A Moore's law for life in the universe?

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yevoc
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A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby yevoc » Thu Jul 17, 2014 9:47 pm UTC

Interesting idea/publication I came across done by geneticists: Putting genetic complexity vs time on a logarithmic graph reveals an exponential increase over time. That may not be too surprising for those of us who've seen enough log graphs of life-complexity and human achievement vs time, but the controversial thing about this work is that the author back-extrapolated the trend to when we'd expect to see a single gene of complexity. The result? 9.7 billion years ago.

If life is truly universal in how it forms and develops, this may suggest that
1) life first began roughly 10 billion years ago
2) life everywhere is steadily increasing in complexity at roughly the same pace as we are.
3) Since the Earth isn't nearly old enough, it is probably subject to the panspermia idea.

It never occurred to me that aliens might only be as advanced as we are when we detect them. I always assumed as a matter of course that they'd be eons beyond struggling to land on the closest celestial body that isn't their own planet. If true, this handily explains the Fermi paradox.

News link:
http://www.technologyreview.com/view/513781/moores-law-and-the-origin-of-life/
Actual paper:
http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.3381

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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby speising » Thu Jul 17, 2014 10:12 pm UTC

aside from the problematic back extrapolation, what has genetic complexity to do with space exploration? we aren't any more complex than the australopitecus and we won't be substantially different genetically (exept maybe for deliberate manipulations) when we finally land on extrasolar planets.

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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby Frenetic Pony » Thu Jul 17, 2014 11:12 pm UTC

Similar thoughts have occurred elsewhere, though more rigorous and taking more into account, I'll just copypasta over a post I made.

Regardless, to me there are two interesting problems regarding life and intelligent life out in the universe. The first is what I'd call the detection problem. The truth is our radio telescopes suck at the moment. We can detect stars and such with them, but stars put out so many more orders of magnitude of energy than our technology that trying to use a radio telescope that detects stars to detect an average signal from a technologically advance civilization is the equivalent of trying to arrange individual atoms to spell "Hello World" using a handheld magnifying glass.

As in, unless a sufficiently advanced civilization has built a power source on the order of a star... And for reference our sun puts out something like 3 point whatever times ten the twenty sixth joules per second, while a typical radar dish we have may run on only a hundred kilowatt current (remember, watts = joules per second). So unless a civilization builds a ridiculously huge power source and then uses it solely to blast out a "we are here" signal then we'd have no chance of detecting them. Other than being capable of doing that, and actually doing it, there's no rhyme nor reason for any civilization to waste that much power blasting out signals into space. So unless a civilization both advanced enough to do that, and that wanted to be found and so did do that, and that did do that long enough ago that the signal has actually reached our planet... unless all of that there's no way we can detect a signal sent from an advanced civilization with our current technology.

Which brings me the second point. And that is when exactly it is that the universe would allow a civilization capable of doing such to evolve. One of the important things to note is that the universe is, from what we can see, mostly isotropic. As in for the most part any one part of the universe is the same "age" as any other part. And the age of the universe may have a lot to do with the evolution of intelligent life. Specifically there is first the timescale of evolution. It has taken 3.6 billion years for life on earth to evolve from early prokaryotic cells to us, a civilization even capable of dreaming of being able to build a power source large enough to just blast a signal to space saying "We are here". 3.6 billion years is a significant portion of the entire history of the known universe, and with the isotropic principle in mind (any one point in the universe is more or less similar to any other part) we can assume that evolution isn't going to go any faster elsewhere.

The second point to the second point is that our evolution and civilization is based on a lot of high numbered periodic table elements. Elements that may well need to exist in something like the quantities that they do, elements that have taken billions of years of repeated star formation and fusion to create. The human body, and many animals, use calcium and phosphorous and oxygen and etc. for quite important functions. Enough of these elements may need to be readily available on any "life supporting planet" for advanced evolution to happen at all, meaning there may be a minimum age the universe needed to be for advanced evolution to happen at all.

