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The Third Replicator
July 31, 2009 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Evolution's third replicator: Genes, memes, and now what?
posted by homunculus (68 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Help find a name for the third replicator
posted by homunculus at 2:40 PM on July 31, 2009


Byte.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:48 PM on July 31, 2009


Gemes? Menes?
posted by boo_radley at 2:52 PM on July 31, 2009


"Machines now copy information to other machines without human intervention "

I don't think you're allowed to both act like that's some monstrous boogeyman and write articles for a website at the same time.
posted by mhoye at 2:54 PM on July 31, 2009 [10 favorites]


Clarification: my vote for the spooky new 3rd replicator is Byte. Because (spoiler) the 3rd replicator are computers.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:58 PM on July 31, 2009


Trick question. It's Gene and Dean. There is no third, unless maybe you're counting the bassist.
posted by Iridic at 2:59 PM on July 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't think you're allowed to both act like that's some monstrous boogeyman...

Her catastrophizing of it all throws me for a loop, too.

She also claims that "much of the content on the web is now designed automatically by machines rather than people," and I think that's way overstating the situation. The content may be interpreted through a machine (i.e. Google), but it still originates from a person. She's trying too hard to imbue machines with sentience, and we're just plain not there yet.
posted by tybeet at 3:00 PM on July 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


The meme concept reeks a bit of pseudoscience. Through the 90s and early 00s, a bunch of scientists had a good go at trying to describe cultural/neurological information transfer with evolutionary models, and they really weren't able to come up with anything of much value or interest. The big journal in the field even stopped publishing, back in 2005 (its old website is now a link farm).

Frankly, the whole memetics framework--that ideas and cultural information function like genetic information--seems to handicap the actual science. Why should people researching neuroscience and culture chain themselves to this (rather dogmatic) paradigm? It's very much putting the cart before the horse; reaching a conclusion before you've done the work.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:03 PM on July 31, 2009 [10 favorites]


She's trying too hard to imbue machines with sentience, and we're just plain not there yet.

Totally. Especially considering all this glorious technology of ours is just rule-based binary systems. It's like being afraid that if your grocery list gets long and complicated enough, that it will go out and start shopping for itself.
posted by mhoye at 3:03 PM on July 31, 2009 [10 favorites]


Oh, my god. Yes, please spoil this article. Dear readers: if you already know what genes and memes are, please skip to the middle of the article. Otherwise, you'll find yourself holding your breath and digging around for the Thing She Cannot Yet Name. Skimming will do you no good.
posted by lauranesson at 3:03 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hmm. You know, "meme" is kind of interesting and useful as a metaphor, but going beyond that and talking as if they have the same kind of solid reality as genes is probably entering the realm of talking bollocks. As for the "third replicator", is it not just a variation on memes?
posted by Artw at 3:05 PM on July 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think I've heard people use the term "temes" before, for technological memes, and that seemed like a load of bollocks as well.
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on July 31, 2009


So where do we go from here? We humans were vehicles for the first replicator and copying machinery for the second. What will we be for the third?
This phrasing is similar to the old joke "A chicken is an egg's way of making another egg".Yes, there are more web pages out there than people. No, that doesn't mean the web pages win.
As long as the information is generated to serve in the end as input for humans (and all scenarios he mentions in the article seem to bear that out) I don't see that as a next, separate evolutionary step.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 3:07 PM on July 31, 2009


I don't get it.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:08 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Summary:

Billions of years ago, free-living bacteria are thought to have become incorporated into living cells as energy-providing mitochondria. Both sides benefited from the deal. Perhaps the same is happening to us now. The growing web of machines we let loose needs us to run the power stations, build the factories that make the computers, and repair things when they go wrong - and will do for some time yet. In return we get entertainment, tedious tasks done for us, facts at the click of a mouse and as much communication as we can ask for. It's a deal we are not likely to turn down.

Summary of summary: Maybe something bad is going to happen in the future, maybe it won't. I won't give specifics, real examples or evidence one way or another, but wouldn't it be freaky?
posted by Science! at 3:08 PM on July 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Will there be cake?
posted by Artw at 3:14 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Only self-replicating cake.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:19 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does this have to do with TriVection technology?
posted by GuyZero at 3:21 PM on July 31, 2009


GOOD FUCKING LORD... will someone PLEASE stop these dipshit "journalists" from plying their craft?
posted by odinsdream at 3:26 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kojima-san says "scenes" come next.
posted by azarbayejani at 3:27 PM on July 31, 2009


help us name the third replicator.

