Monday, February 01, 2010

Computers, viruses, intelligent design, natural selection, memes, mitochondria and, of course, the Fermi Paradox

Once upon a time it was every computer virus for itself. In those days there wasn’t much competition, and there wasn’t much of a business model.

Now there are business models for viruses, all based on variations of fraud and theft. Computers are important resources – they provide access to vulnerable wetware and replication facilities.

We know how this sort of thing works in the wet world. A dead host is a dead end. If a computer is so disabled that it become intolerably annoying, the wetware will turn it off. The optimal infection would make the computer more attractive, increasing the return on fraud and the replication rate.

So we would expect computer viruses to start fighting one another, each struggling to create the optimal infection. In time, some would start collaborating, creating de facto alliances. Synergies. Communities. Ecologies.

Except computer viruses don’t, yet, mostly, mutate and evolve in the traditional sense. They develop through vaguely-intelligent design. Still, this is the path they’re following. Modern computer infections include routines to disable rivals.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Well, it doesn’t exactly, but close enough. It’s such a cool meme, one can’t avoid replicating it.

In this instance, though, it’s cybology that recapitulates immunogenesis. We’ve long noted that the human immune system seemed to have quite a bit in common with the viruses and other infections it more or less opposes – when it’s not turning on us that is. Now we know that animals are, in large part, holobiontic ecologies of coopetiting viri.

Which makes it easier to understand how bacterial life ever developed in a sea of seething viri, and then became intracellular things like mitochondria and chloroplasts. Not only understandable, but perhaps inevitable. Inevitable that viruses should emergently collaborate to create bacteria, and thus cells and animals that should have minds and memes and computers and thus to other things too.

Which also explains the eerie silence.

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