And just as importantly, the highest natural periodic table elements are sitting in the earth's core, decaying in a highly radioactive manner and ultimately giving us a magnetosphere. As we can see from Mars this appears to be a crucial thing for life's survival at all. Any evolution that happened earlier in the universe, on a planet that didn't have as many radioactive heavy elements in their core as we do, may not have retained a magnetosphere long enough for evolution to get to an intelligent species at all. All this ultimately culminates in the point that we humans may be among the first species in the universe, or at least our galaxy, to actually get to what we would call "being intelligent". All simply because we needed the universe to go for long enough to allow us to evolve.

Now there is margin for when intelligent life could appear. Maybe there's a civilization out there that's thousands of years in advance of ours. But the galaxy is huge place. If this hypothetical civilization did exist, and was only a quarter of the way across the galaxy from us, and built a huge star scale radio transmitter that started blasting out "we are here" ten thousand years ago, it would still be another fifteen thousand years before we could see the signal at all, simply because they're too far away. Thus we get back to the detection problem, and why SETI may be a stupid waste of time. EG we only have the technology to detect a civilization so far in advance of us that they'd be relatively easy to spot if they wanted to be spotted, and if they don't want to be seen or don't have the technology to do so there's little chance that could see them even if we're searching for them specifically.

To give a more practical example, the world's largest most sensitive radar array will be the Square Kilometer Array in South Africa. It will (pending delays) start real operation in 2020. The strongest signal humanity has yet sent, cold war radar stuff, would only be detectable by this array within a fifty lightyear radius of earth. So is there an almost entirely parallel civilization within fifty light years of us? Probably not. But this is literally the most stringent detection threshold we can manage (that's not even available yet), for the strongest radio signal we have ever sent or are likely to send for a while. So if we couldn't even detect ourselves, or probably ourselves for hundreds of years into the future, beyond 50 lightyears out then there's little reason at all to see SETI's failure as any indication that there isn't intelligent life "out there".


I.E. the universe being what it is, similar evolutionary scales and etc. may actually be quite likely. That being said I don't think "genetic complexity" is necessarily the correct term. Perhaps "behavioral complexity and adaptability" would be a better way to put it. Not necessarily linked to the length of genetic code. Just as, say a board games computational complexity of possible outcomes is not linked to the amount of pieces or rules it has, the computational complexity of an organisms behavioral range isn't necessarily linked to the length of its genetic code.

A better term for OPs paper may then be "computational complexity of behavior" which may well go up over time in terms of evolution. At least from the perspective of probability of appropriate genetic mutations causing such, then at least the probability of such existing will definitely go up over time, if only because more mutations/more mutating organisms give even a static probability function more chances of happening.

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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby Xanthir » Thu Jul 17, 2014 11:19 pm UTC

yevoc wrote:Interesting idea/publication I came across done by geneticists: Putting genetic complexity vs time on a logarithmic graph reveals an exponential increase over time. That may not be too surprising for those of us who've seen enough log graphs of life-complexity and human achievement vs time, but the controversial thing about this work is that the author back-extrapolated the trend to when we'd expect to see a single gene of complexity. The result? 9.7 billion years ago.

Stop using gene complexity as a proxy for anything. It has pretty much no correlation to anything, particularly not intelligence. There are animals with more complex genomes than we have. There are *tomatoes* with more complex genomes than we have. There are bacteria with more complex genomes than we have.

Genomic complexity is not much of an indicator of anything.
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby Frenetic Pony » Thu Jul 17, 2014 11:22 pm UTC

Thinking about, while genetic mutation itself should be more or less random for the purposes of creating organisms with more complex behavioral patterns, intelligence (and thus complexity of behavior) definitely seems a favorable trait for continued survival/reproduction of a species. For larger land animals birds and mammals dominate the planet, and both have fairly efficient brains compared. Thus, the probability function of evolving efficient brains and "intelligence" being a static function, the process of evolution should still drive things towards that in general.

The question then becomes where we humans are on the probability function of having the brains we do in terms of the universe (or at least the local universe). One supposes since we've not detected any giant flashing signal in the sky as of yet, that we are then somewhere near the leading edge of the probability of evolving "intelligence" to the point that we have. This isn't terribly helpful in immediately determining where this "wave" of intelligent species is, or how many there are, or etc. But it is at least a set of assumptions that could lead to some sort of... other assumptions and testability at some point.