SKYNET. Easy.
posted by clearly at 3:27 PM on July 31, 2009


Groundbreaking! (25 years ago, maybe)
posted by mrnutty at 3:28 PM on July 31, 2009


Oh, Susan Blackmore. Dabbler extraordinaire.

I don't see why what she isn't describing aren't simply memes. Who cares if they're spread by machines rather than humans? Memes are supposed to be substrate neutral. If she were identifying something that wasn't a meme, then memes would turn into these new items and back again whenever someone read or wrote something onto a computer.

There is a new kind of information: electronically processed binary information rather than memes. There is also a new kind of copying machinery: computers and servers rather than brains.

There is no "new kind of information" here. I don't even know what that means. Memes can be encoded in binary. Deny that and you deny that the internet can transfer memes. And how can the copying machinery be different? What's the copying machinery of memes? Memes can be replicated through auditory, visual, or kinetic means; by books or by video, or by our innate dispositions to interpret the world in a certain way.
posted by painquale at 3:28 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


(Not saying I believe in memes. I'm agnostic on the idea, but I think it's neat.)
posted by painquale at 3:29 PM on July 31, 2009


I think I've heard people use the term "temes" before, for technological memes, and that seemed like a load of bollocks as well.

I've heard Blackmore herself use the term "temes."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:32 PM on July 31, 2009


The reason was that there seemed no way of distinguishing between "natural" human memes, such as spoken words, habits, fashions, art and religions, and what we might call "artificial" memes, such as websites and high-tech goods.

I've never read a sentence that makes more assumptions.
posted by clearly at 3:33 PM on July 31, 2009


Metas
posted by empath at 3:37 PM on July 31, 2009


Genes, memes, and now what?

Beans.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:39 PM on July 31, 2009 [11 favorites]


Computer-ized memes seem to be functionally identical to cultural memes, to be honest. I'm not sure how numbers in ram are any different from numbers in the brain, or numbers written in a book.

A third replicator would be nanotech robots that are able to physically reproduce, or something like that.
posted by empath at 3:40 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


In other words -- memes are independent of the media that carry them, I don't think it's relevant whether it's film, or a computer, or the written word or transmitted orally.
posted by empath at 3:41 PM on July 31, 2009


Just as an example.

Method 1:

I said: "Oh say can you see?" into a microphone, record it onto a platter, ship it via pony express across the country to someone who puts it onto a gramophone, plays it and remembers it.

How is functionally different from?

Method 2:

I say: "Oh say can you see?" into a VOIP phone, it gets encoded into g711u format, gets transmitted through a bunch of switches and routers to a phone on the other end, which then plays it back to someone who remembers it.

The only difference is speed of transmission.

Now, I guess having stuff being copied around without human beings at all might be different, but I'm not quite sure that it's different enough to make it an entirely different concept.
posted by empath at 3:48 PM on July 31, 2009


In sum--all things change, evolve, replicate along the way.
Even The New Scientist has evolved over the years. Now if only it could mutate and become peer reviewed.
posted by Postroad at 3:48 PM on July 31, 2009


Is the fact that we are discussing this article supposed to lend credence that ideas survive because they have some kind of value? Is becoming a FPP the punctuated equilibrium of memes?
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:54 PM on July 31, 2009


Only self-replicating cake.

With mint frosting. Delicious!
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:55 PM on July 31, 2009


Genes, memes, and now what?

Beans.


moar liek /b/eans amirite
posted by fleetmouse at 3:56 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that she's simply arguing for embodied reason...our biological bases are reflected in our cultural spheres. Put another way, memes are like outward manifestations (in their function and MOA) of our genes, a sort of meta-iconicity. This 3rd thing though...seriously, I don't know what she's talking about. It seems a little contrived, whatever it is. Maybe it will all make sense to me when we get there...
posted by iamkimiam at 3:59 PM on July 31, 2009


The point is that these external actors (i.e. the systems that process information) are actually becoming autonomous and self-organizing. There are emergent behaviors that are occurring here that are not engineered by humans. They just exist and we deal with them. When Google goes and indexes a web page, someone didn't TELL the googlebot to go and index that particular page, it just does it based on heuristic rules that were programmed into it. When that page gets assigned Pagerank, there's not some guy in an office who sits there and double-checks everything, tweaking parameters here and there. It just happens as a byproduct of an extremely complex system, the most complex system that humans have ever made.

