2008-03-21

How big a molecule???

Researchers from the Venter Institute recently synthesized an entire genome. Not too big, just 582,970–base pairs. They first synthesized pieces and then "stitched" them together into a larger one, then larger ones together, and so on. I wonder, how big a DNA molecule could you make? Usually long proteins such as DNA tend to fold into complex shapes, but chromosomes are actually single molecules that can be seen under a not so posh microscope. Could DNA molecules visible to the naked eye be made? If so, what would be their properties? Solid? Springy? Would they be stable?

There are already visible molecules: nanotubes, graphite sheets, and diamonds, which have quite unique properties. Would huge DNA molecules have also interesting properties up the sleeve?

2008-03-14

The Ultimate Future of Artificial Life?

My friend Clément recently uploaded this preprint:

Among other things, he explores a possible solution to the heat death problem, i.e. our universe will die as its energy dissipates and will reach thermodynamical equilibrium. This is to create a new universe, not necessarily in simulation, but a brand new physical universe.

I agree with some of his ideas, but not with others. E.g. he believes that OUR universe was created by a higher civilization (otherwise why all the cosmological constants are just right for life? this is known as the fine tuning problem), while I believe in natural selection at all scales. But anyway, that is not even in the paper (gladly, since it smells of intelligent design...), but remains from our discussions on the topic. I'll just list the obstacles I find in the creation of a universe from ours:
  • Even when Moore's law has increased the speed of computers amazingly, our ability to program them hasn't, i.e. Moore's law is for hardware, not software. We haven't been able to scale up the complexity of our computer programs that fast... I wonder if this increase is logarithmic, linear, exponential, or what... it would be difficult to measure anyway, since "number of lines of code" are not necessarily an indicator of software complexity.
  • ALifers have struggled to create "open ended evolution" (is our evolution open ended?). Some people say that e.g. in the Game of Life you could have much more complex structures emerging, but you would need billions of cells running for billions of time steps. OK, let's say that in a century computers will allow you to run such simulations. How do you detect such structures? Even if they are detected, they would reach another "ceiling" of complexity.
  • More computing power does not necessarily mean better predictive abilities (to the point of being able to predict or simulate a planet, let alone the universe). Moreover, if you had a simulation of the universe, it would need to be inside our universe. So it would need to be also simulating itself... Russell's paradox?
  • If you create a new universe, wouldn't it be inside ours? How do you keep it from interacting with our universe? (toss it into a black hole and good luck?). How can you prevent heat death from invading the new universe? (that is, if heat death will ever come... there are forces that create organization, e.g. gravity.)
Well, if we decide to change the meaning of universe (all that there is around us), just as we changed the meaning of atom (indivisible) when it was divided, maybe some of the above obstacles will disappear? Like Wittgenstein said: it's a language game...

2008-03-06

Art of the commons?

Mauro told us about DevantArt. It is a website where users can upload their own art to share, choosing which type of license they'll have. It is becoming easier and easier to produce and distribute content generated by anybody. The only problem now is to navigate through the more than 50 million "deviations" that have been uploaded since 2000...

I already uploaded some of my own here... (much more on my homepage...)

This is one of the main features of Web 2.0, where any user can generate content, e.g. Wikipedia, Flickr, Blogger, etc. A nice follow-up from the Open Source movement. Where will it continue? Already people are moving to provide Open Access to science and all types of knowledge...
Knowledge is power! Knowledge to the people!