Is Information Alive?

August 3, 2009
50 Views

It’s a new week and I thought we’d start it with a discussion to get our brains working after the weekend.

I have just read an interesting article in New Scientist by Dr Susan Blackmore, a writer and psychologist based in the UK. The article is called ‘Evolution’s third replicator: Genes, memes, and now what?’ Essentially the article is proposing that there are 3 evolutionary processes now on Earth.

I must be dense because I was only aware of one: Darwinian evolution and the passing of genes from parent to child. Well I’m wrong. There are two others: ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ memes. A definition of each may help:
  • genes, the copying of characteristics through DNA
  • “natural” human memes, such as spoken words, habits, fashions, art and religions
  • “artificial” memes, such as websites and high-tech goods

I was only vaguely aware of what a meme (rhymes with ‘cream’) was. For the record (and a layman’s definition), a meme is the “basic building block of our minds and culture” and you can think of memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate and evolve following a process similar to natural selection.

The term was coined by Richard Dawkins in


It’s a new week and I thought we’d start it with a discussion to get our brains working after the weekend.

I have just read an interesting article in New Scientist by Dr Susan Blackmore, a writer and psychologist based in the UK. The article is called ‘Evolution’s third replicator: Genes, memes, and now what?’ Essentially the article is proposing that there are 3 evolutionary processes now on Earth.

I must be dense because I was only aware of one: Darwinian evolution and the passing of genes from parent to child. Well I’m wrong. There are two others: ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ memes. A definition of each may help:
  • genes, the copying of characteristics through DNA
  • “natural” human memes, such as spoken words, habits, fashions, art and religions
  • “artificial” memes, such as websites and high-tech goods

I was only vaguely aware of what a meme (rhymes with ‘cream’) was. For the record (and a layman’s definition), a meme is the “basic building block of our minds and culture” and you can think of memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate and evolve following a process similar to natural selection.

The term was coined by Richard Dawkins in the mid 1970’s and Dr Blackmore is a leading researcher in the meme field. The concept of memes are still very controversial and are not accepted by the majority of social scientists. I am also sceptical but I haven’t completely dismissed the meme. My main problem is that it seems too simple a concept to explain the richness of human culture and the transmission of ideas. 

So if you take a leap of faith (I can find no generally accepted empirical evidence) there is now a new evolution happening as electronically processed binary information is copied and changed automatically by computers. To quote from the article:

“Or think of Google. It copies information, selects what it needs and puts the selections together in new variations – that’s all three [copying, varying and selection]. The temptation is to think that since we designed search engines and other technologies for our own use they must remain subservient to us. But if a new replicator is involved we must think again. Search results go not only to screens for people to look at, but to other programs, commercial applications and even viruses – that’s machines copying information to other machines without the intervention of a human brain.”

Sounds very similar to the concept of The Singularity – the idea that artificial intelligence will suddenly (and in the near future) outsmart humans. Take a look at a recent article in the New York Times for a good overview.

So is information (on the web) alive?

Anyway, it’s all very thought provoking so I will leave you with a quote from Dr Blackmore that echos the recent posts of another CORTEX blogger (Navigating the Information Management maze) on the information explosion. Dr Blackmore:

“Last year Google announced that the web had passed the trillion mark, with more than 1,000,000,000,000 unique URLs. Many countries now have nearly as many computers as people, and if you count phones and other connected gadgets they far outnumber people. Even if we all spent all day reading this stuff it would expand faster than we could keep up.

Billions of years ago, free-living bacteria are thought to have become incorporated into living cells as energy-providing mitochondria. Both sides benefited from the deal. Perhaps the same is happening to us now. The growing web of machines we let loose needs us to run the power stations, build the factories that make the computers, and repair things when they go wrong – and will do for some time yet. In return we get entertainment, tedious tasks done for us, facts at the click of a mouse and as much communication as we can ask for. It’s a deal we are not likely to turn down.”

Link to original post

You may be interested

Education and the Blockchain – Should We be Teaching Blockchain in Schools?
IT
55 shares497 views
IT
55 shares497 views

Education and the Blockchain – Should We be Teaching Blockchain in Schools?

Glen Allard - July 26, 2017

It goes without saying that tech progress is moving at a rapid pace. Futurists point to Moore’s law – the…

5 Effective Strategies for Boosting IoT Security
Internet of Things
79 shares1,308 views
Internet of Things
79 shares1,308 views

5 Effective Strategies for Boosting IoT Security

Ryan Kh - July 25, 2017

With the emergence of IoT devices that are being rolled out from time to time, the serious IoT security issues…

The Future of Healthcare and Big Pharma is in Big Data Analytics
Analytics
635 views
Analytics
635 views

The Future of Healthcare and Big Pharma is in Big Data Analytics

riteshmehta - July 25, 2017

The healthcare industry recognizes that Big Data as and opportunity and a challenge for the whole sector. Nevertheless, systems and…