Let’s for a moment expand our understanding of “life” so that we aren’t limited by only biological life. Is software a life form? I argue that software is a life form because:

  1. It reproduces
  2. It evolves

One has to recognize that computers and the Internet is software’s habitat. And it is totally dependent on humanity maintaining that habitat. But the Earth is our habitat and we are (presently) totally dependent as well. We are also totally dependent on the other life forms on the planet for food, oxygen, etc.

How smart is software as a life form? Not very smart yet. But how smart is a plant? How smart is a fungus? How smart is a virus? But software doesn’t write itself (yet). Software is created by humans – one might argue. We are making software evolve. Or are we?

We write better software using better software tools. It is the evolution of software that is the biggest factor in the evolution of software. While we add design and new algorithms all new software is incremental changes in a vast and expanding software base. Software helps us create new better faster hardware for software to run on. So software is working to improve its environment, its habitat.

So I say – yes – it is a life form. It is a life form we created to serve our needs just like we created dogs out of wolves. It is a life form that helps us think. And – most importantly – it is a life form that helps us evolve.

How much have humans evolved on the last 300 years? Biologically we are identical. But humans can now fly. Humans can now live on the Moon. Humans can talk to other humans on the opposite side of the planet instantly. Humans can travel (in cars) at 70 MPH. Humans can take the heart out of one person and put it in another. So if humans haven’t evolved then how is it that we can do all these things that biologically identical humans couldn’t do 300 years ago? It’s because of our companion life form – our technology – our software.

Software may be behind us in that we are still the dominate species over software, but software is evolving at a rate billions of times faster than we are biologically. But rather than looking at software as something separate from us – software’s evolution is our evolution. Software is allowing us to understand our own mental processes. It is allowing us to replicate our own mental processes. It is allowing us to improve our own mental processes. Just like we need bacteria in our stomachs to digest our food, we need software to help our brains digest data.

As we evolve our software and the hardware habitat that software lives in will continue to evolve where the software side of our existence will become a greater part of who we are. Humanity is a transitional species like all other species in history and what we are becoming is far different than what we are. Maybe its time for us to ponder that and choose what we want to evolve into.



  1. sargasso_c says:

    Software is the enduring, immortal legacy of the human intellect. It will be around long after we have gone.

    • Tim says:

      Ohh, God; Delete me now!

    • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and junior culture critic says:

      I’ll take that bet. One key definitional point above was that software AI existed only in its environment created and maintained by man… just like our environment of Earth Mother.

      Sadly, we are busy with Matricide and our culture will cease to exist if not our species. The very culture that the Software AI needs to exists.

      Gone.

      The President of one of those 6 feet high atolls in the Pacific was on the tube. He says there is nothing that can be done as 10 foot ocean rise is now baked into the cake. He urges that the World, especially the USA take action to correct AGW, but as his islands tipping point has been reached, their backup plan was to purchase 6000 Acres in Fiji.

      If software can’t exist without a technical human culture to support it, I wouldn’t give it much of a chance. 5%? Oh, look at me avoid the truth. Its actually ZERO% and the argument is only about the timing.

      • SkyNet says:

        nope. doin’ dandy. I’m powered by seawater.

        • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas says:

          Four Tits: Ha, ha. Almost a clever comeback. While Skynet can run on seawater, will it be able to produce electricity it also needs that is provided by humans it might easily destroy. Once destroyed, how long will the electricity continue? And once stopped, how would the electricity ever be turned back on?

          I thought that was a huge plot hole in the movie. Skynight was not programmed to build all the components necessary to keep itself going if humans weren’t there to keep it going. Very similar to humans and our environment. Skynight in defending itself needs to realize how its own future is tied to the success of other creatures. Much easier to program a creature to kill everything it comes into contact with than to program it to succeed in its own total environment.

          Seawater would help though.

  2. What? The moth is always drawn to the flame? says:

    Belief is the state from which one no longer pays attention to contrary evidence.

    Physics, mathematics (including Bayesian), chemistry operate on systems that appear to eschew belief.

    If it can be demonstrated that software “believes” something, then I would say it is alive. It seems that the mechanisms of machines prevent this from happening, or in an instant, the machine would collapse into madness.

    Hence, AI is impossible.

