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Old 03-27-2006   #1
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Virtual Life Form

This is fascinating... and a little bit scary, too.

Virtual Virus is First Simulation of an Entire Life Form
Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer
LiveScience.com
Mon Mar 27, 10:00 AM ET


This is no ordinary computer virus. Using a real-life virus as a model, researchers have built a virtual version using more than a million digital atoms.

Scientists have previously simulated small pieces of living cells, but researchers say this is the first digital simulation of an entire life form.


The achievement could lead to a better understanding of the inner workings of viruses and improvements in human health, the researchers say. It could also be used to help build nanomachines surrounded by shells similar to the protein capsid shell that protects viruses and helps them determine when to latch onto potential host cells.


Life or not?


Viruses are tiny bundles of protein and genetic material that straddle the line between life and non-life. Many scientists prefer to call them "particles" because even though they contain RNA or DNA like other lifeforms, they can only replicate inside other living cells. Viruses have evolved elaborate ways to infect cells and proliferate inside their hosts and are the cause of myriad diseases, such as flu and HIV.


For their project, the researchers chose to digitally reverse engineer the satellite tobacco mosaic virus due to its small size and simplicity.


In fact, the satellite virus is so simple that it can only infect a cell that has already been hijacked by another virus, the tobacco mosaic virus that infects a variety of plants.


Brief existence


The researchers used one of the world's largest and fastest computers to simulate all the atoms in a satellite virus and a small drop of water surrounding it. All together, the virus and water droplet contained more than a million atoms. Because of the enormous computing power involved, the virus was brought to digital life for a very brief period of time, only 50 nanoseconds.*

The achievement is a big first step in "test flying" living organisms, said study team member Klaus Schulten, a physicist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but it could still be a long time before scientists can simulate a digital dog wagging its tail.


The simulation, created by researchers at Illinois and the University of California, Irvine, is detailed in the March issue of the journal Structure.

*that's 50/1,000,000,000th (fifty billionths) of a second!
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Old 03-27-2006   #2
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Re: Virtual Life Form

I may be misunderstandint his, but if the simulations were accurate, one day scientists could test digitcal cells, or organisms to see their reactions to diseases, antidotes, cancers, cancer treatments, the need for test subject would be gone...
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Old 03-28-2006   #3
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Re: Virtual Life Form

Excellent. Since vast increases in computing power are a given over even the next few years, it's also a given that one day they'll be able to simulate entire cells, then whole animals. And test absolutely any chemical or virus on them.

My issue - once you can simulate a whole human brain, wouldn't it have feelings and such?
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Old 03-28-2006   #4
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Re: Virtual Life Form

Quote:
Originally Said by HolokittyNX
... then whole animals. And test absolutely any chemical or virus on them.

My issue - once you can simulate a whole human brain, wouldn't it have feelings and such?
That's exactly why I said it was a little scary too. When the scientists do eventually succeed in virtualizing an entire living thing, they will have, in essence, created a new life form which they will then feel they have absolute power over to do with what they want... There will be serious moral and ethical issues to contend with. (I'm thinking a little about that ST:TNG episode "The Measure Of A Man" where Data was being ordered to submit to that scientist's experiments until they went to court and determined that Data had the right to choose and wasn't Starfleet's "property"). Would an entire functioning virtual human brain be the creator's property or not?
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Old 03-29-2006   #5
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Re: Virtual Life Form

Quote:
Originally Said by ablethevoice
That's exactly why I said it was a little scary too. When the scientists do eventually succeed in virtualizing an entire living thing, they will have, in essence, created a new life form which they will then feel they have absolute power over to do with what they want... There will be serious moral and ethical issues to contend with. (I'm thinking a little about that ST:TNG episode "The Measure Of A Man" where Data was being ordered to submit to that scientist's experiments until they went to court and determined that Data had the right to choose and wasn't Starfleet's "property"). Would an entire functioning virtual human brain be the creator's property or not?
People can't be property. And everything that ethically constitutes a person - mind, soul, whatever you want to call it, is in the brain.

But I'd guess that almost anyone in the hypothetical scientist's position would understand that.
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Old 03-29-2006   #6
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Re: Virtual Life Form

If it's a virtual life form, it does not exist outside of the program or computer in which it was created, and therefore, IS property.