The presence of these external actors that process and change and generate new information, reacting to each other along the way changes the nature of the process pretty fundamentally. We're just seeing the very beginnings of that information revolution, but trust me, shit is gonna get CRAZY.
posted by signalnine at 4:07 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Will someone take please Alvin Toffler's bong away from Ms. Blackmore?
posted by Diablevert at 4:08 PM on July 31, 2009 [3 favorites]



She also claims that "much of the content on the web is now designed automatically by machines rather than people," and I think that's way overstating the situation. The content may be interpreted through a machine (i.e. Google), but it still originates from a person. She's trying too hard to imbue machines with sentience, and we're just plain not there yet.


This comment originates from a single person, but the reactions this comment generates from the Metafilter community may alter the perception of the ideas contained in the referenced article. Search engines and recommendation engines are actually looking at the semantic reaction to a given piece of information, positive or negative aspect. This may cause that link to take on particular characteristics within those engines, which of course cause this huge chain reaction of various automated systems ranking, re-ranking, and categorizing this data, exposing more or fewer people to the article accordingly. In an analogy to the brain, the comment could be thought of as a single neuron firing.
posted by signalnine at 4:16 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait till she hears about Web 2.0!
posted by Artw at 4:21 PM on July 31, 2009


signalnine: "37There are emergent behaviors that are occurring here that are not engineered by humans. "

Oh. My. God. Shit is happening that is beyond our human control! The sky is truly falling! Quick, we must examine, categorize and name this thing, pronto!

signalnine: I'm not picking on you or what you wrote. Just commenting on humany humanness.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:25 PM on July 31, 2009


The presence of these external actors that process and change and generate new information, reacting to each other along the way changes the nature of the process pretty fundamentally.

Perhaps it changes the nature of the process, but not the nature of that which is processed.

Sexual reproduction was a pretty big change in the nature of the process of replication, but it was still genes being replicated.
posted by empath at 4:44 PM on July 31, 2009


File it, come back in 20 years...
posted by GratefulDean at 4:53 PM on July 31, 2009


the printing press!
posted by snofoam at 5:25 PM on July 31, 2009


signalnine: The presence of these external actors that process and change and generate new information, reacting to each other along the way changes the nature of the process pretty fundamentally. We're just seeing the very beginnings of that information revolution, but trust me, shit is gonna get CRAZY.

Well, that post explained the ideas better than the article. An interesting topic worth discussing.

It's certainly already had a big impact on trading. Just a while ago Charles Duhigg at NYT wrote an interesting article, Stock Traders Find Speed Pays, in Milliseconds:
"[High-frequency trading] is where all the money is getting made," said William H. Donaldson, former chairman and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange and today an adviser to a big hedge fund. "If an individual investor doesn’t have the means to keep up, they’re at a huge disadvantage."

---

[A]s new marketplaces have emerged, PCs have been unable to compete with Wall Street’s computers. Powerful algorithms — "algos," in industry parlance — execute millions of orders a second and scan dozens of public and private marketplaces simultaneously. They can spot trends before other investors can blink, changing orders and strategies within milliseconds.

High-frequency traders often confound other investors by issuing and then canceling orders almost simultaneously. Loopholes in market rules givehigh-speed investors an early glance at how others are trading. And their computers can essentially bully slower investors into giving up profits — and then disappear before anyone even knows they were there.
So Algorithmic trading does a lot of buying and selling today, few/no humans needed (except for spending all that sweet surplus money!). And Genetic algorithms are already at work in all sorts of fields.

It's pretty scary to imagine worst-case scenarios where massive autonomous, self-improving and networked systems develop "mutations" (way too complex for any humans to actually understand let alone fix) and start fucking up everything from traffic control, energy grids, financial markets, chemical design/production, etc.
posted by Glee at 5:30 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Before the internet even existed, I named this thing Prime Intellect.

