Future evolution of narrative.

dave sag

In the beginning the universe was created. (acts of creation are not uncommon, they happen all the time. This sentence is an act of creation, just on a different scale.) This universe was in all probability not very stable. The dozen or so 'universal constants' (UCs) which are fine tuned to allow the universe to exist as we know it today were probably not so well tuned way back then; chance being what it is. An unstable universe will accordingly collapse. A mostly stable universe will also collapse, but it may take a little longer, a minute, a few days, a billion years. Now, given that acts of creation happen all the time, eventually the iterating process of the creation and recreation of the universe at random, must eventually stick, as a really stable universe comes along.

A really stable universe is a huge swirl of relationships between a dozen or so fundamental constants that manifests itself as space and time, atoms and more recently bits. Such a stable universe could sprout simply one black hole, within which the as yet unknown laws of quantum gravity take over. Lee Smolin in his book "The Life of The Cosmos" has argued that within each black hole, lies another universe, whose fundamental properties are inherited from the parent. The original 'stable enough' universe (SEU) may eventually collapse in on itself sending an entire branch of reality off into the void, like the inhabitants of moonbase alpha in 'space 1999'. One hopes that the spawn of 'stable enough universe' (SOSEU) is also stable enough to produce offspring, or that the SEU is prodigious enough to spawn a whole litter. One imagines that the void is a pretty hostile place for a universe to grow up in.

Here lies the seeds of evolution. A spontaneous, random burbling of creation happening over and over again outside of time or space eventually gives rise to a stable, self replicating, albeit primitive process. An infinite number of monkeys with no limit to time, will write a word virus :-)

Once evolution kicks in, it's not likely to stop. Primitive evolution comes with a building block set including time, space, atoms, suns, planets abstract lumps and every other side effect of the interplay that led to the formation of a black hole. It is hardly surprising that somewhere along the way somewhere, some atoms would rearrange to give rise to smaller self replicating structures. That's self similarity for you, a fundamental tenant of fractal geometry. Evolution is not a top down process. Emergent effects are only visible when the observer is viewing within limited scale. If you could see the universe on all levels of detail, all you'd see is quivering nothing.

Evolution evolves. Darwinian style natural selection gave way to Lamarkian evolution when language came along. Which makes it a mere pup in the scheme of things. Lamarkian evolution implies that characteristics earned in one generation may be passed on the next generation. This does not happen with animals. Giraffe necks did not grow longer because successive generations of giraffes stretched their necks and passed down the stretch. Giraffes have long necks because the ones born with longer necks tended to be better suited to an environment of high hanging food, and so survived to pass on long necked genes.

Languages however can pick up new tricks and hand them on with a net gain in efficiency. Symbolism is a powerful tool in the hands of evolutionary process. When ants use pheremones to mark out paths to food, points of danger and other myriad communication, they are using language. They are abstracting ideas into symbols. Languages are living things. No-one would deny that modern South Australian computer jargon would be incomprehensible to ants. There is a long way from bird song to sonnets. The diversity of languages, both human and non human, is astounding. What kind of beast is a poem? It emerges out of a complex history between author, the World, perceiver, the perciever's environment and the perciever's history. Language allows Technology to develop. The history of technology is in fact the history of language. Language is technology.

Memetic plagues ravished the earth. Proto European culture, World War II, MTV and Tamogotchi. Lessons learned from history are always being re-applied. Precedents are set, documents are filed, and the global network has emerged. There are more Microsoft word documents on this planet than people. The movie is now the dominant form of cultural expression, closely followed by the book. All media is becoming digital. Images, words, and processes are all able to be digitised. This includes the process of evolution.

Digital evolution is more than electronic pets and a-life. They are one, early and simple manifestation of digital life. In his book 'Genetic Programming', John Koza has developed a simple, seed methodology for the autonomous programming of computers. Computer programs are ultimately just text. Like poetry, source code comprises structured lines on a page. Also like poetry, there are many forms of source code, in a variety of languages. Unlike poetry however, source code is quite capable of self replication, adaption, modularisation, and interaction. Software can spawn threads, perform cross-over operations, add, and make pretty pictures. Software is a better memetic carrier than the human imagination because within the digital realm lies the potential for RoboMemes. Cybernetically enhanced cultural expectations, driven by poetry that does stuff.

Consider the Ad Virus: A small piece of self replicating code that eats Apple Logos and shits out Microsoft Logos. As an observer you may like this, or be unable to detect that it is happening. If so the ad virus is a winner and has found a host. If not, you may apply some brute disinfectant to wipe it out. It will always come back eventually though, is a new and resistant form. As people wear VR goggles in their Ray Bans, and OPSM start selling 'smart glasses' and digital contact lenses, these network image virii will come into their own. By applying the process of evolution to software running across a massively parallel, global network of computers, that software will overrun the network. Not that this is a bad thing.

It is not unreasonable to project emergent phenomena such as consciousness onto the internet. Sure it is not human consciousness, and sure most of what the network would be 'thinking' about would be as incomprehensible to us as are the thought of a cat. We can guess at what the cat wants, but we don't really understand it. The network can guess at what we mean, but it's not human, and doesn't get our drift. We on the other hand would barely notice that the network is a conscious, living entity, but would generally assume it is just this handy thing here so wee can get on with our lives in greater comfort. We understand instinctively that the network aids our creativity by putting us in touch with similar and dissimilar people and ideas, but we'd never try to talk to the network as a whole.

The network as a whole on the other hand will soon have the ability to reshape the very atoms of the universe to better suit it. Nanotechnology is the term used to describe the nascent science of assembling self replicating machines at the atomic scale. The core advantages of nanotechnology are simplified engineering (there are only a few building blocks. Their properties are well understood) and minimal cost. Sure it may take billions of dollars to get the first working nanotech assemblers/matter compilers to working form, but from that point on, evolution and self replication take over. Supercomputing devices made of a few billion atoms would fit nicely inside they typical liver cell. The network would of course be comprised of a huge number of such devices, and would seek to propagate itself.

In my dreams I see the earth from space. A small pod spits forth from the atmosphere and reaches a point in space. It breaks itself down and reassembles itself into a giant solar energy collector, casting a shadow across Mars. The collected energy is transmitted to earth via a network of smaller, similar collectors. Raw materials filter up, energy pours down. Like a seed from which a flower emerges.