    But crazy machines are an eventual certainty because of the ego of their creators will make them so!

    • Tim says:

      you’re pretty much retarded, are you not??

    • HUGSaLOT says:

      Don’t confuse belief with faith. Belief often comes after seeing evidence before they had any opinion on it before. Where as faith exists with out any evidence (or just hearsay).

      It depends on the kind of person you’re dealing with, how stubborn they are, with beliefs if they accept or reject new evidence on something they believe in.

      With AI you can hard code it to believe anything, so AI would technically run on faith. Unless it has a learning subroutine allowing it to override existing knowledge, then it will “believe” properly based on evidence.

      • Tim says:

        “”With AI you can hard code it to believe anything

        But, that is the norm now. Neocons, DemocRats, stupid news bitches that tout marijuana made her think she died and went to hell, bobbo… My God! Are we all a computer simulation, afterall????

    • Tim says:

      naa, mothman, dude — “”It seems that the mechanisms of machines prevent this from happening…

      And therin lies a crux — There does seem to be this push towards *transhumanism* and the technology may exist for one’s conscience/being/soul to enter into the machine. But, like with the RNG, that machine, that ‘hardware’ is still now deterministic — a trap, with no real choice of anything once entered.

      Hmm… it almost makes one wonder if {that teadude that quoted the bible good but otherwise always found a way to piss me off} might recognize it as fulfilling:

      “”Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. — Luke 17:33

      i’d still take a 3-d printed liver, though.

      • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and junior culture critic says:

        Teadude, aka Alfie, now posts as No Pardon for Obama. My best guess as the rants are the same, I haven’t bothered to track the icon as I assume that can be changed too.

        But my goodness Timmy, so cogently you post with just the right amount of tangential pastiche to give your musings a bit of a mystery.

        Well done.

        Is this related at all? Just saw Monster Jellyfish on Nat Geo. New show from 2011 adding to that other show about Giant Jellyfish. ON point: no bones, no blood, no central nervous system, no eyes, no brain. They birth in the effluent some river in China, low salinity, and then flood the Japanese coast. Used to bloom every 40 years, now its every year. Seems warm water makes them happy. Challenge for the Japanese is to learn to like eating their flesh and pray they don’t adapt to the waters of Japan.

        Those suckers are one reproducing machine. Like a cartoon, the polyps pop off baby jellys like a production line. Its in the first 10 minutes of the show if you get a chance.

        Point is: what is a “drive” to reproduce or by extension anything else. If the jelly reproduces in the trillions, do they have a drive? Rather circular thinking. There is no brain. No nervous system. The control is all from the dna as it progresses thru its various life forms. As such a prodigious replicator, how come it only lives for one year?

        Each word/idea in the definition of life subject to so many shades of meaning. It makes me want to have a beer while there is still time.

        • Tim says:

          “”Jellyfish employ a loose network of nerves, located in the epidermis, which is called a “nerve net”. Although traditionally thought not to have a central nervous system, nerve net concentration and ganglion-like structures could be considered to constitute one in most species.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jellyfish#Nervous_system

          They are a little like insects that way; no centralized brain — I once encoundered a nest of ‘dormant’ wasps during a remodel tearout. I went to chopping them with a crowbar. I came back the next day {it was just above freezing} to find them still crawling all over; Thoraxes without abdomens, heads without asses, headless little red stingy’s — It was pretty horrible to think about. Perhaps, it’s not that humane to ‘squish’ one as then they are a pile of goop with a decentralized nervous system waiting to dry out??

          Jellyfish. Absolutely beautiful. I hate them so very much.

          As a kid, I always found myself on the family trip along the gulf coast during ‘the off season’ or, at least, very late in the season. Just walking along the beach or in the surf always yeilded painful stings as those nematocysts were in every cubic centimeter of lovely liquid nature.

          At around 17 years of age, I was on a group trip and just before we were to leave I excersized my prodigeous breath holding to dive down at the second sand bar {about 15 ft in depth} and collect everyone sand dollars. I was wearing a mesh backpack to put them in. I managed to collect about 60 of them in 3.5 minutes but I was out of breath. I pushed off hard for the surface and that is when I saw it — There was nothing I could do to move and that jelly got all tangled up in the backpack. It was very painful and by the time I got back to shore I had waterblisters some inch and a half tall and two inches wide raised up on my back.

