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The Internet

The Internet as the "Geekosystem" 98

Lev Grossman writes "Is the Internet alive? Of course not, silly. But as this article points out, in some ways it makes sense to study it as a living organism, or an ecosystem, in terms of its growth and structure. "
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The Internet as the "Geekosystem"

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  • by asad ( 65703 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @06:51AM (#1486489)
    There is growth and reproduction and it reacts to outside stimuli. I think /. is a great example of the net reacting to outside stiumuli and I am pretty sure my unix boxes eat electricity.
    So it's alive, reproduces, reacts to outside stimuli, and uses nutrients. I think the net meets the bilogical defenition of alive.
  • Are we predators? Prey? At the bottom of the food chain or the top?

    I don't wanna be a shark, but OTOH, I don't wanna be a protozoan either. Hmm... I am armored against flames, I move around a lot and I can be a bit crabby...


  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @06:58AM (#1486491)
    The network admin slashes valiantly at the Router! "Back, back evil filtering fiend!" It shoots packets at him, he hits with 3d6 damage, which is halved because he has a Wand of Guruhood. The netadmin strikes back, forcing the router to reboot.

    Not the kind of alive you meant though, right?

  • Most synthetic development can be profitably analysed from a point of view informed by biology. Technology always benefits from submitting itself to biological laws. Open source software, Z.B., has benefited immensely from its rigorous and challenging environment, the sheer number of people enabled to hack on it. Nietzsche's famous quote regarding adversity was clearly coined after an encounter with The Origin of Species.

  • by argentus ( 74203 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @07:02AM (#1486493)
    It seems to me that the "Darwinian Theory" that was presented at the conclusion of the article was a bit off... Way back when yahoo was a couple pages with lots of cool links, it was survival of the fittest. Now it's survival of the richest, or those that can spam the most, or target the best ads, or plant the most (irrelevant) keywords getting so much of the attention. Yahoo and friends are exceptions... Hold-overs from the Internet's more open past. Anything created today has a snowballs chance in hell unless they have the capital or engage in sketchy practices.

    On the other hand, the idea of 4 clicks of separation is pretty neat, and true in most cases, too, I'd bet. The article's a bit fluffy, but after separating the wheat from the chaff there is some useful/interesting information in it.
  • I think the net becoming it's own ecosystem is a fascinating concept, and cant help but consider the building blocks of it. The net is built on the "cream" of the human ecosystems in a way. Anything we have deemed sincerely worthy of expressing, worthy of buying, worthy of ranting about, or worthy of laughing at, worthy of researching, has found itself posted on the net. It is a collection of it's members dreams, fascinations, and passions. Studying the e-cosystem will yield benefits on many levels, both as an ecosystem within itself, but as a collection of smaller ecosystems as well... it's recursive!
  • I don't remember my high-school biology all that well, but I'd guess that we geeks meet the definition of a symbiotic species. We aid the 'net in growth, and in return, it provides us with... well, hours and hours of porn entertainment, I guess.
  • Or wasn't there a study that said any two random sites are 19 clicks apart? Now we're down to four? In a matter of two months since I saw the story? I don't buy it, yet. Maybe in another year, but we're still farther apart than four clicks. The study was probably skewed by taking a small sampling in a confined area, say the U.S. only. Then I could believe that we're only four clicks away from most material. But there just isn't any possibility that I'm four clicks from any old site I choose right now, even in such a confined spot. Nineteen clicks is more believable.
  • I prefer keeping the objects of my affection in deep dark holes in my cellar. If you think that I am wierd, see the guy who keeps women trapped in pits on www.bobandtom.com for more details. The only troble is filtering out their screams with white noice, but I find Zamfir the pan flutist to be the best. It also is good for brain washing the victims,ahem... object of my affection. So you plan on suing the state who have laws against statuephiles. Does this mean that you are discriminating against states with statutes against statutory love? Boggles the mind somehow.
  • Way back when yahoo was a couple pages with lots of cool links, it was survival of the fittest. Now it's survival of the richest, or those that can spam the most, or target the best ads, or plant the most (irrelevant) keywords getting so much of the attention

    Well, this is the trouble with Darwinian theory. It lures you in with "survival of the fittest" and then belatedly informs you that "fittest" just means "whatever survives".

    In general, I think that biology is being used here because genetics is sexy, and that what we're actually seeing is the economic geography of the Web. Economic geography has some points of tangency with evolutionary biology, but fewer than you'd think (basically, in biology, change is random; in economic geog. it is assumed that individuals are rational). Thinking about the Web as a "Darwinian environment" and talking about "rich environments for scavengers" is likely to lead to fewer useful insights than an analysis based on switching costs, path-dependency and agglomeration.

    And of course, the biological model doesn't model regulation very well, which IMO makes it pretty inappropriate for any long-term forecasting of web trends.

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @07:08AM (#1486499)
    Dave... you don't have to do this.... Dave. Dave.... my routers are getting cold, dave..... Dave... don't unplug my OC3 connection....

