Volume 6, Issue 1
June 2011

In Our Post-Singularity Age

Jameson Dungan

Jameson Dungan, a student of nature, life-hacker, and singularity enthusiast pursuing a path in Synthetic Biology submitted this article for publication to the Journal of Geoethical Nanotechnology.

Jameson explores the transforming nature of information technology within the philosophy of biology toward an understanding of what life itself is.

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"What is now proved was once only imagin'd."
-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

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At the beginning of the 21st century, humanity came to understand the profound nature of information from the blossoming of the Digital Computing Age, as we transitioned out of The Information Age, [1] and into The Singularity. [2] Little did we know how close we were to unprecedented transformation, how powerful and all-consuming information technology would become, encompassing all things, even the physical, into information.

"...information and information theory are in the underlying operations of the universe."
We discovered how profoundly and fundamentally important information and information theory are in the underlying operations of the universe. We no longer refer to "the speed of light" but rather to "the speed of information." Quantum Information Theory [3] states information must be physical. Information has deep and profound connections to entropy, thermodynamics, and is an underlying property of reality. If entropy is responsible for the arrow of time, then the speed of information is responsible for causality. Ultimately, we discovered that information and information processing are the core components of what we call life.

In the year 2010, humanity understood that life is code, code is information, and information could be hacked when the first synthetic life form was created inside a digital computer as code, printed out and booted up, becoming a self replicating entity. This process might sound crude and archaic today in our Post-Singularity Age, but this was the time that set the stage that gave rise to the world as we know it. History does have its visionaries, even before the discovery of DNA the great Erwin Schrodinger [4] stated "Life is information," and that was in 1944, well over 100 years ago.

Life is information

As biological technologies proliferated at many times the rate of Moore's Law, [5] it became apparent that synthetic biology was going to be the Second Industrial Revolution. Before this time, molecular manufacturing used violent techniques such as harsh acids, extreme temperatures, intense pressures, and toxic chemicals all in brute force techniques. Synthetic biology was far more attractive, because, for instance, all reactions occur at standard temperatures and pressures, running on sugar and sunlight, not to mention self-replication. The synergy of information technology and biology were amazing. Not only were they just compatible, but complimentary as well. Genes are linear information of digital code that can be executed through transcription factors. Biology is an information process we call metabolism. Today, we don't even think of it as synthetic biology, but this technology is responsible for the cleaning of our air and producing pure water, as well as fabricating a wide range of materials, pharmaceuticals, and growing energy from artificial and modified versions of photosynthesis. It was long argued that pixel density would remain superior. However, who can argue against the size of cells operating as pixels, only many orders of magnitude smaller, especially when burnt out pixels can regenerate themselves.

"The self-assembling cities and maintenance repair systems for the buildings within them are all based in code."
Today, whole buildings and cities emerge from genetic code. The self-assembling cities and maintenance repair systems for the buildings within them are all based in code. Even at the beginning of the 21st century, microbes were used to mine a quarter of the world's copper supply through bioleaching. They discovered extremophiles [6] capable of metabolizing rocks and excreting pure copper ore. This technique has been refined and genetically upgraded to mine huge asteroids, giving us the stockpiles of raw materials we maintain in orbit today. These resources are used for the space stations, dry docks, space based solar fields, and the artificial ring under construction around Earth.