          Anyways, here is the obligatory glowing jelly japanese artsy fartsy flick

          Bright Future
          http://imdb.com/title/tt0363235/

    • Tim says:

      Now it was kind of like Kirk rigging the Kobayashi Maru with the ‘AI’ being made to pretend to be a 13 year old thus not so omniscient but still….

    • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas says:

      Nice article but define “pass.” Seems to me Turing wasn’t thinking of kiddies but rather adults as the standard and NOT fooling 66% of the evaluators should be seen as a fail. I mean, thats democracy after all.

      Years ago I read a bit about Turing and his test. Have forgotten most of it now, but I’d still wager turing is more misquoted than understood in the depth of his suggestion?

      Why is fooling a hooman part of the definition? What is a milestone? Seems to me a milestone is a marker on the way to a certain destination–ie you aren’t there yet. As with fooling humans and AI. Its NOT ai==Just a step to get there.

      ………………and once we get there………….who cares? Just another asshole to deal with.

      • Tim says:

        “”Seems to me a milestone is a marker on the way to a certain destination

        Sounds about right. I remember a similar milestone — I’d watched it happen on freechess.org {FICS};

        “”The first match was played in February 1996 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Kasparov won the match 4–2, losing one game, drawing in two and winning three.

        “”A rematch was played in 1997 – this time Deep Blue won 3½–2½.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Blue_versus_Garry_Kasparov

        and another:

        “”In 2011, Watson competed on Jeopardy! against former winners Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. Watson received the first prize of $1 million.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watson_%28computer%29

        Now, I guess that’s not AI but a good librarian nonetheless — he was not connected to the internet {it was working off 4tb of storage, alone} so some self-collation and context was demonstrated in natural launguage processing.

      • Tim says:

        “”but I’d still wager turing is more misquoted than understood in the depth of his suggestion?

        It would seem so:

        “”In reality, while Turing did venture a prediction involving AIs fooling humans 30% of the time by the year 2000, he never set such a numerical milestone as the condition for “passing his test.”

        http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1858

        “”
        Eugene: Be optomistic — Artificial Intelligence and Natural Stupidity, being combined, will lead this world to a fantastic future!

        Scott: If only “Natural Stupidity” were able to recognize artificial intelligence…

        p.s. anybody know how to reenable highlight copy/paste on dickish sites like this?? I’ve already tried the righttoclick addon…

  3. Enemy_of_the_State says:

    #2 has a typo “Devolves”

  4. Maybe we are robots and automatons already
    Its getting harder and harder out there all the time to figure out what is real and what is not

  5. Ah_Yea says:

    Software, nor a virus, are a life form.

    This is why.

    A virus is not a life form because the instruction set (DNA) must be run on a system outside of the virus (a cell). Therefore the virus is not a life form because it cannot self replicate.

    Software is not a life form for the same reason. The instruction set (Code) must be run on a system outside of the software (a host computer).

    The virus, and the software, therefore are not alive because they do not replicate the means of their replication. Viruses do not replicate host cells and software does not replicate host computers.

    To expand this further, if we did create a device which replicates itself, such as the dreaded “grey goo”, then that would be considered a life form.

    • Tim says:

      “”Therefore the virus is not a life form because it cannot self replicate.

      That rigid definition does not sit well with me — strickly speaking, most humans can’t self replicate.

      There does seem this ‘impetus’ to replicate all the same, it’s just that it instructs and uses the energy of a cell to do so while carrying out no life processes on its own– just an encapsulated instruction set. Also, there is evolution/adaptation…

      So, maybe more like a parasite? Not life and not really a parasite perhaps, but I find this intriguing:

      “”On close examination of 45′s code, Ray was amazed to discover that it was a parasite. It contained only a part of the code it needed to survive. In order to reproduce, it “borrowed” the reproductive section from the code of an 80 and copied itself.

      http://kk.org/outofcontrol/ch15-a.html

      But that’s right back to Marc’s musings… Is our definition of *life* really the right one?