That said, the thing she is worried about isn't Prime Intellect. Not unless someone is building a server with really cool faster than light comm chips as I write this.
posted by localroger at 5:33 PM on July 31, 2009


The Prime Intellect is totally what it would be called in the Maevel Universe.
posted by Artw at 5:47 PM on July 31, 2009


This is not new, but it is a new drawing boundaries.

Each - gene, meme, or "singularity science," is based on a new way of defining the unit. But is the individual separate from all the other swirling atoms in the physical soup? Of course not. Yet, at the same time, of course.

Am I me? Am I different from you? From this chair? From this computer? Clearly, I am. That "I" that remains separate interacts with the world - it "sits" on a chair, "types" on a computer, "talks" with people. But that singular identity is fraught with contradictions. One could similarly imagine (because this is clearly not how we interpret reality) no self, or maybe a self of tentacled wind, tracing out along language and communication.

These questions only become relevant when they become pragmatic - the discussion itself not new (see Diderot, Chardin, Sufi poetry) - and faced with certain technologies, we are again forced to redefine what self is, while at the same time remaining with an immovable view of the self borne of experience.

Given the unsurmontable contradictions in multiple truths, it seems silly to try to conquer a problem of divisiveness with more divisiveness (i.e. unit of replication). If we are going to carry out reductionism to it's logical endpoint, why are we choosing to stop at these abstract defined units?
posted by iamck at 5:52 PM on July 31, 2009


The presence of these external actors that process and change and generate new information, reacting to each other along the way changes the nature of the process pretty fundamentally.

Yes, but the process still isn't evolving on its own. The process follows a highly complicated algorithm that was designed by people. No matter how complicated it gets, it is still just performing a function.
posted by orme at 5:55 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


SLNS
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:01 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


empath: Now, I guess having stuff being copied around without human beings at all might be different, but I'm not quite sure that it's different enough to make it an entirely different concept.

Linked Article: Memes work differently from genes, and digital information works differently from memes...

I'm with you here, empath. The article doesn't sufficiently delve into why information transported via a different method is, on the whole, a different concept from memes, or why it "behaves differently." I'm guessing someone just needed a hipster science-y, scary future themed article.
posted by Avelwood at 6:03 PM on July 31, 2009


The process follows a highly complicated algorithm that was designed by people. No matter how complicated it gets, it is still just performing a function.

True, and most of this stuff is indeed BS, but there are many systems that have gotten complicated enough that the designers can't always understand the output. If the algorithms are complex enough, no human can replicate them, so you can't always understand why the computers come to the answer they do (since you can't run the algorithm on the ridiculously huge amount of data they do, at least when you're talking about huge distributed systems like Google). This isn't emergence in the sense most sci-fi authors mean, but it can generate unexpected (and thus new) information.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:05 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


From what I understand, it's not just a question of information being transported by new means, but the fact the information is being created (or at least interpreted, mined, refined, what have you) by machines and sent to other machines for further processing, etc., without direct human control and intervention.
The point is not that is is scary ohmygodskynet, but rather that's a new way for information to arise / mutate / adapt.
Whether or not this needs a separate name or concept is besides the point that it's actually happening, and it is at the very least interesting to speculate about and observe in our own limited fashion.
posted by signal at 6:22 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


that's machines copying information to other machines without the intervention of a human brain. From there, we should expect the system to grow rapidly beyond our control and for our role in it to change.

...I for one welcome our new computer overlords... as long as they keep me in a good supply of p0rn, bargan basement pharmaceuticals and cheap airline tickets.


Seriously though, this is stuff the futurists like Ray Kurzweil et al have been talking about for years... decades even. AI arising from the cloud is something I remember reading about when I was in high school.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 6:23 PM on July 31, 2009


Artw: actually, now that you bring it up, genes are pretty abstract too. It isn't like there is some particular object you can point at and say "that is a gene", a gene is an observed pattern of genetic material that correlates to some degree with inherited features. The gene is a description of a pattern in the genetic code, just as meme is a description of a pattern of thinking spread as cultural knowledge.
posted by idiopath at 6:36 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, but the process still isn't evolving on its own. The process follows a highly complicated algorithm that was designed by people. No matter how complicated it gets, it is still just performing a function.