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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby ahammel » Fri Jul 18, 2014 3:57 am UTC

Man, there are just so many problems with this figure:

Spoiler:
Image


Genome size is complexity now? "Prokaryotes" and mammals being compared in terms of origin? What the hell are "worms"? "Fish" have a single origin, genome size and number of functionally annotated genes? You've got like five data points, all of which are proxies, and you're extrapolating back ten billion years from that? Are there no error bars because they're outside the limits of the graph?
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby yevoc » Sat Jul 19, 2014 5:12 am UTC

Frenetic Pony wrote:Similar thoughts have occurred elsewhere...[wall of copypasta]

I.E. the universe being what it is, similar evolutionary scales and etc. may actually be quite likely. That being said I don't think "genetic complexity" is necessarily the correct term. Perhaps "behavioral complexity and adaptability" would be a better way to put it. Not necessarily linked to the length of genetic code. Just as, say a board games computational complexity of possible outcomes is not linked to the amount of pieces or rules it has, the computational complexity of an organisms behavioral range isn't necessarily linked to the length of its genetic code.

A better term for OPs paper may then be "computational complexity of behavior" which may well go up over time in terms of evolution. At least from the perspective of probability of appropriate genetic mutations causing such, then at least the probability of such existing will definitely go up over time, if only because more mutations/more mutating organisms give even a static probability function more chances of happening.


Good post. I agree entirely in terms of the analysis of isotropic evolution. It's just another extension of the assumption that we aren't special (i.e. neither inferior nor superior to the average)

It won't be long in our future when the idea of genetic complexity will break down entirely in terms of capturing complexity/intelligence, but since hydrocarbons and base pairs are likely to self-form in space, I agree with the spirit of the paper in the sense that genetic size is probably a decent proxy for figuring out how things got started, since (as far as we know) von Neumann architectures/probes don't exactly spontaneously form out of space gas and hitch rides on asteroids.

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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby yevoc » Sat Jul 19, 2014 5:21 am UTC

ahammel wrote:Genome size is complexity now?


I've done a large amount of work with genetic algorithms, and in my experience, this is true enough. Especially when the genetic sequence isn't overly large.

When the sequence is large, then a large portion of the sequence ossifies, and evolution occurs more on a subset, but the subsets tend to grow themselves. Also, ossification only occurs if mortality is high. Otherwise, complexity explodes vs genome size.

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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby ahammel » Sun Jul 20, 2014 12:05 am UTC

yevoc wrote:
ahammel wrote:Genome size is complexity now?


I've done a large amount of work with genetic algorithms, and in my experience, this is true enough.

So you accept that pine trees are several times more genetically comlex than humans? That a particular fern is the most genetically complex organism extant?

Genome size is largely determined by number of transposable elements in Eukaryotes, afaik. It's a terrible proxy for "complexity".
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby Xanthir » Sun Jul 20, 2014 5:11 am UTC

yevoc wrote:
ahammel wrote:Genome size is complexity now?


I've done a large amount of work with genetic algorithms, and in my experience, this is true enough. Especially when the genetic sequence isn't overly large.

When the sequence is large, then a large portion of the sequence ossifies, and evolution occurs more on a subset, but the subsets tend to grow themselves. Also, ossification only occurs if mortality is high. Otherwise, complexity explodes vs genome size.

Genetic algorithms work with relatively *miniscule* genomes. There's no need to have multi-gig genomes for virtually anything you'd be running a genalg for. In real life genomes are huge, and cells can take care of that, so there's relatively little selective pressure against getting bigger, and actual genome size is *all over the map* in the tree of life.
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby firechicago » Sun Jul 20, 2014 2:35 pm UTC

yevoc wrote:I've done a large amount of work with genetic algorithms, and in my experience, this is true enough.

This is like saying "I've studied several constructed languages, and they all have verbs and nouns that universally follow simple rules of declension and conjugation. Therefore I can safely conclude that almost all natural languages contain no irregular verbs or nouns."

Genetic algorithms are not living genomes. They are similar in a bunch of ways, but it is a serious mistake to assume that what holds with them holds with all living genomes.
yevoc wrote:Especially when the genetic sequence isn't overly large.

