The Game of Life
October 4, 2015 § 1 Comment
My first ever foray into science fiction came about out of my love for the horror genre. Early high school, I discovered my love for Asian horror films and began watching them ravenously. Back home in Beirut it was very easy to get my hands on bootleg copies of Japanese and Korean films, most ranging from blood-curdling to thought-provoking to butt-numbingly boring. I discovered Ringu, having watched the American remake with Naomi Watts a few weeks prior, and learned that the Japanese original is itself an adaptation of a book, the first of a trilogy by Japanese author Koji Suzuki – Ring, Spiral, and Loop.
I devoured the trilogy in three days. I had never simultaneously been so intrigued, distraught, frightened, and taken aback. While the first book fit nicely into the horror genre, by the time I reached the climax of Loop the story had become deeply entrenched in medical and computer science fiction.
Essentially the premise of the book, which was written around the same time as other explorations of simulated universes became popular, including The Matrix and The Truman Show, revolves around a simulated reality which attempts to explore our current conceptions of the evolution of life. In a way it resembles Cambridge mathematician John Conway’s 1970 “cellular automaton” The Game of Life. Given a set of predefined mathematical rules, a collection of cells “live” or “die,” grow, expand, regroup, and, ultimately perish. Since then, the field of evolutionary computation has made great strides in quantifying and simulating a host of different conceptions of the emergence of life and evolutionary processes, but Suzuki’s Loop was the first work of fiction I would read that tackled the singular question of evolution.
The book is successful due in no small part to the fact that it very heavy-handedly dives into the ethical quandaries surrounding the creation of “true” artificial intelligence in “true” simulated humans, these quandaries which to us now seem textbook territory when it comes to discussing AI. What sets this book apart for me, however, is the way in which it presents the question of the emergence of life: in the Loop, the massive simulated universe, life emerged with a single cell, but, curiously, there were no “rules” in the code that defined what life for that cell would mean. There were no preprogrammed states of isolation or happiness, friendship or community, plasticity or evolution. All they had was a cell. The show-stopping surprise is that life in the Loop simulation evolves in exactly the same way as life as we have known it on Earth. Every single work of human endeavor, ever bridge that was ever built, every painting that was ever painted, every tree that was ever cut down, every war that was ever waged, happened exactly the same way as it happened on Earth. Which brings the book to the big question, can the entire evolutionary process, with the staggering number of factors that play into it – genetic predisposition, mutation, environmental effects, natural selection – be quantified and fed into a computer simulator? Better yet, can the entire scope of human endeavor – as Loop suggests – cultural definitions, social evolution, technological progress, creative endeavor, be recreated with math and probability? In The Game of Life, different mathematical presets yield different evolutionary arcs for our organisms. Some evolve into a pattern and stagnate. Some proceed in some motion so that the entire community glides off the simulation grid into nonexistence. Some become trapped in their own loop of sorts, a mathematical loop that infinitely evolves and regresses them. Is there a “seed” to evolution? Check it out here: http://www.bitstorm.org/gameoflife