Everything. Chapter 1 - Giants on the Shoulders of Giants

I’m just amazed how I have been alive during the greatest change so far in the entire history of life; the dawn of the Internet.
Then I found this on slashdot. I’m not so sure about their timeline, but it made me realize I might be alive during yet another quantum leap like the internet.

That inspired me to start writing down my thoughts on everything, so:


Chapter 1 - Giants on the Shoulders of Giants

(Disclaimer: I am not a scientist. This is just my personal philosophy.)

I believe there is some kind of fundamental smallest piece. I don’t know what it is, but it probably isn’t quarks, and it definitely isn’t atoms. I believe there’s a smallest piece because occam’s razor suggests there can’t be turtles all the way down.

These pieces play by certain rules and organize into other pieces, wich in turn organize into other pieces. We end up with quarks, we end up with atoms, and we end up with molecules. Molecules interact and combine and make proteins.

Then came DNA.

And this is where it starts to get interesting. Proteins make DNA. DNA can come in different forms, but can relatively predictably copy itself. The better DNA is at copying itself and the better that DNA is at making sure its copies can also copy themselves, the more copies of it there are. This is obvious, and also is exactly what natural selection is all about. It really is that simple.

Since DNA requires resources to copy itself, and there’s a limited supply of resources, you get competition. Once resources start to be limited, the rate at which a specific sequence of DNA can spread depends on how well it competes for these resources.

Over billions of years, various forms of life competed in this way, refining themselves to get better at competing for resources and protecting their offspring, becoming more and more complex. Life forms that were able to react to their surroundings were more effective than those that couldn’t, so senses were developed. Exactly how to react to this input was hardwired. See a bright light? Run away from it. Smell water? Run towards it.

Then came brains.

After a while, these brains started evolving ways to modify themselves. They started to learn. Instead of just running away from light, creatures could remember if running away from light was a good idea or not. There was a lot of trial and error, and more complex brains started to evolve. After a while, creatures were able to predict what would happen if they did something, and they could learn totally new skills that weren’t hard wired. Those who could correctly predict the results of their actions got more successful at protecting their offspring. This is what we call “intelligence”.

Then came language.

Instead of each individual having to learn things and figure out how things worked, older members of their species could show them what to do. Use a stone on a nut, and you can get food. Don’t throw your children to the tigers, and they live. Before language, all skills had to be individually be learned by each individual. After language, there was a shared pool of information within the tribe, and that information would survive across generations. Each new individual could find an improvement to some piece of information, and this new piece of information would spread instead of the old one. There’s now a type of social evolution of ideas. Bad ideas get rejected, good ideas get passed around.

Then came printing.

Before printing, there was only so much information that could be carried around. People forgot, or people didn’t have time to learn anything. After printing, information could be stored in other places than inside people’s memories. You could refer to an external source to learn skills. If you had a good idea, you could write it down. Schooling suddenly became much more effective.
I should mention the scientific process here as it has immensely speeded up the rate at which good ideas gets passed around. But in the end, thanks to evolution, it’s not needed. Good ideas will always spread better than bad ideas. People who put their faith in invisible magic pink unicorns will survive less than people who put their faith in science.

Then came the internet.

Suddenly, you didn’t need to have access to physical copies of books to be able to learn. You could copy information for free, and talk to people on the other side of the planet. Distance and physical limitations were removed from the spread of information, and ideas started spreading faster than ever before.

Then came you.

You’re reading this over the internet. You’re reading my ideas. You’re questioning them and refining them, fixing any faults and making them your own. Or you’re rejecting them outright because I’m full of shit. Either is fine.
You’re doing things vastly more complex than your ancestors did, but your intelligence level is not significantly higher.

Then came artificial intelligence.

Suddenly, we were able to create a brain slightly more intelligent than our own. It also had access to the free information we do, but it’s slightly better at processing it.

Then came the singularity.

posted 14 years ago