That's not really correct. The process IS actually evolving in response to emergent behavior of the complex systems themselves. Humans do still largely write the algorithms, but we are unable to direct their ultimate function, the problems involved are simply too large for any one person to grasp in its entirety. Additionally, there's no one in charge of the internet, so even if we *could* direct the growth and function of information systems on the net, there's no way to get everyone participating to play by a set of rules.
posted by signalnine at 7:04 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


By the by, I build realtime textual classification systems for social media aggregators, so my information on the subject is derived what I'm seeing happen right now.
posted by signalnine at 7:07 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hurry up with them machines of loving grace.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:02 PM on July 31, 2009


OMG!!! I just opened up my computer to put in a new hard drive and IT'S FULL OF EGGS!! COMPUTER EGGS!!! HELP HELP!!!!
posted by sexyrobot at 8:26 PM on July 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


TwelveTwo: "Only self-replicating cake."

In the future, will only the fittest cake recipes be copied? And what of Cakewrecks? One JPG forwarded between blogs reproduced into an independent blog that updates daily, and yet the cakes are almost always highly ill-suited to provide joy at a wedding, birthday party, or corporate event. Some of the cakes get copied as ironic jokes.

Conclusion: Hipsters even ruin evolution.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:09 PM on July 31, 2009


I think those making comments/cracks about AI, overlords and conscious machines are missing the point: the question is not whether the Internet will become self conscious any more than genetics is about the thoughts and feelings of genes, but rather that machines interacting with machines generate new kinds of information and new mechanisms wherby this information can mutate and adapt and what form this takes.
posted by signal at 9:44 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


signal :: exactly. Though the article might be written in a slightly alarmist fashion, the interesting point here isn't about AI in any sense, rather it's about Replicators. As the posting title states. Self-replicating information is the basis of natural selection, in both a genetic and and memetic sense. Memetics are replicators with humans as the medium, and now temetics/techmetics/whatever are replicators with computers as the medium. Call it what you will and discuss it's implications... still... it's autonomous information replication and modification. Considering that we humans exist as the result of primordial chemicals "figuring out" replication, it is interesting to think of what proto-anti-entropic devices are resulting of these digital replicators that have some basic heuristic and random tendencies. And unlike lab-based studies of replicators, this shit is in the motherfuckin wild. wild!

I wonder what Dawkins thinks of this.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 1:47 AM on August 1, 2009


Dawkins said we ought to be able to see memes in the brain once we know what to look for in neuro-science. I can't think of any reason to call technological memes anything other than what they are: Data.
posted by wobh at 4:18 AM on August 1, 2009


benes

from the Latin bene

which means well, or good, agreeable, etc
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 5:10 AM on August 1, 2009


(previously ;)

oh and...
-Sandia Studies Botnets In 1M OS Digital Petri Dish
-US Supercomputer Lead Sparks Russian Govt's Competitive Drive

[THERE IS ANOTHER SYSTEM. FTW!]
posted by kliuless at 6:40 AM on August 1, 2009


A: A successful idea/meme is: one which explains the observed evidence and makes useful predictions, or improves the human experience.
OR
B: A successful meme/idea is: a behaviour which is reproduced by more human beings than an unsuccessful one.

Let's define human beings as primates+technology because everything from cave paintings to lolcats involves spreading ideas through technology. And of course the available technology affects the relative success of behaviours and behaviours affect the relative success of technology: text messaging and mobile phones is a nice example. Or recording technology and music in the 20th century.

People behave differently in response to prevailing conditions - pay writers by the word, they write wordily, pay them by the pageview and they write buzzwordily. I guess internet technology drastically changes the filter settings for type-B success, but I don't think it's a different kind of thing, any more than birds learning to open milk bottles is different from me learning to bless myself at the appropriate time is different to redditors learning to put "VOTE UP IF" in posts.

I guess "...and it will be totally different because of the internet" is, at the moment at least, very type-B successful and not very type-A successful.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 9:49 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's temes. And like genes and memes it's just a term describing something that's been going on since cave painting or before. No need to get your apocalyptic panties in a bunch.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:10 AM on August 1, 2009


Has Conficker Been Abandoned By Its Authors?

METABIOLOGY: a field parallel to biology, dealing with the random evolution of artificial software (computer programs) rather than natural software (DNA), and simple enough that it is possible to prove rigorous theorems or formulate heuristic arguments at the same high level of precision that is common in theoretical physics. For more information about this new field, click here and here.
posted by kliuless at 5:23 AM on August 5, 2009


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