an article about it myself over ten years ago. The difference is that I pointed out that intelligence arises only when the underlying substrata are forgotten, and that it is perfectly possible to create intelligence without having been aware you have done so. The phone/internet system does represent billions of exchanges. If we say it is think, what is it thinking of? Who could say? Do my brain cells understand, each one, individually, my thought in this letter?

As for all the porn and stupidity on the net--nice joke, but doesn't that raise the question of where all that so-called "junk" DNA come from? The stuff without which not the rest, but whose purpose we cannot determine?

"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."

Haha true, interesting piece, now im going to post this and then attempt to prove that Im human not not 90% spam and 9% pornography.

>>How would one know if this entity became "Self Aware"?
>>I know I'm self aware, I can only assume the rest of
>>humans are - not prove. If the "Minds Eye" cannot/has
>>not been identified in organic entities, how then
>>would it be confirmed in inorganic life?
>>Posted by: SB | February 27, 2009 at 07:35 PM

Well, SB, we already know this: the entity would have to go through a series of meditations, realize God is not an EVIL genius, then THINK therefore KNOW that it is. :)

How could it evolve? Where is the selective pressure? Life evolves at least in part because of competition for scarce resources. Without selective pressure, there is no pressure to change. Even if there were, what would the mechanism be? Evolution predominately relies on random mutations, some of which provide advantages that are passed on, generation to generation. I just don't see how this analogy works. Fun to think about, though.

What about shortest path algorithms, cpu cycles, and storage space for persistent data ... those require finite resources that are in high demand.

And as far as evolution is concerned, it doesn't matter how systems improve/evolve, just so long as they do for survival's sake. Think of and combine Moore's Law and pollination. We want faster computers and networks, and more storage ... computer systems evolve because we aide them. The question is: can we be made redundant?

The pressure is there.

Here is your pink slip Human Race... :)

True A. I. can't arise from a bunch of unrelated computer files that are sharing cyberspace. TA - DA !!! A self - aware, sentient program /cybernetic lifeform emerges. The stuff of science fiction..... They'd have to be manipulated & arranged by a crafty computer program or possibly a virus.

1. Create international network
2. Give it a catchy name like, the "internet"
3. Have it evolve into some uncontrollable and all-knowing Google lifeform
4. ?????????

Sorry, had to..

Skynet, the " Puppet Master " from the Movie "Ghost In the Shell ", & other AI entities in other sci - fi tv shows & movies..... It ain't gonna happen like that, people.

We're going to design Cylons. They will evolve. They will have many copies. & they will have a Plan.

Of course I'm merely pulling your collective legs by referencing the opening text of BSG..... Or am I ?

This idea still freaks me out, even though it's been years since the concept first went mainstream in the movies.

The emergence of a new and predominent life life form from the Internet, a conjectured until recently dismissed by most IT gurus has, in fact, a quite compelling evidential basis drawn from chemistry and biology rather than directly from computer science.

The inevitable self-assembly of this entity (the process of which is already observable) is the main subject of my resent book "Unusual Perspectives", the latest edition of which is available in electronic format for free download from the eponymous website.

I would say that the internet already fullfils many criteria for life, it adapts to its environment, it adapts the environment through us, it reproduces and it communicates. If you see us as the organisms that populate the body of the internet, it seems logical to assume that the internet is alive.

Great post, thanks for sharing it. More valid now than ever before.

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