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In which Hank attempts to define what life is, argues that Google is in fact alive (albeit poorly) and then proves that individual lives have no (or extremely little) value for their own sake...with mouthwash.

To be clear:

1. I am not arguing that Google should be treated like a sentient life form. If Google is alive, it's alive the same way a virus is. The fact that it's alive does not change its ethical status. It is very interesting though.

2. While I don't value the individual lives of the bacteria in my mouth, I value "life" tremendously and believe that one bacteria in a world otherwise devoid of life would be the most precious thing on that world. But seeing as how there are trillions of bacteria within four feet of me right now, I'm not particularly concerned with their welfare. So "life" is not a good qualification for "value."

3. I have done some further research and it appears that the Mrs. Gren thing is not so much criteria for life (though they are often referenced as criteria for life) it's more like "properties" of we know it. I'm less interested in describing life than I am in determining what makes one thing alive and another thing not alive. Describing what we've got is easy, deciding the status of something that may (or may soon) exist is an entirely different matter.

4. I'm very interested in people's thoughts about about the "want" theory, though, obviously, this is a loose definition of "want." Does a plant really "want" to turn toward the What I'm saying is more "reacts to it's surroundings in order to fulfill its needs." But "Life Wants" just sounds so much better. The question of whether Google (or fire, for that matter) is reacting to its needs in order to fulfill its needs is an interesting one, but I don't really think that computer programs "want." They don't have needs, they have instructions....but how different is that from the instructions that bacteria have from their genes?

Finally, Google does satisfy Schrodinger's criteria of increasing order using available energy. I think Schrodinger's criteria is, in fact, better than mine since you can't argue that fire meets it (as fire increases entropy) and it makes me feel as if Google is, in fact, alive.

However, using this criteria, one could also argue that an automated factor that turns plastic into toys is also alive, as it would be using energy to decrease entropy. If it is truly autonomous though, that almost seems as alive as a virus to me.


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A Bunny
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((') (')
Good morning, John. Do you know what life is?

This question has always fascinated me. I mean, at first, it seems like kind of a simple question. Like, you're not dead, you're alive. Pretty big difference there. When you're dead, you're stinky, you're decomposing, you turn--and you stop moving. It's pretty--it's pretty clear.

But if you think about it for a long time, it's not whether or not I'm alive or dead, it's whether or not a virus is ever alive or whether or not a computer virus is ever alive.
What about Johnny 5 and those little things from Batteries Not Included? And if you weren't alive in the 80s, what about GLaDOS? If we don't have the definition, how will we know when we've created something that's alive? And does it really matter and is this all just pseudo-intellectual navel-gazing?

Navel-gazing is a weird term. Staring into your belly? Whoa. What is that?

So when I asked on Twitter, I got some funny answers, but mostly what I got was a list of criteria which appears to be what is being taught in schools right now. Move, respire, sense, reproduce, excrete, and nourish.

First, that is a list of criteria; it is not a definition. Second, that list of criteria seems a little bit unnecessarily restrictive to me.

Like, Lieutenant Commander Data? If you are a Star Trek nerd, he doesn't respire, he doesn't grow, he doesn't reproduce, but nonetheless, he is alive, he's more than alive, he's sentient.

So my personal definition--this is the one that I've come up with: life wants. If thing x requires thing y in order to continue its existence, and thing x shows attempts to acquire thing y, then thing x, apparently wanting thing y, is alive.

A side note, if wanting is in fact the fundamental attribute of what makes things alive, I think it goes a long to explaining why humans never seem to stop wanting. I mean, even if you got like twenty thing-a-mabobs, you got whozits and whatzits galore, still... (Internally, by echoey voice-over: Oh, I'm about to embarrass myself, aren't I?)
(Singing) We want more!

(Speaking normally) The problem with the definition of "want" is that it's fairly easy to create a computer program that wants something. Like, Google Search Bot, for example, wants to seek out and search information and send it back. But does that make Google software alive?

But beyond the biological definition, my favorite definition of life is Schrödinger's. And yes, Schrödinger, the dude with the cat.
So entropy is a physical, measurable physical quantity, quality, like mass, or heat, you know, and it's a measurement of disorganization. As your entropy goes up, you become less organized. My body, right here, from the strands of DNA in the cells of my feet to my delightfully tousled mop of hair is an extremely organized sy--really organized, just tremendous amount of organization.

But the second law of thermodynamics states that entropy must, as a rule, increase, and the disorder of the universe will forever increase. What, then, is this? This magnificent, near-perfect, amazingly organized meat that contains me?

Schrödinger said basically, I'm paraphrasing, life is any system that continuously decreases its own entropy using energy around it. Basically, Schrödinger took a fundamental philosophical question and answered it with an equation. Which is just amazing.

But if life organizes itself using energy, then Schrödinger's definition kinda is just as bad as mine when it comes to Google. Though Google no doubt was created by man, it currently, on its own, organizes itself using the energy that it has, which is the power from the power grid.

So, is Google alive? I'm going to break some rules here and venture a cautious yes. And you are welcome to comment on my idiocy in the comments.

Now there are some people who say that they value all individual living organisms just because they are alive. To those people I say mehhh. You don't really believe that.

I made a point this morning to not brush my teeth. Yeah, how is that related? But because I didn't brush my teeth today, there are approximately a hundred billion living organisms in my mouth right now. The question becomes: do all those organisms have value, and if they do, do I have a responsibility not to kill all of them? Uh, the answer is no, they don't have value, and I don't care if they live or die, 'cause my breath's stinky. And neither do you, at least, I hope, because you also kill billions of them every single day.

John, I will see you on Wednesday.

A line of GLaDOS from Portal, speaking in voice-over: "The only thing you've managed to break so far is my heart."