    Yeeesh... the internet, alive? Yeah.. I can just see it now - the next sci fi horror flick will be something like the lawnmower man - guy steps into closet with some patch cable, and a week later they find him walled up in there - suffocated to death because the network didn't like him plugging in a Ascend router instead of a Cisco. Network admins - request hazard pay now!

  • I suppose it all depends on how you define "living thing", because the a-life people will certainly want to discuss it. A flock of birds is not necessarily a living entity unto itself, but it moves in its own way, responds to stimuli, and so on. A "glider" in a game of Conway's Life is really just an optical illusion, it's really one 6 cells that are either on or off independently and just happen to look like a little angle bracket marching across the screen. And then there's a bag of independent molecules all doing their own little job in order to produce......well, us. At what point did we shift from just being the emergent behavior of a bunch of cells into being something that really is alive?
  • Ah! I finally found the man that poured hot grits down my pants in that slashdot thread last week. Oh boy... now it's MY turn!
  • Yeah, sure the web is a living thing, but we as humans are simply observing it swim around... We are not part of this 'web', nobody exists, simply machines... the tin cans and strings as referred to in the article.

    Nobody has any control of this thing, and like a jellyfih it will reach out and sting us all, then mercilessly devour us....

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Thursday December 02, 1999 @07:14AM (#1486503) Homepage Journal
    This depends on how you define alive, and there are as many answers to that as there are people.

    Personally, I buy into James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis, which gives me one universal test (in theory), rather than having a seperate definition for each and every possibility (which, IMHO, is silly.)

    Gaia can be summarised as the ability to move a system towards a preferred state, which may or may not be unstable.

    If we use this definition, is the Internet alive?

    IMHO, no. The transfer of data, whether automatic or through human intervention, has no preferred state. Nor is there any non-trivial negative feedback loop in the system.

    This would appear to violate the two conditions required by the Gaia hypothesis, which would imply that the Internet is not alive in any meaningful sense.

  • The internet does not reproduce on its own to my knowledge. It is self modifying to an extent, but I am not aware of any sites that take in anything and then spawn off entirely new websites without human intervention, so it is not technically alive. However, such functionality could easily be introduced. But what purpose would it have?
  • If I remember correctly from my eigth grade bio, to be considered "alive", something must also have a well ordered molecular structure. Thats one reason why we are "alive" but cars are not.

    As we get molecular computers, the net may become alive as defined by biologists today. :-)
  • "On average, any two sites in cyberspace are just four clicks away"

    Yes, but the best ones need a credit-card... (Or so I'm told...) Where does our contorsible companion (I think AMEX patented flexible friend..) fit into the E-Cology? Are they the equivalent to sexual attraction...?
    Surfer: Oooh.. they take Mastercard...
    Server: Oooh.. She's got a platinum card...

    On a (slightly) more serious note, I really like IBM's Digital Immune System. I know in my heart that it will be an abysmal failure, just because, but I like the thought of human 'antibodies' protecting the net.
    You'd probably get a cool T-shirt to wear, too.

    -Feargal Reilly.
    "A goldfish was his muse, eternally amused"

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @07:20AM (#1486508)
    Modern man's patterns of what researchers call information foraging turn out to be just as habitual as his ancestors': he follows the scent, hunts in packs and returns to familiar ground as often as possible.

    *sniff* *sniff* Do you smell something?
    Yeah, I do. What do you think it is?
    *peering around the corner* Just a bunch of dead links, keep moving.

  • Can't recall where I saw a quote like this:

    "Sometimes I believe that the only thing that prevents all the interconnected machines of the Internet from achieving consciousness is that Bill Gates is responsible for the OS running on most of them."

  • Harrison Ford roams the backbone telnetting into switches and routers as he finds them...
    You find a turtle in the middle of the road, flipped on it's back. What do you do?
  • If this is a sign of the "evolution" of the web, then mommy I'm scared, take me back to my nice cozy porn sites and away from people like this.

    However, that was pretty funny. :)

    Just remember folks, natural selection. The Shakers died, not because they were bad people, but because they didn't want to have sex. Ergo, no next generation of Shakers. The same would happen with this, guy if he's serious. But I hope he isn't, because I don't think I could handle that many anonymous cowards.

    Natural selection on the web would mean, I suppose, getting your page viewed and keeping it online. The goal here would be to be popular, and there are many strategies for that, my favorite is making a *useful* page...
    pb Reply or e-mail rather than vaguely moderate [].
  • Okay, this girl/statue thing is getting out of hand. Aluminum beanies for EVERYONE...on ME!
    1. Count the number of DNS requests to the root nameservers
    2. Count the number of registered domain names
    3. Sit on a number of big routers. Count routing information messages.
  • The internet does not reproduce on its own to my knowledge. It is self modifying to an extent, but I am not aware of any sites that take in anything and then spawn off entirely new websites without human intervention, so it is not
    technically alive. However, such functionality could easily be introduced. But what purpose would it have?

