Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Binary Code Can Now Copy Itself Like DNA


Strings of binary aren’t all that different from strands of organic DNA; they both carry actionable information encoded into reconfigurable symbols. And, like DNA, with enough replication and slight variations, software could become resistant to viral attacks through digital biodiversity.

Taking inspiration from nature, scientists at the University of Denmark’s Center for Fundamental Living Technology (FLinT) devised a method that allowed information strings made of binary code to autonomously self-replicate and mutate in a virtual simulation. Basically, they got digital strings of 1s and 0s to act like the building blocks of organic life.

According to the researchers, this finding constitutes a step toward understanding how digitized information—knowledge and software—can ensure its own survival over time by continually generating variable copies of itself, like our DNA does, preserving valuable data indefinitely. As long as it has a physical container capable of computation, anyway.

“In the real world, everything falls apart. The mountains fall apart. Things deteriorate. For such a system to work, you need to be able to maintain long polymers—long molecules—that contain information,” Steen Rasmussen, the head of the FLinT center, told me. “I think that these autocatalytic, or self-maintaining, networks are very robust. So you can perturb them, you can take away some of the components, and they will immediately be regenerated.”

The team’s approach, described in a paper published in Europhysics Letters, involved creating a virtual pool of information strings (combinations of binary numbers, or “polymers”) made to act like the ingredients of a chemical reaction. 

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