Friday, June 29, 2012

Bruce Sterling - A Universe of Self-Replicating Code

This is a cool article from Wired Magazine by Bruce Sterling. He's making fun of an article on Edge by George Dyson on A Universe of Self-Replicating Code. Here is a passage from the article at Edge:

Many of these things we read about in the front page of the newspaper every day, about what's proper or improper, or ethical or unethical, really concern this issue of autonomous self-replicating codes. What happens if you subscribe to a service and then as part of that service, unbeknownst to you, a piece of self-replicating code inhabits your machine, and it goes out and does something else? Who is responsible for that? And we're in an increasingly gray zone as to where that's going.

The most virulent codes, of course, are parasitic, just as viruses are. They're codes that go out and do things, particularly codes that go out and gather money. Which is essentially what these things like cookies do. They are small strings of code that go out and gather valuable bits of information, and they come back and sell it to somebody. It's a very interesting situation. You would have thought this was inconceivable 20 or 30 years ago. Yet, you probably wouldn't have to go … well, we're in New York, not San Francisco, but in San Francisco, you wouldn't have to go five blocks to find five or 10 companies whose income is based on exactly that premise. And doing very well at it.

Sterling is not kind to this, but he is entertaining . . . .

Universe of Self-Replicating Code

*I don’t entirely enjoy coming across all crackerbarrel-metaphysician on the ‘ol’ blog here, but, you know, maybe the cosmos is constructed of self-replicating code.

*That could be, right? That’s a modish notion, I’ve seen people approach it from different angles, but I find nowadays that it makes me uneasy. Probably because we’ve got so much code around in these times, and it’s so un-Platonic and so merely-physical. Cosmic code? Really-really? I’d almost rather face a universe made of “statements,” than a universe made of “code.”

*Do we really wanna go here? What if it’s all object-oriented ontological code? We’re about a sneeze away from some awesome metaphysical-coding mash-up there, aren’t we? Wouldn’t we have modern philosophers walking around stating that the ontologically mysterious rocks cry because the Dysonian code says so? And wouldn’t these people, like, properly belong under sedation, or something?

“Very few people are looking at this digital universe in an objective way. Danny Hillis is one of the few people who is. His comment, made exactly 30 years ago in 1982, was that “memory locations are just wires turned sideways in time”. That’s just so profound. That should be engraved on the wall.”
(((That’s some great stuff in the link there, that is. That’s about as good as cosmological code gets. That’s the Dysonian creme de la code. You can’t ask for better. However, if people are gonna get all Bishop Berkeley with the cosmological coding there, then I’m gonna get all Dr Johnson today. See this big ugly rock?)))

(((That’s Vesta, a native of our solar system, and it’s like, a huge dead rock. If the universe is cosmic coding, well, most of your beloved code is expressing that dead rock, okay? Not biology, viruses, strings, cellularity, cool coder stuff, but huge, inert rock. That’s not “self-replicating,” it’s a cosmic rock.)))

(((We got, like, a machine we made that took this computer-colorized picture of this rock with a bunch of code, and then that machine flies away. This primeval, entirely lump of cosmic rock returns to its multibillion-year history of completely inconsequential debris-blasted rockiness. That’s “cosmic,” while your Mac iPad screen there isn’t “cosmic.” So: if there’s “cosmic code,” job one is to explain why the code is 99.999999% about the likes of that stuff, while all the exciting out-there whiz-bang stuff that most interests visionary coding-dudes is entirely irrelevant, and even, rather, well, self-glamorizing.)))
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