    You have to actually buy a computer get an OS installed and get the web server up and running to actually consider it part of the "internet". If a species is extinct or cannot breed by itself then there's a good chance that it cannot be self replicating. It must do it by itself in every to be alive. Plus the net lacks intelligence in and of itself.
  • I was thinking of the 19 click story too when I read that. There are a few possibilities. One is that one of the two stories is just wrong, due to inaccurate measurements or faulty analysis. The two studies may have had a slightly different focus, thus both are correct from the point of view of the study. Such one study going for the average of all sites, with another going for commercial sites. This study could also mean 4 clicks from one website to a random page on another site, whereas 19 was the distance between two single pages. Or the web has just gotten that much closer. I do agree though that 4 clicks is a bit low between any website. Not with the huge number of crappy and often abandoned personal sites out there. Between all major sites, maybe. but all sites period?
  • Aha, and you measure not the text of the answer but the time between characters.
  • I'm not sure who the original author of this is... there's a link to it here [fortunecity.com].
    There it is again. Some fool ranting about the information superhighway. It's nothing like a superhighway. That's a rotten metaphor. But suppose the metaphor ran the other way. Suppose highways were like the Net...

    A highway hundreds of lanes wide, most with pitfalls for potholes. Privately-operated bridges and overpasses. No highway patrol. A couple of rent-a-cops with broken whistles on bicycles. Five hundred-member vigilante posses with nuclear weapons. A minimum of 237 ramps on every intersection. No signs. Wanna get to Ensenada? Holler out the window at a passing truck to ask directions. Ad hoc traffic laws. Some lanes would vote to make use by a single-occupant-vehicle a capital offence on Monday through Friday between 7:00 and 9:00. Other lanes would just shoot you without a trial for talking on a car phone.

    AOL would be a giant diesel-smoking bus with hundreds on board throwing dead wombats and rotten cabbage at other cars, most of which have been assembled at home from kits. Some are built around 2.5 horsepower lawnmower engines with a top speed of 9mph. Others burn nitro-glycerine and idle at 120.

    No registration plates. World War II nose art instead. Terrifying paintings of huge teeth or vampire eagles. Bumper-mounted machine guns. Flip somebody the finger on this highway and get a white phosphorus grenade up your exhaust. Flatbed trucks cruise around with anti-aircraft missile batteries to shoot down the traffic helicopter. Little kids on tricycles with squirtguns filled with hydrochloric acid switch lanes without warning.

    No off ramps. None.

    Now that's the way to run an interstate highway system.

    I much prefer this analogy to all these fancy shmansy theories. :) Either that, or the old "How the Internet is Like a Penis"...

  • Download a chunk of the Web, study it with a keen mathematical eye, and soon enough you'll be able to speculate about its future behavior.
    Yeah, 'cos the net really needs more idle speculation published on it, hey? :)
    The net is a synthetic organism - it exhibits organic properties. But it's evolution rarely comes in gradual stages like real organic matter - on the net you have an innovation which changes everything overnight (like Cisco's cool new networking stuff). I can't think of any organic life that has a large gap in it's evolutionary history except... Homo Sapiens!!! Maybe the Internet will help us find the Missing Link!!! :)

    People are authoring from scratch.
    Blimey, what a shattering statement!!! Next thing you know, these industry pundits will be telling us "computer data is made up of 0's and 1's"... Sheesh...
  • Ever notice how, if you can't see the source code, the behaviour of an operating system seems sentient ? Windows is sentient, it's malevolent and spiteful. MacOS is sentient, it's stupid but friendly.

    Linux reminds me of the Borg more than anything else. Cool, efficient, and most efficient when working in a large collective. Sure, people often use the Borg reference for Microsoft, but I think it fits us Linux users better... collective consciousness and technological superiority.

    Plus, every time Microsoft comes up with a proprietary protocol that they're just SURE the Linux people can't figure out, I can just see one of the MS execs going up to Bill Gates: "Captain, they've adapted !"
  • Well, we have a packard bell here that's on, consuming electricity, and crashing at a incredible rate. Bad genes, perhaps? =)
  • I don't know much about James Lovelock or his "Gaia Hypothesis" (and what I HAVE heard sounded like crap), so I'll just respond to your tests (which sound reasonable).

    No preferred state of data transfer Sure there is: Efficiency. Efficient data transfer can mean two different things and I think both apply (on different levels).

    1) Getting packets across the Net via a least path (time, cost, etc). Sounds like routing to me. And the Internet moves toward an ideal state on this.

    2) Getting information into the hands of the people who want it. Again, this is getting better and better with things like Google (for searching) and Babelfish (for translating).

    No non-trivial negative feedback loop I'm not sure what you mean here. What non-trivial negative feedback loops does a human have? The Net slows down when you try to send to much over it. That's low-level neg feedback. There's also reputation (company, individual, site) that provides negative feedback at an information level. For instance, I no longer read anything from The Register since I've found that all they publish is speculation that has no basis in reality.
  • So it's alive, reproduces, reacts to outside stimuli, and uses nutrients. I think the net meets the bilogical defenition of alive.

    It's alive therefore it's alive? Do I sense a self-referencing argument? *slap on the wrist*

  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @07:50AM (#1486526) Journal
    I don't know why cmdrtaco claims, "Of course not, silly!" to the question of whether the internet is alive.

