LifeOS: exploring the system that executes DNA

January 24, 2009

Ultimate Undo

Filed under: Ch 09 User Interface — Tags: , , , , — insomniac @ 4:59 pm

In a dynamic environment the individual must also be able to learn quickly. From a species standpoint, attempted changes in the structure to meet environmental variation must be temporary. The species has to test new features thoroughly before they become permanent. What we would like is a limitless “undo” option. That’s easy when your data is managed properly.

Rewrite Old Files

Imagine you have a document you are writing in your computer. In the old days of word processing, each time you made a change to your document and saved it, the document was re-written. The code was changed to reflect your changes and a new copy of the total string of code representing your document replaced the old one.

In the old days we used different file names so we could preserve copies of major stages of development of the piece, in case an approach wasn’t working we wanted to go back to an earlier version. Still, each document was saved as a complete and separate file.

Software Evolution

That works OK, but word processing has evolved. There are more efficient and flexible ways to handle documents, that result in handy features like, “undo”. That is the ability to reverse earlier decisions. For the ultimate undo feature, we want to be able to back up through all the steps we have taken to create this document, from publication, back to the first sentence. That would be a lot of documents if you saved each step as a complete and separate file. However, if you save each revision of the original in a database, with references to position in the document and keep track of all changes, you can recreate any former version and you don’t need a lot of separate files to do it.

When you export a document, the word processing software assembles a finished version from the elements stored in the database, according to your latest changes.

Dynamic Memory

The concept we are working with here is that of memory as a cumulative recording rather than a static picture. We are talking about a dynamic memory that records changes as they occur.

DNA works like that. It isn’t just a static record of a particular physical structure, but a dynamic physical reality that is the memory of the processes and changes made to produce it. It is one of the indications that sophisticated information processing techniques are indeed operational in biological systems. The stability and robustness evidenced by billions of years of successful modification of DNA code, cannot be attributed to random activity of any kind.

Even though DNA is quite stable, its product is capable of modifying future DNA and thus de-stabilizing the entire system. However, DNA is always dynamic, never repeating itself exactly, always presenting a new design, modified for testing in real life. If successful, this new design can be compared to past designs in real time. What they call natural selection, is the final test for modified DNA. If the agent can reproduce successfully within its time limit, the improvements are incorporated into the design. If not, the test fails and the experiment is terminated. Natural selection causes the code to automatically revert to the last successful version. The ultimate undo.


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