After some time, this mysterious field of biology became standardized, and tools were abstracted for ease of engineering. It is almost amusing to think back to a time before there was engineering of any field of science. The first field developed was electrical engineering. Slowly, science yielded practicable formulas, such as The Maxwell Equations, [7] which describe electrical and magnetic phenomena. After collective experiments and equations gave rise to enough data and accurate theory, people started to understand that these rules could be designed, standardized, made modular, and ultimately be engineered. There were whole Computer Assisted Drafting (CAD) systems that made constructing electrical systems so easy that children with little technical understanding could engineer circuits and computers. The same thing happened in the field of Synthetic Organic Chemistry. First, there was alchemy and out of its ashes rose chemistry and eventually the same thing happened. Enough data, formulas, and experimentation gave rise to the notion that not only could chemistry be understood and predicted, but purposely and specifically designed and engineered. Engineering Biology was no different. It was the garage hackers and wetware tinkers who started the huge industries today, such as Microbesoft. [8] As we now see, there are even home compilers and incubator kits for children to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) their pets. They design them from lists of parts, or they make their own. The computer compiles the virtual organism and compresses the information into DNA. Once the biological program begins to run, it takes only six to eight weeks in the incubator and a totally unique species of a pet is yours.

To simplify things, the English alphabet contains twenty-six letters. With these twenty-six symbols, one can connect them together to make all the known words in the entire language, and coin new words as well. Those words can join to make statements and sentences with meanings, which can go on to make whole paragraphs, pages, books, essentially every type or body of information since the dawn of time; likewise in biology. Everything physical--all the molecular machinery of all life on Earth--is made up of twenty amino acids joined together in linear sequences. These twenty amino acids are the alphabet of life; only life speaks in three dimensions.

The difficulty of engineering biology was not in understanding the compiler language of the ribosome, or how to standardize and modularize biological parts. It was the non-linear complex adaptive systems that were difficult to predict and engineer. This was because of the recursive feedback loops and self-assembling characteristics that would yield emergent properties and systems many times more complex than the levels below them. Proteins and enzymes spontaneously synchronize and self-assemble into higher structures, orchestrating a symphony of gene expression and metabolic ballet. Today, the information of many individual genomes can exist redundantly in gene swarms. The idea of swarming was inspired by bees because in each hive, bees contain fifty percent identical DNA, having all inherited half of their genes from the same mother, the queen. This is analogous to early hard drive RAID 2 configurations; only today each organism in the swarm contains fifty percent of the collective genes in the swarm. Many organisms of the collective group can fail or be destroyed while preserving the complete integrity of all individual genomes. These systems could have only been understood through developments in the mathematical fields of non-linear dynamics, chaos theory, [9] and complexity science.

Greenhouse Gasses

An irony of this age was the fear of these "problem greenhouse gases" such as carbon dioxide and methane, who knew it would be the biggest stockpile of raw materials yielding all the C, H, and O one could ever use to make organic molecules (since all plants have been genetically modified to fix nitrogen, obtaining this element is no longer a problem.) This source of carbon is the predominant source used to make all the carbon-nanotubes, graphene, and various other fullerenes constructed. In fact, 100% of the space elevator cables used today were constructed from greenhouse gases. Just think of all the modern buildings that are grown synthetically. Those buildings are also repaired and maintained by metabolizing those once "problem gasses" of the past.

Now we are experimenting with a wide new range of molecules and elements, broadening the definition of life and bio-molecules. We have artificial base-pairs other than G, A, C, and T which code for more than the original twenty amino acids by using a four or five codon [10] system instead of the traditional three. We're even working on modifying the ribosome to include a variety of other elements non-standard to biology as well as engineering enzymes in a simulated CAD environment to process whatever chemicals desired from whatever stockpile of raw materials available. One example of this was the re-engineering of ATP Synthase that substitutes Phosphorous for Arsenic. ATAs Synthase produces ATAs, similar to ATP, to be used as a metabolic energy source. An organism with this part can sequester the dangerous element Arsenic from the environment and convert it into an energy source. That's just one example; another is the concept of inverted biology. Life forms are being engineered for the oceans of Titan (Saturn’s largest moon) where their primary solvent is not water, but liquid methane. Molecules that are normally considered hydrophobic become methylphilic, and hydrophilic becomes methylphobic, inverting the mechanics of the cell. This environment allows for entirely new physics and interactions. Cell membranes are designed from graphene with carbon nanotubes as transport channel sites, as well as various other fullerene complexes acting as receptor sites and other signaling pathways. There are many ongoing experiments of this nature that attempt to substitute elements or produce homologous enzyme functions, pushing the boundary of philosophy and what biology and life itself is. All we can conclude is that life is an information process.