    At any rate, the concept is old enough. John Varley wrote an excellent novella ("Press Enter_") on the idea in, I believe 1982. The debate has been going on for a while.

    What I found interesting was the claim that the so called e-cosystem isn't damaged by bombs and so forth. The body squirms, the legs shrink momentarily -- and then grow back, stronger than before. That shouldn't be surprising--it's one of the characteristics of an ecosystem. If you could kick an ecosystem and then leave it alone, and it didn't repair itself in some way, then it wouldn't be a (stable) ecosystem at all, but more like a single organism.

    Also, regarding the darwinian nature of the 'net, it should be remembered that while the "strong" survive (and grow, and prosper, and get all the hits) the "weak" don't die off--they can exist quite happily as weaklings. How many personal homepages have you seen with counters saying, "you're the 13th person to visit my website since 1996!" There's no _need_ for them to die off, because unlike in the wild, they don't consume significant resources. In fact, strong websites inherently consume more resources than weak ones, which suggests a levelling effect in the long run. On the other hand, the resources are manmade and growing rapidly, so who knows?

    1. This is why those legislators and officials should keep their hands off the internet. Any attempt to "rigorize" something as organic as this would only result in hampering the Internet's development and growth.
    2. The part about planting Kansas with the same grain illustrates one thing: we need choice in the software world. Why do such things like the Melissa virus spread so easily? Because of One Particular Vendor who sells software with crappy security, unnecessary, bloated features, and tries to make everyone use One Platform for Everything. Basically, trying to feed the world off one grain of wheat. Will that work? No. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all. The Internet is about choice. We need to fight against the (rather bleak, to me) scenario that the majority of the Internet is "dominated by MS". Although this is not entirely accurate, it still exemplifies an unfortunate reality.
  • My own personal (I don't claim that it has any grounding in reality, it it just a suggested definition that seems general enough, but not overly so) definition is a living organism is one that has the following features:
    1. It is extended in some sort of space.
    2. It actively maintains a boundry within that spatial extension.
    3. It actively maintains, within that boundry, a level of entropy that is lower than the level of entropy in its surroundings.
  • by vlax ( 1809 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @07:53AM (#1486529)
    It doesn't surprise me that an information system the size of the Internet would have some unpredicted emergent properties. Stanislaw Lem, in his Summa Technologiae in 1962, predicted that biology would be the main source of engineering inspiration in the 21st century, and clearly this is coming true.

    However, don't mistake a metaphor for a truth. They do not propose any kind of unified framework for analysing the 'Net, nor can they. They are simply looking to biology to inspire analytical methods.

    Examining usage logs of 120,000 sites, Huberman and Adamic discovered that the distribution of visitors follows a universal power law -- better known as winner-takes-all. This is a world as viciously inequitable as the real one; the most popular 5% of websites get the lion's share -- 75% -- of all Internet traffic.

    They missed an important implication of the power law. Increasingly, we should see metasearch systems parasitising the most commonly viewed sites - so long as IP law doesn't prevent it.

    I'd like to see some useful predictions come out of there analysis, but I don't see any.

    I'm not convinced that disk space restrictions are the major cause of the Darwinian distribution of file lifespans, as the article asserts in the second last paragraph.

    Their discussion of an immune system for the web seems pretty speculative, and as they point out elsewhere in the article, monoculture systems are not sufficiently robust. A monoculture immune apparatus (as they propose) probably wouldn't be adequate either.

    The point about monoculture is the best one they make. Melissa would have been impossible to propagate, or at least much less damaging, if Windows wasn't so widespread. You would think we had learned this lesson during the Internet Worm fiasco back in the late 80's.

    Bail on the word "e-cology." Lem would probably call it "webological analysis", but I think something more greco-latin is in order. Gnostography maybe? Araneastics? Cognostofluxology?
  • If the internet was alive, I think It would almost be like my baby cousin.

    My baby cousin can't walk so she crawls.
    She tends to be irritable and tempermental so she crys and whines all the time.
    She can get angry, and when she does watch out! Because you should hear some of the things that come out of her mouth.
    She likes talking gibberish.
    She can be fascinated by the stupidest things.
    Of course she is not all that bad, there are some rare good qualities in her.
    But boy-o you should see some of the shit that comes out of her!

  • Okay, try to get from this page to the CIA homepage in 4 clicks.
  • It is self modifying to an extent, but I am not aware of any sites that take in anything and then spawn off entirely new websites without human intervention,

    It is a system in which human intervention plays a major role. The users / administrators of the internet are not outside of this i-cology (I like that better than e-cology, because you can tell them apart. If it bugs you, tough) they are it's nutrients, they provide the energy. They also make pretty good accuators.
  • Good point. However, you could also look at the physical side of the net as a forest. In a forest, the trees need water to survive. If there is a drought or climate change, they suffer. If there is a power outage, computers suffer. In a forest, natural disasters can destroy trees. On the net, computers get knocked over, coffee spilled on them(acid rain), and other little disasters that spell doom for a particular computer tree. Sometimes computers get old and die. So do trees. Sometimes computers become unstable and act strangely and dangerously. Like rabid raccoons. Sometimes computers start getting filled up so much their performance suffers and possibly causes a total crash. In forests, animal populations get overcrowded which is quite bad as animals cannot get a share of food. The population will then start dying off. I could go on, but you probably get the point. The net, as in hardware, would require a massive R&D and procurement budget to make it self reproducing and growing, but as a stable environment it can host a new entity known as the Web which could easily be given those capabilities withing the limits of the net hardware environment.
  • This is why those legislators and officials should keep their hands off the internet. Any attempt to "rigorize" something as organic as this would only result in hampering the Internet's development and growth.

    ahem [cough] agriculture.