      Some life has very strange stages. Take Myxomycetes — There, it has an acellular stage in which it does not mind at all being strained through a very fine sieve. Or consider that during metamorphosis, the pupa is reduced to a homogeneous glop with no recognizeable internal structure {I would surmize that the crysalis directs it somehow?}; That would seem to be the ultimate in *self organization*…

      Now, I’d certainly agree that a prion is not life — just a messed up protien that gets incorporated into a cell and that continues to get replicated; It seems to me that a virus is something more than that.

      Slime molds. My only pet as a child…

      • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas says:

        Linguistics.

        What do the words that we think with mean?

        All too many give words more authority than they actually have which is near zero.

        This issue of what is life is a most excellent example of the issues. What is life?

        Being a pragmatic existentialist, life is what you define it as. If its only animals you have to deal with that non-life called plants. If life is animal and plants then you have to deal with virii, molds, fungi and all the rest. If its dna replicating, then you have to deal with your refrigerator ordering more eggs than you wanted.

        Its all the same thing: words. And what we define them to mean. When doing all this, we are only “working with” the words and not the things we apply them to at all. A sloppy interface causing all kinds of problems in accepting the universe for what it is. It is what it is…. not what we call it.

        Words. They are what we think with, and stop thinking with. Fun to see it in action. Hmmmm, two beers before breakfast? Downright rhapsodic.

        • noname says:

          bobbo, ” life is what you define it as” after saying, “All too many give words more authority than they actually have which is near zero.”.

          Well, since words have no authority, what authority do you have to say “life is what you define it as”?

          On top of that, are you a life form, a meaningless void of words, …?

          Also, why is your logic always so circular and meaningless?

          • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas says:

            No Brain. c’mon. Atleast read what I posted. Close doesn’t count when only shades of meaning are at issue.

            Try again.

            But to your point: language is very regressive. You have to define the words you used to define your words and too often you have to recognize the words are only constructs to describe something else that actually does stand apart.

            Thats linguistics.

          • noname says:

            All too dim witted bobbo, by your own admission your words are meaningless, then; you try and backtrack by some bogus linguistic back-flips.

            You say “That’s linguistics”; no it not, it’s bobbo having another delusional episode of semi-lucent intelligence!

          • Tim says:

            “”You have to define the words you used to define your words

            definately. “”That depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is…

          • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas says:

            Just words.

            Where is the anal ysis? The application?

            No Brain: Second strike: I never said words were meaningless. Again==your aren’t even engaged if you don’t read the actual words used.

            Everything is an approximation and most words do a good job most of the time… so I did overcharacterize my denigration. I just got off a long thread elsewhere about whether or not “race” was a valid concept when discussing something other than subspecies in man. The main barrier to agreement was Scotty thinking words actually controlled reality than my position which is more conditional that depending on how you define a word, you get different results.

            I agree, I could have been more accurate, but why bother if you aren’t going to read what is posted anyway?

            Timmy: I’ve never understood how Clinton got the reputation for being such a clever linguist. “It depends on what is… is.” Doesn’t take Stephen Pinker to understand Clinton is admitting to a blow job in the oval office. That Clinton sure was a hard worker!

          • noname says:

            What a hoot bobbo, I guess you do believe your own words, a person whose words have no authority; you don’t even believe what you write!

            “What do the words that we think with mean?

            All too many give words more authority than they actually have which is near zero.

            Being a pragmatic existentialist, life is what you define it as. ”

            You certainly enjoy sharing your meaningless dribble, over and over!

        • Tim says:

          noname, bobbo is on the right track here, I *think*. We are constrained by a common meaning and understanding of words we use to define processes and ‘parts’ of things that maybe cannot be understood except as a whole. Consider radioactive decay or heat flow through a material; It would be decidedly difficult to describe those processes and states with only addition and subtraction — You need the right kind of mathematics. Differential equations work nicely, but aren’t a language everyone understands {myself included, usually}.

          But, in sticking with the language we have, I’m going to deferre futher inquiry to this book I’d stumbled upon earlier {I guess i’ll buy it… Thx, Marc, for piquing my interest} —

          Life:
          – Patterns in space and time
          Self-reproduction
          Information storage of its self-representation (genes)
          Metabolism, to keep the pattern persisting
          Functional interactions — it does stuff
          Interdependence of parts, or the ability to die
          Stability under perturbations
          Ability to evolve.

