Saturday, July 29, 2006

Life inside our machines

Is there life on Moon? Yes and No.
No. Because we landed there and found that it was made up of nothing but a bunch of rocks. Yes. Because it affects us directly. The gravity of moon is responsible for tides. The moon also reflects sunlight and serves as a torch in the night. On a new moon night, we have to resort to artificial lighting as the starlight is not bright enough. The moon influences the mind. This is well known. In fact in Palmistry, it is said that if your line of head dips into the mount of Luna, most probably you’ll go insane.
Now let us zoom out into the microcosm. All cells have life. Viruses and some form of borderline crystals also have life. So what is life all about? Is it a DNA strand? Some viruses don’t have DNA, just RNA. Here’s my definition: Life is that which is in motion – outside or inside. Change is life. Replication is life. Achieving something by change – knowingly or unknowingly is life. And most important – survival is life.
Our body is not live. It is the changes or the movement inside the body that is life. All cells, tissues, organs etc. are nothing but made up of constituents like water, wastes and chemicals which are inert. When matter is positioned in a certain fashion, it leads to life. We are nothing but life aggregated into a higher plane.
Hardware does not change. If you have a Pentium machine, it is the same processor or the DMA chip that is present every time you switch it on. It does not change. Inside the chip is the instruction set or like the base pairs of a DNA made up of only 4 nucleotides viz. Adenine, Guanine, Thymine and Cytocine. Note that these can be considered as four instructions in a DNA molecule.
Now comes the living part. Software. Say you are loading the OS. It will go and sit in the same portion of memory or if you expand the memory it may go and sit in another place. But if you notice there is motion. There is a distinct change. The voltage levels are fluctuating. And software turns on. This software uses say ‘x’ number of instructions. Another OS may use ‘y’ number of instructions. It’s like the difference between the code of an ant and a grasshopper. The closer they are genetically, the more the instructions inside them match. Like a 32 bit AMD and Intel Microprocessor.
If you look at instructions deep down, a ‘MUL’ or multiply is nothing but a repetitive ‘ADD’. And so we can say that there are some fundamental instructions equivalent to the DNA nucleotides, like for instance an ADD instruction, a CMP (Compare) instruction or a MOV (Move) instruction. These form the core. But wait for some more. The chips are made of gates and there are not many. The simplest is a ‘NOT’ gate, and then we have a AND and OR gates. Further to that are abstractions or aggregations. WE can go further to a level of transistors, but I think we are losing focus.
Coming back to software, an accounting software has a different set of instructions than a computer game. But they are both live when they get control. Control of what? The CPU, of course. For the moment that the instructions get executed, or whenever the current flows, life manifests. Like there are so many ants, there are so many copies of say your browser sessions (tabbed or windowed). And like the ants die, the browser dies when you close the window. In fact ‘Close’ should be called ‘Die’.
As programs have more and more layers, the programs are also evolving into aggregations like ourselves. Nowadays there are so many layers of instructions, that the uppermost layers are quite sophisticated.
Consider for a moment a Lisp interpreter running on a Unix OS on a Sun Fire machine, communicating with a Windows machine using sockets over the internet. Sounds complex. This is communication, like between two human beings or cells. An exchange of information happens and the state of the machine most likely changes. In the same way, we may get altered after every tete-a-tete, although we do not consciously know it.
Like the moon, the computer has life. It is the software existing inside it. Life has given birth to life. And the soul that created is nothing but that of a human. The creation is not perfect like an Ostrich that has wings but still cannot fly. But like evolution, we are on our way making more usable programs and then probably the Ostrich wont need a wing or probably we’ll fit artificial ones so that it can claim it’s lost glory – the flight of being a bird.

No comments: