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Life 3.0

A really intriguing book full of suggestion on a next step of life evolution. Credit: Max Tegmark

In my search for information relevant to the recently launched Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative I stumbled onto a fascinating book written by Max Tegmark, Life 3.0.

When discussing on life from a scientific point of view the first question coming to the fore is what is meant by life, in a scientific sense. The problem is that as you look closer and closer the boundaries between what we may call life and what we wouldn’t call life gets blurred.
In his book, Max answer the question by noting that imposing requirements such as “being composed of cells” is not satisfactory at all and therefore he prefers to define life as a process able to retain its complexity and replicate.  Of course this definition is more inclusive and opens the door to consider entities, not cell based, as “life”.

At the same time this leads him to the need of classifying different forms of life and he starts with bacteria, clearly living things since they can maintain their complexity and replicate. They interact with the environment, as an example by sensing the presence of sugar and activating their flagella to move closer to it (and eat). The mechanism at work has been perfected through billions of generations and although it works perfectly is not flexible. It is the implementation of the instructions written in the bacteria DNA and these can not be changed by the bacteria itself, although they get changed over generations of bacteria (through evolution). This is an example of Life 1.0.

If, on the other hand, we look at humans we see that we are much more adaptable as individuals. Each one of us learns and change his behaviour accordingly. The amount of information that a human DNA can store is in the order of a GB. However, the amount of information that a human brain can store is in the order of 100 TB (according to Max). What is crucial is that this “potential” gap is filled through individual learning and experience so a person can increase her inherited -genetic- knowledge. A new born cannot speak any language but in a relatively short time can develop a software plug in in her brain that can let her understand and speak any language (one plug in per language, of course, and it takes time to create one…).

This capability of relaying on soft processes is what Max calls Life 2.0. By the way: why using 1.0, 2.0? Because the boundaries are not well defined. Mice have much more flexibility than a bacteria, a single mouse can learn, although not as much as we do, so perhaps it should be classified as 1.x. At the same time humans are now able to learn much more using the Internet and a smartphone as a prosthetic. Is this a Life 2.x form?

Artificial intelligence is creating entities that are mostly software, or a software that keeps evolving and enter into a symbiotic relation with hardware of different sort. This is what Max calls Life 3.0.

And this is what connects to Symbiotic Autonomous Systems.

As long as we take Max definition of life and we look at robots that can duplicates themselves and learn we are getting closer to Life 3.0, and if we are considering symbiotic relations with humans, augmented humans through AI, again we are on the path towards Life 3.0.

Better to read Max’s book for intriguing thoughts!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently Head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital, co-chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until Aprile 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.

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