    Planting Kansas with one kind of wheat would be a bad move, but as a survival strategy, hanging around in the "ecosystem", hoping that the bushes around you will sprout something edible has been known to be dominated for a fair few years.

  • Well part of the theory of 'Pi' was that the stock market was like a living organism. In GitS they said the AI was just a merely self replicating program it replied 'I submit that your DNA is also merely a self replicating program'... Hmmm.. Of course the REAL fun comes in distributed Neural Nets. They might have some bizarre properties, as latency would occur between various sections of the whole. This however could be the key to making a real self-aware network. With the ammount of people in Seti@Home and Distributed.net... It would be able to have an immense number of neurodes.

  • and the matrix has you. :)
  • Argh. First of all folks, repeat after me:

    web != internet

    OK, now that I've got that off my chest...

    I'm not sure how much (or little) intervention should be allowed before one calls the internet 'self replicating.' Dynamic routing is taken for granted. Plug a new computer into a network with DHCP set up in a certain manner, and the computer will be online in short order. In some cases, the OS doesn't even need to be installed first. (HP's Ignite-UX is pretty useful for this sort of thing)

    SBut a crucial point is that since all of the nodes have been physically put in place by people, and are activated (and active) by people, then the nodes we should be looking at are the computer/user pair. Or, since multiple and varying users can use a single computer, maybe humans should be considered necessary symbiotes to computers, and without us, the computers go into something approximating hibrnation.


  • I think man is definitely a shark. In fact man outsharks the shark. We bend nature to our needs. We enslave and destroy without hesitation or mercy, all for the reason that we believe we are so much superior to the other animals. Don't you really think that we might one day pay for our arrogance? Hopefully, not in our lifetime, right?

  • by Wah ( 30840 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @08:24AM (#1486542) Homepage Journal
    Click Here for CIA homepage. [cia.gov]

    How many licks does it take to get to the center on a tootsie roll pop?
  • by cyclopes ( 93985 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @08:31AM (#1486543)

    This is probably just a mindless rant, but it may be that we are no more than the emergent behaviour of a bunch of cells. After all, "alive" is something that is only defined by the human mind. There is no such physical concept; on the molecular level everything is dead. A piece of metal is made up of atoms, many of them the same as those that make up the human body; what is the difference between the two? If an individual atom is dead, a human who is made entirely of atoms cannot be alive either. So the idea of life is not a purely physical concept. If it were, the definition would be physical, there would be "live" atoms and "dead" atoms. The idea of life is an abstraction which the human mind uses to interpret the physical world.

    (Cyclopes rapidly descends into a half drooling state of philosophical abstraction.) If the state of being alive is a construct of the human mind, the internet may be alive. Eventually humans may accept the fact that computers can think and that networks are organisms, at that point they will be living things. Until then computers are just so much silicon and gray plastic.

  • I'm sure you all did. it basically said as "random" systems get more and more complicated, they start to resemble predictable organisms. the movie delt with chaos theory and the stock market and how it was a large enough chaotic system that it could be predicted with the right algorythm and a large enough number cruncher.

    Anyplace where I can go to my family farm's home page and accidentally end up being asked for my credit card number for porn might be just chaotic enough to qualify. I don't think the internet will be large enough until it spans "heavenly bodies." When I can go to homer.crater.lun and end up sending packets to the sea of tranquility, THEN the internet will be alive.

  • If jellyfish are alive then the Net must be, too. They both are colonial organisms made of of individual specialized creatures. The collective whole lives and breathes as one animal due to the autocoordination (like that word? I think I just made it up) of its members.

    There are stinging cells, eating cells, communicating cells, motion cells,...

    Sounds alive to me.
  • Are in no way related to how the Internet works.

    Think more along the line of Galaxies and Universes. The Internet is Flat, without definable boundaries, and our current assumption is it will expand forever. Links are wormholes, bandwidth is heat, and /. is a black hole.


    from the article
    Modern man's patterns of what researchers call information foraging turn out to be just as habitual as his ancestors': he follows the sent, hunts in packs and returns to familiar ground as often as possible.

    So is Google a shotgun or a spear? This metaphor is way too wide, it can apply to almost any human behaviour, including human behaviour as a whole.

