Digital Evolution – Rise Of The Spambots

My, what an action-packed Saturday! Woke up at  dawn’s hairy crack all prepared to go for an epic cycle but then looked out the window. Snow. Fuck that. Headed to the gym to get stuck into the weight machines for the first time on over a week and sweated some on the exercise bikes. Got home, had lunch, got bored so headed out for said epic cycle now that the weather was somewhat more forgiving. On the way had a tattoo designed and an appointment made – more on that tomorrow. Caught some rugby on my return and then headed out for a most interesting evening.

Ken MacLeod had posted about an event hosted by The Skinny and the Genomics Forum entitled Digital Evolution, a discussion about evolution and computer games, where the two meet and what we can learn from it. Admittedly I was skeptical at first as I didn’t think that games to date had been too successful in implementing any evolutionary concepts. The problem, as someone mentioned at the event, is that games require an agent, someone to play them, and the whole point of evolution is that no agent is required, it just happens.

spambotNever mind though, it was an evening of very insightful comments and discussion and one major thread in particular piqued my interest. Much mention was made of the possibility of viruses or spambots mutating and evolving, the better to evade the filters and firewalls we create to thwart them. If we accept that they could possibly mutate in such a way, what would be the result. As Charles Stross pointed out, your typical spam filter’s job is to analyse emails to detect whether or not they originated from an actual human being, whether they represent genuine communication or just spam. In essence they are carrying out a Turing Test on all emails passed through them.

It doesn’t take too much of a leap of logic to arrive at the exceedingly uncomfortable (but nonetheless cool) conclusion that the first genuine piece of full-fledged AI we encounter may have originated from spam. A sobering thought, no?

What if we take this further and postulate that similar things may happen with viruses, that they depart from their point of origin and randomly mutate, with successful mutations breeding more copies and spreading further? Again, evolution. And what if we released anti-viral programs onto the net to track down these viruses and shut them down by any means necessary? And what if, through their rapid and varied mutations and arms races these programs became sentient, able to actually think for themselves in carrying out their missions  (i.e. infect/reproduce vs. destroy)?

And what if (last one…) our anti-viruses decided that the only way to stamp out their foe for good was to permanently shut down every electronic system they could…

Hmm, sounds like the bones of a wee story  there. It’s kind of obvious so someone probably beat me to the punch but I’m a beginner at this writing malarkey so I’m allowed. Watch this space…

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