All it would be is a bunch of code anyway. That means it's incapable of functioning unless it is told to do so by a client software built to run it. Also, scientists cannot fully reproduce a human brain until they fully understand every working of it. There're still a lot of misunderstandings, debates, and discrepancies in the neurological field.
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Old 03-29-2006   #7
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Re: Virtual Life Form

Of course, this is an issue that's decades or centuries away. But the human mind's physical substance (in other words, the nuts and bolts of the soul) is those chemicals. Eventually we will be able to map every atom in a brain, and duplicate it. It would operate the same, just as if a human brain were physically replicated from the atom up. It would think and feel, as unpredictably and uniquely as your own noggin. The only way to avoid that problem would be to simulate only parts of a brain at once so that no overall consciousness could form.
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Old 03-29-2006   #8
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Re: Virtual Life Form

Researchers won't stop. They will succeed in virtualizing the various sections and systems of the brain, and will eventually integrate all these into a fully functional humanoid brain. And by the time they can do that, they will have probably constructed virtual mice, dogs, cats, chimps... etc. Sorry to drag up more popular entertainment to assist with making my point, but I'm now thinking of Ian Malcolm's quote in Jurassic Park: "You people were so concerned with whether or not you could do it you didn't stop to think whether or not you should do it."
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Old 03-29-2006   #9
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Re: Virtual Life Form

This is the way i see it:

If scientists constructed an exact replica of the human mind it would take a super computer so advanced that it would take up most of the space on Earth, therefor making it physically impossible at this time.

However-with technology advancing as fast as it is, in the future we will be able to construct computers that process faster and take up less space, therefor making a replica seemingly possible. If and when this is constructed the scientist would have legal rights to 'own' the brain, as the brain would have to be a replica of either the scientist making it or a donor patient, and the brain would have the same feelings and emotions as the patient.

This also implicates uses for a technology as advanced as this-what if we could have replicated Charles Mansons brain and studied it over 200 years instead of just his lifetime. We could learn so much more than is possible now. The possibilities are endless, the consequences are harsh, and the technology we have is insufficient at present. This is going to be another endless debate on morals in the future.
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Old 03-29-2006   #10
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Re: Virtual Life Form

A sentient person can't rightfully be property. It doesn't depend on circumstances or where they came from.
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Old 03-29-2006   #11
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Re: Virtual Life Form

Well firstly, I'm pretty damn sure they will not have the technology to "map" a human brain in any of our lifetimes, so there's really no point in the argument. The virus lasted 50 nanoseconds, and that was the most simple "lifeform" they could generate, the amount of computer power needed to keep a completely mapped human brain running, so to speak, is unthinkable, and the resources to map it in the first place are also unthinkable. So at the moment it doesn't really matter.

And secondly, Its like stem cell research and cloning, they might be screwing around with things, but in this case they are not actually using physical biology. I think this could be a way that they have come up with to stop the ethical wars, which you have turned into an ethical war. At the moment they test on mice, chimps, and all sorts of other animals, doing horrific experiments. There was even a thread a few weeks ago where they actually cut the optic nerve in mice and tried to regrow it. Nobody gave a shit then, so why all of a sudden when they are trying to replicate that digitally there is a problem?

If there were no controversial advancements in medicine and technology, we would not have the toilet, the car, penacillin, electricity, telephones and many other things we use today and take for granted.

People weren't meant to play god, however this isn't playing god, it's merely bringing his work into our boxing ring.
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Old 03-30-2006   #12
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Re: Virtual Life Form

As long as there is no physical replication of a human brain, there is no ethical concern. The virtual brain would not be able to function without the client software needed to read the code which constitutes its makeup. Unless the "virtual life form" had some means of self-subsistence, there are no ethical questions which need to be raised.
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Old 03-30-2006   #13
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Re: Virtual Life Form

Self-subsistence isn't the basis for human rights. Sentience is. Plenty of people can't even feed themselves or breathe without a machine. They're still human.

Quote:
Originally Said by stonic
Well firstly, I'm pretty damn sure they will not have the technology to "map" a human brain in any of our lifetimes, so there's really no point in the argument. The virus lasted 50 nanoseconds, and that was the most simple "lifeform" they could generate, the amount of computer power needed to keep a completely mapped human brain running, so to speak, is unthinkable, and the resources to map it in the first place are also unthinkable. So at the moment it doesn't really matter.

And secondly, Its like stem cell research and cloning, they might be screwing around with things, but in this case they are not actually using physical biology. I think this could be a way that they have come up with to stop the ethical wars, which you have turned into an ethical war. At the moment they test on mice, chimps, and all sorts of other animals, doing horrific experiments. There was even a thread a few weeks ago where they actually cut the optic nerve in mice and tried to regrow it. Nobody gave a shit then, so why all of a sudden when they are trying to replicate that digitally there is a problem?
Nerves and whole brains are two different things.

Simple question. I'm sure everyone's seen the Matrix movies at least 40 times apiece. The Oracle exists purely as code. She's never been flesh and blood, never will be.

Is she the property of the Machines?

Quote:
If there were no controversial advancements in medicine and technology, we would not have the toilet, the car, penacillin, electricity, telephones and many other things we use today and take for granted.
None of the above were terribly controversial. Nor is the usefulness of a scientific advancement determined by how many people it pisses off. But technology serves a purpose - improving human life. It's defeating the purpose if human rights are ignored in order to serve technology.