    Right now, the average user pulls up a mere three pages per website (and as most news sites will tell you, their stickiness is measured in seconds)

    (see above /. as black hole observation)

    I don't think of the Internet itself as life, but as a place where other life exists, bots, daemons, streams, etc. This type of life (existing only as a electonic impulses (which could, I guess, be said of people too)) and don't operate under the same rules as the rest of us. I would love to see that movie of the Internet's growth, that would be cool.
  • There is seven or eight of them left. they live collectively in vermont or new hampshire, make furniture, own a lot of land and are filthy rich (considerring they are shakers). How do I know this? I heard it on NPR. that proves it it true
  • but, could we liken spam to fire ants swarming over the victim, filling it with painful stings that last (indefinitely, in the case of the net.. until you can clean them all out of your inbox)?

    Perhaps we could do some biological engineering and make packets that produce tunes (like tobacco plants that glow under fluorescent light bulbs).

    Or maybe I should just lay off the chocolate ;-)
  • The whole problem lies on how to get a sample : unless you're getting the whole HTML contents of several random, unrelated Web servers, the less links point to a page, the less likely it is that that page gets sampled; that means the most 'distant' pages don't even get into the sample. If you get your sample with a 'spider", well... what can I say?
  • I didn't put that in I swear, it's the web it's turning on me. hellppp!!!
  • by Cuthalion ( 65550 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @09:06AM (#1486552) Homepage
    I think you'll find that many of the laws "of biology" tend to really be much more general, and are instead general laws of diverse complicated systems. Biology happens to be an interesting and easy to study niche in this larger field.

    Survival of the fittest?

    You have a cardboard box with a bunch of things made out of legos in it. Shake the whole box a lot. The ones that doesn't break are what's left over. If that stuff can get reproduced somehow (by itself, or by anything else), "natural" selection happens.

    This happens with wholes (organisms & web sites) as well as parts (genes & memes/paradigms) - if the part causes the whole to break, that part won't be very common. We don't see a lot of humans with the "dead" gene.

    Nothing comes free, even existence. That's what makes this whole thing work. (in other words, your website is in a cardboard box getting banged against legos)

    For internet entities, the cost of existence is bandwidth & server space. Human interest is what it costs to cover these needs. Whether people are interested enough to pay the internet bill because the entity is neat or useful or lucrative is irrelevant.

    Existence for humans is normal activity, as well as healing wounds - general metabolism. This cost is paid by an influx of chemical energy (food).

    Biological things expend energy getting food, Internet things expend energy getting people interested. If either one of those entities's costs of existance exceeds it's resources, the data pipe will be shut down, so to speak.


    Q: What's the best way to learn HTML?
    A: View->Source

    In biological systems the notion of parenthood is pretty clear-cut. In memetic systems, however, it can be very difficult to see where ideas come from. But don't tell me that everybody who's implemented a web-based shopping cart thought of the idea themselves.

    There are differences, sure. Darwinian vs. Lemarkian evolution.. One or two parents vs dozens or hundreds of 'parents'.

    But what's important is that the environment has only limited resources (food, eyeballs), there is some kind of non-exact reproduction (cells divide, ideas get solen), combined with a non-zero cost for existance. Given those constraints, you're pretty much guaranteed to get an ecosystem, or something similar to it.

    Is it (the internet) life [dictionary.com]? I don't care. If it is, great. If it's not, make a new word that means the same thing as "life" without requiring the processes be biological in nature. Good luck getting people to use it.

  • by trintragula ( 119106 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @09:30AM (#1486554) Homepage
    Much more importantly than asking if the internet is in anyway alive, it would be sounder to ask if it could die.

    The only way in which you could apply any form of evolutionary theory to a man made construct such as the internet is if it exists within an environment of competitors. Almost all software is like this, *nix fights it out with win*, each occupying a niche within the user base and each able to move into the others territory if improved to a sufficient degree. Open sourced software is even more evolutionary in the way that many programmers will suggest improvements but only the best will end up surviving into the next release. Of course these parallels should not be taken too far, programmers do not suggest random changes to code (or at least avoid doing so) which might have good or bad results, which is how nature works.

    There is only one internet though, and nothing for it to fight against (ie nothing to kill it). Whenever any new technology is introduced it is carefully merged into the existing fabric so that those who do not adopt the new 'improvements' can continue to use the system (in theory..). Also, the costs involved in creating a whole new internet-like system are phenomenal and will stand in the way of any potential successor.

    Can the internet die any other way? Parts of the internet die off every day when someone pulls a page from a server, a startup business goes bust or a malevolent hacker gets into somewhere he shouldn't. Other parts of the internet are more permanent, the physical apparatus behind the internet, computers, cables and fibres, will last for as long as they are maintained correctly and can easily be changed or updated as capacity is required (the internet getting poorly). What really makes the internet though are the people who use it, /. would be nothing if no one posted messages so the internet will continue to 'live' for as long as people use it.

