silicon-based life

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pages: 298 words: 81,200

Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

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Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, cleantech, complexity theory, conceptual framework, cosmic microwave background, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, data acquisition, digital Maoism, digital map, discovery of DNA, Dmitri Mendeleev, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, Ernest Rutherford, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, greed is good, Hans Lippershey, Henri Poincaré, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, hypertext link, invention of air conditioning, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invention of the telephone, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, John Snow's cholera map, Joseph Schumpeter, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kevin Kelly, lone genius, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, Mason jar, mass immigration, Mercator projection, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, online collectivism, packet switching, PageRank, patent troll, pattern recognition, price mechanism, profit motive, Ray Oldenburg, Richard Florida, Richard Thaler, Ronald Reagan, side project, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, six sigma, Solar eclipse in 1919, spinning jenny, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Stewart Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Great Good Place, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, transaction costs, urban planning

Silicon sits directly below carbon on the periodic table, and shares its four valence electrons. But silicon lacks carbon’s unique versatility, its ability to form the double and triple bonds that create the long chains and rings of fatty acids and sugars. Silicon also requires far more energy to form bonds than carbon does. Tellingly, the earth contains over a hundred times as much silicon as it does carbon, and yet Mother Nature decided to base life on the much rarer element. Silicon-based life may be impossible for one other reason: silicon bonds readily dissolve in water. Most theories of life’s origin depend on H20 not merely because hydrogen and oxygen are important elements in many organic compounds, but also because the environment of liquid water facilitated the early “chemistry experiments” that led to the emergence of life. The Miller-Urey experiment was, in a way, an attempt to test more rigorously a hunch that Charles Darwin had had a century before about the watery origins of life.

CHAPTER 2: LIQUID NETWORKS On the importance of carbon and liquid water to the origins of life, I recommend several sources: a collection of essays, edited by J. William Schopf, entitled Life’s Origin; Philip Ball’s imaginative “biography” of water, Life’s Matrix; and Carl Zimmer’s Science essay “Evolutionary Roots: On the Origin of Life on Earth.” The original Miller-Urey experiment was published in Science in the essay “A Production of Amino Acids Under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions.” Silicon-based life appears in multiple science fictions, including Stanley Weinbaum’s A Martian Odyssey and in the form of the Horta, a silicon-based creature discovered in episode 26 of the original Star Trek series. Chris Langton’s theories about the generative power of liquid networks are developed in his essay “Life at the Edge of Chaos.” Illuminating accounts of his work appear in both James Gleick’s Chaos and Kevin Kelly’s Out of Control.


pages: 294 words: 87,986

4th Rock From the Sun: The Story of Mars by Nicky Jenner

3D printing, Alfred Russel Wallace, Astronomia nova, cuban missile crisis, Elon Musk, game design, hive mind, invention of the telescope, Kickstarter, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, placebo effect, Pluto: dwarf planet, retrograde motion, selection bias, silicon-based life, Skype, Stephen Hawking, technoutopianism

It bonds to itself more weakly than carbon does, is more reactive, and would be unable to use water as a solvent, so there’d need to be another present (methane would work, but any environment would thus require both abundant silicon and methane). It’s possible that extraterrestrial life could be silicon-based, but it wouldn’t be a case of simply replacing the carbon within us with silicon. Silicon-based life would be truly alien: the entire structure and system of life would need to be reimagined to suit the properties and chemistry of the silicon atom. We also look for ‘out-of-equilibrium’ gases as possible markers of life. These are gases that would usually naturally degrade or combine to form another substance, but exist in a planet’s atmosphere in higher-than-expected levels because they are regularly replenished by some ongoing process occurring on the planet.

here–here, here Mars Climate Observer (MCO) here–here Mars Express here, here, here, here, here–here Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) here, here, here, here–here, here Mars Hope here Mars Observer here–here Mars Odyssey here, here Mars One here, here–here Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) here–here Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) here–here Mars Polar Lander (MPL) here–here Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) here–here, here, here Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) here, here–here, here Marshall-Green, Logan here Martian, The here–here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) here Massimino, Mike here MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) here–here, here McKay, Chris here McKay, David here, here Méndez, Arnaldo Tamayo here Mercury here, here, here, here astrology here orbit here meteorites here–here microgravity here, here human body here–here mental health here personality here–here social health here–here Molenaar, Gregory here, here Moon 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pages: 299 words: 99,080

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

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carbon-based life, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Mason jar, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, post-industrial society, silicon-based life

Maybe the name itself was preposterous and its pursuit, in any case, something that people shouldn't undertake. Maybe in promoting the metaphorical relationship between people and machines, cybernetics tended to cheapen and corrupt human perceptions of human intelligence. Or perhaps this science promised to advance the intelligence of people as well as of machines and to imbue the species with a new, exciting power. "Silicon-based life would have a lot of advantages over carbon- based life," a young engineer told me once. He said he believed in a time when the machines would "take over." He snapped his fingers and said, "Just like that." He seemed immensely pleased with that thought. To me, though, the prospects for truly intelligent computers looked comfortably dim. To some the crucial issue was privacy. In theory, computers should be able to manage, more efficiently than people, huge amounts of a society's information.


pages: 315 words: 92,151

Ten Billion Tomorrows: How Science Fiction Technology Became Reality and Shapes the Future by Brian Clegg

Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Brownian motion, call centre, Carrington event, combinatorial explosion, don't be evil, Ernest Rutherford, experimental subject, game design, gravity well, hive mind, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Kickstarter, nuclear winter, pattern recognition, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, silicon-based life, speech recognition, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Turing test, V2 rocket

But creatures of that scale have legs that are much thicker in proportion than they are for a smaller equivalent (compare an elephant with a mouse for a living example). So, extremely large aliens would need much chunkier limbs than they are usually portrayed as having. One possible way around this would be if the aliens didn’t have the same composition as us. It is possible to imagine that they could have skeletal structures based on much stronger equivalents of bone, or could be silicon-based life (see here) with a greater ability to withstand the pull of gravity, perhaps needed for a high mass planet. Gravity itself is a variable that needs consideration when we come to aliens. Could an alien life-form develop on planets with a much higher gravitational pull than Earth—probably requiring a totally different approach to movement, as legs would inevitably suffer—or in gravity fields so weak that they could float in the atmosphere like the balloon creatures in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles?


pages: 476 words: 132,042

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

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Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller, c2.com, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, charter city, Clayton Christensen, cloud computing, computer vision, Danny Hillis, dematerialisation, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, Douglas Engelbart, en.wikipedia.org, Exxon Valdez, George Gilder, gravity well, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, interchangeable parts, invention of air conditioning, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, John Conway, John Markoff, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, Lao Tzu, life extension, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, new economy, off grid, out of africa, performance metric, personalized medicine, phenotype, Picturephone, planetary scale, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, refrigerator car, Richard Florida, Rubik’s Cube, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, Skype, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, Ted Kaczynski, the built environment, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Vernor Vinge, wealth creators, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K

Silicon-silicon bonds are not stable in water. And when silicon is oxidized, its respiratory output is a mineral precipitate, rather than the gaslike carbon dioxide. That makes it hard to dissipate. A silicon creature would exhale gritty grains of sand. Basically, silicon produces dry life. Without a liquid matrix it’s hard to imagine how complex molecules are transported around to interact. Perhaps silicon-based life inhabits a fiery world and the silicates are molten. Or perhaps the matrix is very cold liquid ammonia. But unlike ice, which floats and insulates the unfrozen liquid, frozen ammonia sinks, allowing the oceans to freeze whole. These concerns are not hypothetical but are based on experiments to produce alternatives to carbon-based life. So far, all evidence points to DNA as the “perfect” molecule.


pages: 420 words: 143,881

The Blind Watchmaker; Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins

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epigenetics, Eratosthenes, Fellow of the Royal Society, Menlo Park, pattern recognition, phenotype, random walk, silicon-based life, Steven Pinker

Will he rediscover some electronic equivalent of the metaphor of the arch, and realize that computers could not have sprung spontaneously into existence but must have originated from some earlier process of cumulative selection? Will he go into detail and reconstruct DNA as a plausible early replicator, victim of electronic usurpation? And will he be far-sighted enough to guess that even DNA may itself have been a usurper of yet more remote and primitive replicators, crystals of inorganic silicates? If he is of a poetic turn of mind, will he even see a kind of justice in the eventual return to silicon-based life, with DNA no more than an interlude, albeit one that lasted longer than three aeons? That is science fiction, and it probably sounds far-fetched. That doesn’t matter. Of more immediate moment is that Cairns-Smith’s own theory, and indeed all other theories of the origin of life, may sound far-fetched to you and hard to believe. Do you find both Cairns-Smith’s clay theory, and the more orthodox organic primeval-soup theory, wildly improbable?


pages: 798 words: 240,182

The Transhumanist Reader by Max More, Natasha Vita-More

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23andMe, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, Bill Joy: nanobots, bioinformatics, brain emulation, Buckminster Fuller, cellular automata, clean water, cloud computing, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, combinatorial explosion, conceptual framework, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological principle, data acquisition, discovery of DNA, Douglas Engelbart, Drosophila, en.wikipedia.org, endogenous growth, experimental subject, Extropian, fault tolerance, Flynn Effect, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Frank Gehry, friendly AI, game design, germ theory of disease, hypertext link, impulse control, index fund, John von Neumann, joint-stock company, Kevin Kelly, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, lifelogging, Louis Pasteur, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, moral hazard, Network effects, Norbert Wiener, P = NP, pattern recognition, phenotype, positional goods, prediction markets, presumed consent, Ray Kurzweil, reversible computing, RFID, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, silicon-based life, Singularitarianism, stem cell, stochastic process, superintelligent machines, supply-chain management, supply-chain management software, technological singularity, Ted Nelson, telepresence, telepresence robot, telerobotics, the built environment, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, transaction costs, Turing machine, Turing test, Upton Sinclair, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, Whole Earth Review, women in the workforce, zero-sum game

In this process, human presence becomes virtualized and the individual self is distributed, space becomes virtualized and place becomes distributed. Moreover, there is inherent in all the research which currently surrounds the sciences of mind, advanced AI, AL, molecular engineering, robotics, and complex systems, the potential for consciousness to evolve beyond the human organism, and to a degree which perhaps only silicon-based life could accommodate, in “entities as complex as ourselves, and eventually into something transcending everything we know – in whom we can take pride when they refer to themselves as our descendants” (Moravec 1988). Art in the twenty-first century may come to constitute a form of mediation between human and post-human consciousness, just as in past cultures it has been used to mediate between mankind and the gods.