So would you call 3 billion base pairs overly large? Because that's how many we humans have, and we don't have all that many compared to lots of other living creatures.

yevoc wrote:When the sequence is large, then a large portion of the sequence ossifies, and evolution occurs more on a subset, but the subsets tend to grow themselves. Also, ossification only occurs if mortality is high. Otherwise, complexity explodes vs genome size.

In real life, mortality approaches 100%.

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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby Mokele » Tue Jul 29, 2014 4:31 pm UTC

Hands down one of the dumbest papers I've ever had the misfortune of encountering. The asinine attempt to quantify "complexity" by mere genome size, the extremely limited number of "data" points, the total ignorance of developmental biology or really any sort of biology, the failure to ever consider that maybe there's a minimum genome size, and the ridiculous desire to extrapolate way beyond the data all add up to make this the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" of science papers.
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jul 29, 2014 6:38 pm UTC

Haaaaaaaaaaaa hahahaha... Psuedoscience bullshit properly called out. Well done dudes.

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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby zukenft » Thu Jul 31, 2014 5:59 pm UTC

interestingly, 10 billion years ago ( or 3b years after Big bang) is about the era when heavy atoms and complex molecules are created after the first supernovae.

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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby WarDaft » Sat Aug 02, 2014 2:04 pm UTC

Even if we give the paper full credit on basically everything (which would be silly) 1 million years is a rounding error on the age of the universe. Point of fact, 37 million years is the estimated error. Even if all intelligent life in the universe arises in the same million year span, you'd still expect two randomly chosen civilizations to be hundreds of thousands of years apart in their development.

The solution to the Fermi paradox I like best points out that SETI couldn't detect our own civilization from outside our solar system to date, and our own EM emissions are likely to decrease with time... so there's no reason to believe we could actually find advanced civilizations no matter how many are out there. The immense cost and ridiculous payoff delays for interstellar travel will probably never allow any profitable use of interstellar colonization, so there's no reason to expect anything other than a cursory long term scientific probe might have wandered through the solar system once.
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Aug 02, 2014 2:12 pm UTC

Aren't the payoff delays for interstellar travel only ridiculous for creatures of human-scale lifespans? There's nothing objectively ridiculous about them....
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby WarDaft » Sat Aug 02, 2014 6:19 pm UTC

Not really. Economically, there will be other investments that just pay off much faster. If it's a choice between spending $100 now to guarantee either $105 in a year or $1000 in 50 years (which would be suuuuuper optimistic for a time frame), the next year option is just better (about 15% better in this case). There's also the myriad of ways an interstellar colonization can fail and then never pay off.
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Aug 02, 2014 10:41 pm UTC

Yeah, but that's anthropomorphizing, like, a lot. You're talking about extraterrestrials. Hell, I imagine a significantly longer-lived species that was otherwise exactly like us would probably have a totally different sense of economics, either as a direct result or as knock-on effects of historical accidents that would happen differently.

There's no material payoff to colonies in any case. You can only send information back, at best.
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Aug 03, 2014 6:10 pm UTC

WarDaft wrote:Not really. Economically, there will be other investments that just pay off much faster. If it's a choice between spending $100 now to guarantee either $105 in a year or $1000 in 50 years (which would be suuuuuper optimistic for a time frame), the next year option is just better (about 15% better in this case).
It's only better if you can guarantee compounding at the same rate over each of the 50 years.

If the choice is between paying a dollar now to get $1.05 in one minute or paying a dollar now to get $10 back in 50 minutes, I'd personally go with the 50 minute option for sheer convenience if nothing else.

The real reason interstellar travel doesn't make much sense for a species with approximately our current level of technology is because there's nothing in another star system that couldn't be gotten more quickly and cheaply from our own.

Copper Bezel wrote:There's no material payoff to colonies in any case. You can only send information back, at best.
Actually, if you're starting from the assumption that time is far less of an issue for the ETs than it is for us, it might require less energy to send that information back in a physical medium than trying to beam it back electromagnetically.
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Re: A Moore's law for life in the universe?

Postby Copper Bezel » Mon Aug 04, 2014 12:44 am UTC

True, but it's difficult to imagine any other "commodity" worth its weight in interstellar shipping. So whether it's an immense beam of EM pulses or a sneakernet ship, I still think the purpose of the return "trip" is information only.
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