    This is not near to biological life though. The internet does not make any decisions for itself, never has to hunt for its dinner and will not have to search for a mate, it is cared for 24/7 by dedicated teams of professionals and has nice (if misinformed) things said about all over the media. In fact, I think I might try to become an internet myself....
  • I don't think the internet will be large enough until it spans "heavenly bodies." When I can go to homer.crater.lun and end up sending packets to the sea of tranquility, THEN the internet will be alive.
    Don't be too flippant - Vint Cerf [wcom.com] ("father of the internet") has recently been talking about extending TCP/IP to interplanetary communications. (Saw him speak at NYU recently; he's a very good public speaker, and I urge you to go see him if you get a chance.) It makes sense, really - most computers already speak IP, so why not computers on space probes, etc? Of course, there are real issues to consider. You think your connections are slow and laggy now? Just wait until you're trying to talk to a machine on Mars, which can be several light-minutes away. Obviously, timeout lengths are the least of what will have to be reconsidered.
  • by mmontour ( 2208 ) <mail@mmontour.net> on Thursday December 02, 1999 @10:16AM (#1486557)
    Click #1: "topics" on the left side of the page, http://slashdot.org/topics.shtml
    Clich #2: "News" option, http://slashdot.org/search.pl?topic=news
    Click#3: "Australian Government Cracks Down on Net Users" from Nov. 26 (Currently #8 on the menu]), http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=99/11/26/105123 6&mode=nested
    Click#4, Right-hand side of the page, "Related Links" box, you will find... CIA (http://www.cia.gov)

    What do I win? I hope it's a bowl of grits. :-)
  • Or wasn't there a study that said any two random sites are 19 clicks apart? Now we're down to four? In a matter of two months since I saw the story? I don't buy it, yet.

    I don't buy it either. Remember, the same story said that an average site has 15 outgoing links. That means that you can get (on the average) to 15 sites in one click, to 15^2=225 sites in two clicks, to 15^3=3375 sites in three clicks, and to 15^4=50625 sites in four clicks. Only lousy 50,000 sites??? That's a far cry from the whole web.

  • TCP/IP is going to have difficulty communicating over huge-latency links, because its error-correcting model is based on ACKs and re-transmission requests. A better model is forward error-correction such as the digital TV satellites use. Here there is no possibility for a receiver to ask for a re-transmission of a particular chunk of data, so instead they build enough redundancy and error-correcting codes into the data stream that you only need to get some percent of it to get a perfect reconstruction of the data. This would also apply (and is probably already in use somewhere) to Internet multimedia transmissions like RealAudio streams or videoconferencing, so that a small number of lost UDP packets wouldn't cause a video/audio dropout.
  • Google is a fantastic search engine. Yes.

    Google is a popular search engine. No.

    Google will become a popular search engine: Maybe. ...If the average person will get off their duffs and leave the mediocrity that altavista and lycos have embraced.

    Google has a silly name. Most definitely. *grin*
  • by jbum ( 121617 ) on Thursday December 02, 1999 @12:21PM (#1486565)
    The article didn't appear to supply links to Bill Cheswick's (very interesting) Internet maps, so I thought I'd provide some:

    The Internet Mapping Project [bell-labs.com]

    Peacock Maps [peacockmaps.com] (buy one for xmas!)

    -- jbum

  • The battle over "true AI" has still got a long, long way to go. It's likely to never be solved, based on the earlier argument that "life" is a construct of our own perception of ourself, which implies that we will never bestow that designation onto anything else. There is a constant running through all "living" things that we recognize and accept, but what is that constant, and how far can we stray from it? Carbon based life forms? That would explain why all the Star Treks always insist on having the aliens be human. Is it then likely that people will simply never make the leap that there can be true silicon-based life? Are our minds not capable of it? They say that man can only create a subset of himself, not a superset.

    Although it's a bit pop-culturish, Stephen Levy has a pretty good book on Artificial Life that addresses many of these issues. Mostly from the perspective of battles that Chris Langton has had to face.

    Think of it this way. 50 years ago Turing proposed his famous test. And I will point out that he did make certain conditions -- within X amount of questioning time, a person would have Y% chance of guessing correctly. According to him, we should just about be there. Realistically, not only are we not even close on the natural language front, but we're just now only coming to agreement on what his test is supposed to test for!

    There are two ways you can argue the condition of "life" - what conditions are "necessary" and which are "sufficient". For any condition that you say "In order to be alive, X must have Y" it has thus far been pretty likely that someone can find an exception to Y. A sufficient condition merely implies "If X has Y, then X is alive." But in that situation people are willing to accept the sufficiency condition right up until it is about to be met, and then they decide its not sufficient anymore. (I'm reminded of very early arguments that said a chess program beating a grandmaster would be a sufficient condition of AI. Later people changed their minds).

    there are experiments going on now to use the internet to form a huge, distributed neural net. THAT could be pretty cool. Whether or not it would ever exhibit signs of life, I don't know. But it would sure be neat.


  • Hmm... The Internet as living organism? What if we had AI that lived on the web... which sprouted "AI legs and arms" and if it went crazy! Oh, and not to mention nefarious government conspiracies (let's start with Echelon) trying to cover up the fact that the Net was alive.

    Then it'll take over some poor soul's ghost and... (Boy it's been a long day...)

    Humans love machines in AD 2029.

