A new analogy to ‘life’
Suppose you are investigating the possibility of life on other planets. You might start wondering what is life Then what if you noticed that some computer systems – systems used for mathematical computation – have similarities to biological life forms? This may have been the path to a new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal this month (August 9, 2021) Origins of life and evolution of the biosphere. In the paper, astrobiologist Oleg Abramov of the Planetary Science Institute and two other scientists proposed a new definition of life. For example, they said, blockchain systems – the technology behind cryptocurrencies – organize themselves in much the same way that DNA organizes itself into chromosomes, which ultimately drives biological evolution. Abramov commented:
This work provides evidence that the order observed in biological systems is essentially computational. A promising direction for future research is the development of mathematical theories that calculate how biological systems organize.
Blockchains work like DNA
As a prime example, Abramov and his team have focused on blockchain-based systems. Basically, a blockchain is a digital ledger that can store data. For example, it can record information about cryptocurrency transactions, NFT ownership, and more. Forbes pointed out that while any traditional database can store this type of information, the blockchain is unique in that it is completely decentralized. Abramov stated:
The blockchain is a pure append data structure consisting of sub-units, so-called blocks. [The blocks] are permanently “chained” … In practice [the blockchain] is an immutable medium. It contains instructions in the form of computer code and is replicated across thousands of nodes, much like DNA [is replicated] in cells.
The word nodeIncidentally, refers to the fact that in a large network of several computers there are many identical copies of a blockchain database and not a central administrator who manages a computer in one place. These many computers are the ones node. And – in the context of this study – they are analogous to cells that contain many identical copies of DNA.
What is life
Abramov and his colleagues do not claim that blockchains lively, literally. But they suggest that blockchains have some characteristics of life. A blockchain reacts to its computing environment. It grows, adapts, self-regulates and replicates in an operationally closed system, much like DNA does. The researchers wrote that because of this, blockchain technology can meet a theoretical definition of life. Abramov said:
For example, our observations reveal a number of functional and structural similarities between the blockchain and DNA, a self-replicating molecule that is the genetic blueprint for all known life.
In addition, a blockchain system has potential advantages over biological life. For example, a blockchain system can pass traits on to its “descendants” even more efficiently than biological lineages. After inheritance, these traits are enhanced in order to control their own development. And unlike our carbon-based human life, technological life forms could theoretically have a potentially unlimited lifespan.
Blockchain life forms and AI
Blockchain is not the only lifelike technology in our modern world, write the study authors. Artificial intelligence (AI), based on artificial neural networks, coordinates operations like a brain. Is it possible that a product of their combination – an entirely new cybernetic system – is even on the horizon?
While this train of thought may sound bizarre, a profound shift in scientific paradigms may be inevitable with the technological revolution of AI and digital currency, the study said. Who knows? Self-regulating systems could be well on their way to becoming indistinguishable from the biological life we examine on a daily basis. Abramov has expressed that the joint analysis of computational and biological systems, if any, is a promising direction for future research for scientists studying life in all its forms.
Conclusion: Computer systems have many similarities with biological life forms. Blockchain in particular has some properties of life and, according to a recent study, could at least theoretically meet the definition of life.
Source: Emergent bioanalogous Properties of Blockchain-based Distributed Systems
About the Planetary Science Institute