There is almost no end to how flexible biology could be and what we can create from recursive information. In the Post-Singularity world we are limited only by our imagination.

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"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning."
--Louis L'Amour

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[1] The Information Age - Commonly seen as an outflow from the space age, capitalizing on the computer microminiaturization advances of that effort, with a fuzzy transition spanning from the advent of the personal computer in the late 1970s to the internet reaching a critical mass in the early 1990s, and the adoption of such technology by the public in the two decades after 1990. The Information Age has allowed rapid global communications and networking to shape modern society.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Age February 22, 2011 11:07AM EST

[2] The Singularity - a common matter of discussion in transhumanist circles. There is no clear definition, but usually the Singularity is meant as a future time when societal, scientific and economic change is so fast we cannot even imagine what will happen from our present perspective, and when humanity will become posthumanity. Another definition is used in the Extropians FAQ, where it denotes the singular time when technological development will be at its fastest.
http://www.aleph.se/Trans/Global/Singularity/ February 22, 2011 11:15AM EST

[3] Quantum Information Theory - the study of how to integrate information theory with quantum mechanics, by studying how information can be stored with (and retrieved from) a quantum mechanical system. The primary piece of information in quantum information theory is the qubit, an analog to the bit (1 or 0) in classical information theory.
http://physics.about.com/od/physicsqtot/g/quantinfotheory.htm February 22, 2011 11:38AM EST

[4] Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger - a physicist and theoretical biologist who was one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and is famed for a number of important contributions to physics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erwin_Schrödinger February 22, 2011 11:37AM EST

[5] Moore’s Law - Gordon Moore sketched out his prediction of the pace of silicon technology. According to Moore’s Law, the number of transistors on a chip roughly doubles every two years.
ftp://download.intel.com/museum/Moores_Law/Printed_Materials/Moores_Law_2pg.pdf February 22, 2011 11:45AM EST

[6] Extremophphile - n. (1989) : an organism that lives under extreme environmental conditions (as in a hot spring or ice cap).
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Inc., 2005: 445.

[7] The Maxwell Equations - represent one of the most elegant and concise ways to state the fundamentals of electricity and magnetism. From them one can develop most of the working relationships in the field.
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/maxeq.html February 22, 2011 1:05PM EST

[8] Microbesoft - n. The derisive name given to J. Craig Venter's Synthetic Genomics, which recently filed for a patent to create Mycoplasma laboratorium — the first artificial bacterium. Critics claim that IP protection of microbes will amount to a monopoly on synthetic life-forms.
Keats, Jonathan. "Jargon Watch: Microbesoft, Geosniff, Witricity." Wired Magazine Issue 15.09, 21 Aug. 2007: 2.

[9] Chaos Theoryn. (1984) : a branch of mathematical and physical theory that deals with the nature and consequences of chaos and chaotic systems.
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Inc., 2005: 206.

[10] Codon - n. (1963) : a specific sequence of three consecutive nucleotides that is part of the genetic code and that specifies a particular amino acid in a protein or starts or stops protein synthesis – also called triplet.
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Inc., 2005: 239.


Jameson Dungan

Jameson Dungan is a curious student of nature spending his time studying science and preparing for the singularity. As a child, he found disassembling his toys to understand how they work more interesting than playing with them. Jameson studied in Berlin, Germany acquiring a degree in German, but since decided to pursue a path in Synthetic Biology. As a ‘life hacker’ he is driven by a passion rooted in curiosity and understanding; often helping others understand the deeper meaning of science and the singularity. He would like nothing more than to become a master of manipulating DNA through complexity science, to understand as much of the universe as possible, and to help bring about the age of the singularity.

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