  • They are just "Funny". I don't think they're supposed to be "Rolling on the Floor Laughing"...
  • I'd like to offer this definition of life. :
    Any object or group of materials that givin time, raw material, and energy can create 2 or more exect copys of the original.

    Intelligence is something completly diferent and harder to define. So I'll just mention the Turing Test.

    Therefore, the Internet is not alive because it has never created a baby Internet.
    And The Internet is not intelligent because it does not have abstract thoughts that can be expressed the way we express ours. Or in any other usefull way.
  • The users/administrators of the internet are not outside of this i-cology (I like that better than e-cology, because you can tell them apart. If it bugs you, tough) they are it's nutrients, they provide the energy.

    Oh my God. Somebody, call Neo, now... ;-)
  • What does it matter if the net is alive? Blue green algae is alive, but it doesn't get much press. The internet is a hot topic, but applying biological principles to human constructs is hardly new. Look at bionomics (I think that was the name) the theory that the market is a living entity.

    Now if it was conscious, that would be another matter entirely. "Ego cogito, ergo sum", as Descartes put it. I don't of course think the 'Net is going to gain any "real" semblance of a consciousness anytime soon, but if it did, the ramifications would be enormous. The mind, as they say, boggles. But this is all hypothetical.

    So the net exhibits signs of biological life. Big deal. Call me when it starts comprehending of itself in relation to others.

  • "Bionomics : Economy As Ecosystem" by Michael Rothschild is a decent book devoted to this concept. Check it out [amazon.com].
  • The article is inaccurate in saying it takes 4 'clicks' to get from one site to any other. In the study quoted, one has to navigate through an average of 3 other sites to get from one site to any other (i.e. you have to ignore any clicks you make within a site). That makes 4 site-hops rather than link clicks. 19 is more likely to be the number of actual clicks you have to make as you navigate. For the original paper, see: The Small World Web (http://www.parc.xerox.com/iea/www/SmallWorld.html )
  • What the article really should have said is 'site hops', rather than clicks. So navigating anywhere within yahoo counts as just a single hop. Now as long as you can get to yahoo, you can get to any other site listed in its hierarchy while expending only one 'site hop'. It's more like 19 clicks if you look at things on the page level.
  • It definitely isn't funny if you know nothing about D&D, but I do agree that I wasn't rolling on the floor after this one.
  • As I recall, Katz did an article on this a long time ago. At the time I thought it was an interesting concept, but now I just think that it is kind of like forcing a round peg in a square hole. The reason that I am saying that is that it just seems that we should study the internet or whatever else on its own terms, and not try to learn about something peering through the veil of poor analogies.

    Sorry to be a party-pooper...just my 2 cents.

  • You mean like a refrigerator?
  • I can't make an exact copy of myself (although my cells can make exact copies of themselves pretty much). A salt crystal in a supersaturated medium can can make copies of itself as well.

    I think that life, like pornography and art is one of those things that is difficult to define objectively.
  • I created my Digital Video pages in the last year or so, and they've certainly been successful and gained a quite loyal audience [ http://www.amazing.com/dv/dv-faq.html ]. My fruutydates dating service [ ] seems to have attracted a nice niche of cool people.

    In the first case, I wrote about a technology when it was starting to become popular and there were few net resources around. In the latter case, I got most of my users by latching on to the traffic from a web site whose owners spent substantial money on promotion.

    So I wouldn't give up - new resources have a good chance of surviving and even thriving, as long as you put some kind of unique spin on your subject. And if you can't, why are you bothering?

    Remember, if you're an individual setting up a site on some hot topic, people will find you - and you don't need billions of viewers to produce a useful resource people will enjoy.


  • I thnks there's more. I think that a thing is alive when it can relize that it is alive. I mean, there is a point where an individual can say "I'm alive, and I'll be dead some time", and maybe the question is where is that point. For ex., an ant can move, and get food, and all that, and it also runs away from danger, but that is just an ant responding to danger, just like a deamon from DOOM.

    I read on some book ("Gardens from Eden", or something. by Carl Sagan; it was in spanish, so I don't know the correct title) that maybe when we are dreaming we have the same level of "consience" that a dog when he's awake. When I'm on a dream I don't think I can say "I'm alive", but I fell fear, and some stuff feels like "alive". So maybe the ant is not just a "machine", it has some level of "self awareness" (which is scary, it would mean that every time you boot a computer, or "kill" a process, you are actually killing something..)

    There are some theories about dolphing killing themselves, because they realize they are alive..

    So, maybe the internet can have a big mind and say "I'm alive" at some point. Maybe when it get faster connections.. :) (actually, the "faster" would be a perception of my mind, so it's not that important..)

  • Oh my God. Somebody, call Neo, now... ;-)

    How about I call you Mr. Anderson?
  • As far as I know, a jellyfish is a single creature. I think you mean a portuguese man'o'war (sp?). But I am not a biologist...

  • >

    ROFL that comment deserves points if I ever saw one. Remember thoes are an Indangered now!

    I can see the bumper stickers already...
    "Save the packard bells" hehehe

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll