next up previous
Next: Containment Up: A PROPOSAL TO Previous: Harvest Time


Those who wish to support the digital biodiversity reserve by contributing spare CPU cycles should be prepared to make a long-term commitment. Nobody knows how long it will take for complex software to evolve in the reserve. However, a few years will likely be enough time to shake down the system and get a sense of the possibilities. If the desired complexity does begin to evolve, then the reserve should become a permanent fixture within the net.

A long-term commitment does not mean that the Tierra process must run uninterrupted. It is ok for the Tierra process to be taken up and down on any node, for whatever reason (the Tierran creatures will experience down time as a local catastrophe). However, the commitment suggests that an attempt would be made to keep the Tierra process running on a node most of the time for a very prolonged period of time.

The same problems are faced in the creation of reserves for organic biodiversity. Great effort and financial resources are required just to establish the reserves. However, that is only the first step. The objective of the reserves is to limit the extent to which human activity causes the extinction of other species. The survival or extinction of organic species is a process that is played out over vast expanses of time: thousands or millions of years. This means that if our rain forest reserves should be converted into pastures or housing developments five thousand years from now, they will have failed.

The organic companion proposal (Ray 1994b) is focused on the sustainability issue. The present strategy is to insure the long term survival of the nature reserves by finding ways for the surrounding human populations to derive an economic benefit from the presence of the reserves. In Costa Rica, at present, this can most easily be done through nature tourism. In the future other economic activities may be more appropriate, or perhaps some centuries or millennia in the future, humans will be willing to protect other species without the motivation of self-interest.

Similar concerns apply to the sustainability of the digital reserve. If the Tierra process provides no reward to those who run it on their nodes, they are likely to terminate the process within a few days, weeks, or months. Such a short participation would be meaningless. As an initial hedge against this problem, a tool will be distributed to allow anyone to observe activity at any participating node, from any node. Yet even this may not be enough, as such tools don't tell a lot about what is going on. To really know the interesting details requires greater effort than most contributors of CPU cycles will have time for.

An even more serious problem is that experience with operation of the system will certainly lead to redesign requiring reinstallation. The ideal situation would be to have the reinstallation done by the same people who do the redesign. However, this would be likely to require that the designers of the reserve actually have accounts on the participating nodes. Where the designers don't have accounts, the contributors would have to do the reinstallation themselves, and they would likely tire of the chore.

The willingness of people to support the reserve for the long term is likely to depend initially on the level of faith that people put in the evolutionary process as a potential generator of rewarding digital processes. Eventually, if all goes well, the harvest of some complex and beautiful digital organisms will provide rewards beyond our imaginations, and should replace faith with solid proof and practice.

next up previous
Next: Containment Up: A PROPOSAL TO Previous: Harvest Time

Thomas S.Ray
Tue Aug 1 16:54:18 JST 1995