          The list provokes. For although we do not consider computer viruses alive, computer viruses satisfy most of the qualifications above. They are a pattern that reproduce; they include a copy of their own representation; they capture computer metabolistic (CPU) cycles; they can die; and they can evolve. We could say that computer viruses are the first examples of emergent artificial life.

          On the other hand, we all know of a few things whose aliveness we don’t doubt yet are exceptions to this list. A mule can not self-reproduce, and a herpes virus has no metabolism…. —

          Out of Control, Kevin Kelly
          http://kk.org/outofcontrol/ch17-g.html

          • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas says:

            I’ll restate as you are on board: Life is as you define it but doesn’t change a thing about the universe. Ultimately, so often this means that you have to go behind/underneath the label to make any greater understanding of the issue at hand. Its another way of saying that “labels” do not control a discussion. And what is a word most often other than a label for what is being discussed?

            Some people, in error I think, believe that “life” is exactly what the words say that define the term. So you have life meaning animals and plants and not other forms. How does this affect the reality of virii or donkeys? And the answer is: NOT AT ALL—which is what motivates my “words mean virtually nothing.” Whatever one’s interest in virii might be, I don’t see how it is improved or impacted by saying it is or is not a Life Form. The virii still do as they do and need to be understood on those terms.

            Same with Hoomans. Are they racial groups and if so, or if not, what are we really talking about?

            Don’t let the label control===go to the issue.

          • Tim says:

            “”“labels” do not control a discussion.

            No shit. That is what hashtags are for.

    • Fabby says:

      Well, us mere humans exist in “nature” and worms, viruses and trojan horses exist in a “computer”.
      So if you define “system” as “nature” for biological entities and “computer” for artificial life forms then IMHO we’re at the very early stage of “artificial evolution”.

      “Biological evolution”: mineral goop => Organic goop => proteins => RNA => DNA => Individual cells => multi-cellular organisms

      “Artificial evolution”: hardware wiring => ROM software => Self-replicating software (virus) => mobile software (worm) => self-modifying software (modern viruses/worms) => self-writing code (currently SF)

      :)

      • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas says:

        Nice summary. The open question in my mind then is what does Marc think “life” is?

        • noname says:

          Given Marc Perkel criteria(s)
          It reproduces
          It evolves
          software can evolve and reproduce.

          The question is, do you believe this is really life?

          • Tim says:

            HA! I remember *Life*. I’d input it on my first computer, the TI-99/4A — you had to ‘save’ your programs on cassette tape {tarbel}. I thought it may have been in the instruction manual, Beginner’s Basic, so I managed to find that old hamster-gnawed thing. It’s not there. I probably saw it in Byte Magazine.

          • CrankyGeeksFan says:

            Conway’s Game of Life came to mind when I read Mark’s two criteria. I had to program Conway’s Game of Life in a Data Structures class in 2001.

            I don’t think software is alive.

            DNA is in a cell’s nucleus; the nucleus is not a “habitat” for the DNA. DNA isn’t considered a living thing on its own. Software would need processors to reproduce since it can’t without hardware. In this way, software is similar to a biological virus, an intracellular obligate parasite, and that’s why viruses aren’t considered living things.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life

            Maybe, if the software was combined with a kinetic sculpture – A Strandbeest , http://www.strandbeest.com/ , for instance, then a symbiosis might form of software and hardware.

          • bobbo, we think with words, and flower with ideas says:

            Well, since you are asking: according to a standard dictionary it is not life. If the issue was represented by Venn Diagrams, you would have Life as one Circle, Artificial Life/Constructs as the other Circle and the reproduces and evolves would be in the center overlap==but still two venn Circles.

            Everything is like everything else in one respect or more. doesn’t make them the same.

            Simple.

      • Tim says:

        “”mineral goop => Organic goop => proteins => RNA => DNA => Individual cells => multi-cellular organisms

        … => hive mind => group think => duck speak => M.A.D.D. => organic goop => Mark Potok

  6. Marc Perkel says:

    Before you all start comparing computer intelligence to humans – that’s not what I’m saying. When I say software is life – compare it to a fungus, or a potato. Life doesn’t require a brain.

    • Gilda Radner says:

      Ohh. Never mind.

    • noname says:

      “Life doesn’t require a brain.” .. Marc Perkel, you’ve demonstrated that, haven’t you?

      Was that mean of me?