The J Curve

Monday, August 23, 2004

The coolest thing you learned this year?

In the spirit of lifelong learning, what is the coolest new thing you learned this year?

Last year, I think it was at a dinner with Matt Ridley talking about the inter-gene warfare going on within our bodies, especially between the X and Y sex chromosomes.

For this year, I can’t seem to pick one thing. Conversations with the eponymous Mr. Smart come to mind. Here is an example of his thinking about the limitations of biology as a substrate for developing computational complexity.

Jaron Lanier is also a wonderful thinker, and when we writes for my favorite “interesting ideas” site (, it’s a potent combination. He makes an interesting counterpoint: “We're so used to thinking about computers in the same light as was available at the inception of computer science that it's hard to imagine an alternative, but an alternative is available to us all the time in our own bodies.”

Reconciling the two, perhaps biology will drive the future of intelligence and information technology – not literally, but figuratively and metaphorically and primarily through powerful abstractions.

Many of the interesting software challenges relate to growing resilient complex systems or they are inspired by other biological metaphors (e.g., artificial evolution, biomimetics, neural networks for pattern recognition, artificial immunology for virus and spam detection, genetic algorithms, A-life, emergence, IBM’s Autonomic Computing initiative, meshes and sensor nets, hives, and the subsumption architecture in robotics). Tackling the big unsolved problems in info tech will likely turn us to biology – as our muse, and for an existence proof that solutions are possible.


  • A fascinating read - and a wonderful break from liquidation preferences and participating preferreds.

    Glad to have discovered the J curve.


    By Blogger Q, at 11:23 PM  

  • Hey Steve,

    Could you elaborate on inter-gene warfare?


    By Blogger Anuya, at 10:03 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Steve Jurvetson, at 11:25 AM  

  • Q: thanks
    Anuya: Here is an example:

    Matt Ridley has written some wonderful books summarizing the inter-gene warfare going on within our bodies, especially between the X and Y sex chromosomes. The X chromosome spends two thirds of its time in women, and one third in men. X is evolving much more rapidly in its ability to attack Y than vice versa, and Y has withered over time, shutting down most of its gene targets (most of it is now non-coding DNA that serves no purpose at all). But Y has one very interesting and important gene: the SRY gene on the Y chromosome triggers the masculinization of the embryo. It is one of the fastest evolving genes, with 10x the normal variation between species. The reason: the X chromosome tries to shut down the SRY gene, distorting the sex ratio in favor of females. When a SRY mutation evades attack, it spreads like wildfire in the male population and becomes the new standard throughout all members of the species.

    This seemed pretty odd and inefficient to me at first, but then I thought of Dawkins: evolution is the survival of the fittest genes. Genes compete; organisms are the vehicles of genetic expression.

    Evolution may appear to proceed in the interests of the individual or the species, but in fact it is driven by the competition between genes.... and now complimented by competition between memes.

    By Blogger Steve Jurvetson, at 11:29 AM  

  • The coolest thing I have learned is the potential reversal of aging. The second thing was cryonics. And the last thing was space medicine with kardashev civilisation, star lifting and the dyson sphere.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:52 PM  

  • another thing I have learned is this ->

    (civilisation only really
    started when a few individuals lived long enough to be grand parents.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:54 PM  

  • In response to this post, Matt Ridley provided a wonderful update:

    “PS If you want to follow up on Y chromosomes, read the stuff that
    came out last year from David Page's group on the Y chromosome's
    palindromes: truly astonishing discovery. One is as long as half the
    complete works of Shakespeare and 99.97% perfect.”

    Imagine a “Madam, I’m Adam” of that length, and with palindromes nested within palindromes, hiding the secrets of male fertility.

    Here is a good overview and connection to further information:
    “To the researchers' surprise, groups of genes are arranged as palindromes: The sequence on one side of a piece of DNA is the mirror image of the sequence on the other side. During replication, this arrangement makes it easy for a good copy of a gene on one side to replace a defective copy on another. In this way, the Y chromosome compensates for not having a mate to pair up with during reproduction.”

    More marvels discovered every day….

    By Blogger Steve Jurvetson, at 8:49 PM  

  • Advisor of the Foresight Institute wrote a very, exellent text on immortality..

    Something which I became interested with is this sentence -->

    "Natural selection favors the genes of those with the most descendants. Those
    numbers tend to grow exponentially with the number of generations--and so
    this favors the genes of those who reproduce at earlier ages."

    First when I read this sentence below, I said we will create robots and they will become children.


    "Will robots inherit the earth? Yes, but they will be our children."

    But later I said no, our children will change to become robots ! See the clarification? Our children will upload their mind into computers, cars, robots etc.. making it possible with nanomachines..

    another sentence I was interested is this one ->

    "To make a replacement of your brain, we would need to know something about how each of your synapses relates to the two cells it bridges."

    enjoy !



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:52 PM  

  • another thing I have learned is Omega Point

    "The implication of this theory for present day humans is that this ultimate
    cosmic computer will essentially be able to resurrect everyone who has ever
    lived, by recreating all possible quantum brain states within the master

    "a simulation run on this Universe-computer can thus continue forever in its
    own terms, even though the external Universe lasts only a finite time"

    "Tipler identifies this asymptotic state of infinite information capacity
    with God."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:02 PM  

  • It sounds like that concept of bioenhancement is going beyond surpassing the knowledge that god created us with. If that is one day possible we might as well just say that we are our own god.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:03 PM  

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