Autocatalysis of Information

"The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life" — Danny Hillis, 1993

Autocatalysis, a word I learned today from listening to Danny Hillis's TED talk from 1994 in Monterey, California.

It was a word he used to describe the current technological leaps that we experienced through the advent of mediums: of Internet, and an entire lineage of past medium shifts, such as CD-ROMs, Telephony, to language itself.

I particularly enjoyed the perspective he offered in terms of the evolution of information. Perhaps McLuhan prescribed a similar explanation?

Hillis described evolution in terms of the history of information storage mediums. At first there were droplets of chemicals that stored information, then they became cells. Cells furthered their chances of survival by grouping and exchanging information/DNA with other cells. Through evolution these cell groups morphed into communities.

The communities allowed cells to specialize in functions; eventually they became interdependent, and they formed what we called, organisms. The evolution of information took on the next stage in an interesting turn through the development of neural systems within these organisms.

Evolution of information at that stage no longer depended on genetics or the guidance of survival the fittest. In humanity's case, it became a matter of learning and storing information, and of exchanging information. We developed languages to communicate those ideas with each other. This was when the mediums started to accelerate.

The rest was history where we went from language to print, to morse code, radio, telephony, internet.

All of this, was autocatalytic. The product of the evolution only accelerated the next product in line.

His talk put the image of Conway's Game of Life in my mind. Especially the way he described programming, and the application of this type of evolution in creation of software. This was the future in 1994, and still is, in our distant future.

As autocatalysis goes, we will need to learn and give up controls of our medium.

Here is the TED talk by Danny Hillis: Back to the Future (of 1994): http://www.ted.com/talks/danny_hillis_back_to_the_future_of_1994.html

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