Life | A thought experiment.

If you look at what life is from around the world, It basically boils down to atoms which interacts with each other to form molecules and chemical reactions. In-fact all life on earth , all of us — are just a bag of chemical reactions walking around. If that’s the case, then my argument would be, if life is full of chemistry and if we call complex chemistry — “biology”, then why can’t I call a chemical reaction in my lab — Life?

On the surface, it’s easy to differentiate between living and non living systems. Most people would say, life is conscious. Its animate. It reproduces and makes copies of itself.

But, if you call only conscious organisms as “living” then certainly bacteria, and a whole lot of microbes wouldn’t fit into that definition. They don’t have a centralised nervous system and the only way they interact with the environment is chemical signalling and they’re certainly NOT conscious. So, I think its safe that we cancel out consciousness from the definition of life.

The other argument is — living organisms reproduce. They take in energy from the environment and the ecosystem and make copies of themselves. Yes, that’s true. Living organisms make copies of themselves and things that don’t reproduce are not living. Chemical reaction from my lab does not makes copies of itself. But what if… I can build something that makes copies of itself — would that be technically “living”?

Imagine a factory which is completely automated (I think most factories will be completely automated in the very near future, bringing the cost of finished goods down). These factories take in energy from the environment in the form of electricity and raw materials and they ship out finished goods like cars, phones etc. Instead of the cars / phones they ship out, what if I program a factory to make copy of itself? Imagine a factory on “wheels” which is programmed to make tiny copies of itself, and it’s “babies” are in turn programmed to take in more energy from the environment and make themselves bigger and then make tiny copies of themselves — kind of like how reproduction works. Would this be “life”?

If you look at our definition of life, then the answer should be — “Yes!”

Most people argue — life should be “Darwinian life” — which means when it makes copies of itself, those copies should have a little random change in them which makes it different than the parent. Biologists call this “Random Mutation” and it happens to all of us. When we reproduce, our babies don’t look exactly like us. If a copy has a random change, then there are two possibilities — a change is negative or the change is positive. The negative random change makes the organism “dead” / “sick” / or it will make the organism easily detectable and “eaten up” by other organism looking for energy, and thus will not be able to make copies of itself. The positive random change will make the “babies” better and more resilient. That’s technically how evolution works. The longer you leave this process to time — You see more and more different types “species” forming everyday and they get better with every passing generation.

…and that’s how intelligence is born. Less intelligent copies die before they reproduce (for example : they’re eaten up) and more intelligent copies end up creating more babies. So, with every passing generation — if you average the intelligence out, the species as a whole should technically be more intelligent.

Medical science today has enabled weaker organisms to survive which means when they mate and reproduce, a weaker copy is “born” which is counter intuitive and goes against evolution. I’d argue on the other hand it has also allowed more variation in species with different copies of organisms surviving. Thus, we have greater diversity in our gene pool and the human race is more likely to survive against new unknown threats with a more diverse gene pool and thus as a whole the species is stronger.

Coming back to our “living” factory which now makes “exact” copies of itself. What if, we modify the code to let it have random changes when it makes “babies”. In this case, a negative change would not survive and positive change will and when you leave this process over time — your factories will become better and better with every passing generation. What if we can have synthetic or artificial evolution at play.

If we make the process of artificial evolution faster than the natural evolution by making reproduction faster. Then, technically we’d achieve more intelligent artificial organisms faster than the natural evolution does. In that case, artificial intelligence would take over natural intelligence and by logic, artificial life would take over natural life.

…and I think that’s inevitable.