And I'm the last person to complain about any advance in technology. I'm waiting for the days of 'Ghost in the Shell' or 'Serial Experiments Lain,' where people can transubstantiate into digital beings if they see fit. I'd still have use for my body for as long as it worked, but of course some people's bodies don't work. What happens when a Stephen Hawking takes up residence on a server or neural net? If it's an effective transfer, those ones and zeros are still the person. Hell, one day the entire human body might only be a stepping stone in a person's growth. It wears out or you decide you're done with it, and spend eternity (why not?) as code and chips.

Quote:
People weren't meant to play god, however this isn't playing god, it's merely bringing his work into our boxing ring.
I'm an Atheist. As far as I'm concerned if we don't play god nobody will. I don't think the universe was designed, but that's what technology allows - turning one's ideas into physical reality. Somebody thinks of air moving past metal shaped a certain way, and that gets turned into an Airbus A380.

Last edited by HolokittyNX; 03-30-2006 at 01:33 AM.
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Old 03-31-2006   #14
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Re: Virtual Life Form

^That's not the point. There's no physical matter to make up a virtual life form, it only exists on the computer, in the client software which runs it. Even if it was decided that the virtual human was a sovreign being, what is it possibly going to do? Stand there bored all day? Or is there going to be some crazy court order requiring an interactive world be built for the virtual individual? Do you see what I'm getting at?

Living as that virtual human would be like living in complete nothingness, floating in a void. It makes no sense for it not to be property. I mean, once this technology finally comes to the forefront, it's going to be an organism lacking interaction of any kind, it's nutrition and such shall be controlled by entering data into the client software. Bottom line, it would just be a model of a person used for medicinal research. It would in no way(besides having the same anatomy, only virtual) be the same as a physical human being.
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Old 03-31-2006   #15
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Re: Virtual Life Form

We always got to have the nutjob in every group....


Its a machine. A computer program. If you ever stick up for a simulated brain in a computer, your a whackjob and should be institutionalized.

The only acceptable point would be if in the future sometime, owners of mutilated bodies had their brain/memory/whatever put into a computer/program version of their brain, then they could communicate without a body, or actual brain. But then again thats way in the future, so basically holokitty is a whackjob.

And no one is being God. We are just beginning to play 'God' the video game.
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Old 03-31-2006   #16
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Re: Virtual Life Form

here's a little something for the brain people Able, Holo... get a pumpkin and carve any face you want onto it. then get your brain and put it in the pumpkin. now give it a name and with that comes personality.
poke the pumpkin's eye, is he going to call you an asshole for doing that? nope. He did 'feel' like calling you one though didnt he? Oh so now the pumpkin's a living being?
LOL
guess i shouldn't have called the pumpkin he.

Quote:
Originally Said by Sytrohs87

Living as that virtual human would be like living in complete nothingness, floating in a void. It makes no sense for it not to be property. I mean, once this technology finally comes to the forefront, it's going to be an organism lacking interaction of any kind, it's nutrition and such shall be controlled by entering data into the client software. Bottom line, it would just be a model of a person used for medicinal research. It would in no way(besides having the same anatomy, only virtual) be the same as a physical human being.
i second that. God the videogame is a good one too.
although they have something of the likes of a "God" videogame. it's called The Sims.
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Old 03-31-2006   #17
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Re: Virtual Life Form

*had "God" the video game III*

booyah. haven't heard that in a while have you?
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Old 04-01-2006   #18
HolokittyNX
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Re: Virtual Life Form

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Originally Said by Sytrohs87
^That's not the point. There's no physical matter to make up a virtual life form, it only exists on the computer, in the client software which runs it. Even if it was decided that the virtual human was a sovreign being, what is it possibly going to do? Stand there bored all day? Or is there going to be some crazy court order requiring an interactive world be built for the virtual individual? Do you see what I'm getting at?

Living as that virtual human would be like living in complete nothingness, floating in a void. It makes no sense for it not to be property. I mean, once this technology finally comes to the forefront, it's going to be an organism lacking interaction of any kind, it's nutrition and such shall be controlled by entering data into the client software. Bottom line, it would just be a model of a person used for medicinal research. It would in no way(besides having the same anatomy, only virtual) be the same as a physical human being.
We've already got the robotics to make an artificial intelligence as mobile as a human being. The limiting factors are power and the AI itself. There's nothing that would necessarily keep an AI from interacting with people or other AIs. We've already got microphones, cameras, artificial scent detection, pressure sensors...some crude polymer muscles if you don't want to use motors. All of it's going to get smaller, more efficient, and more accurate. And routing servo and sensor circuits to a virtual brain will be even easier than connecting them to a real one.

Add to that the fact that the more we develop AI the more actual working robots we'll be using in all sorts of fields. AIs that'll have to move around and interact with people, and whose value will lie in their ability to think for themselves. The issue of whether sentient machines have rights is going to come up sooner or later (if not in our lifetimes).
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