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Old Apr 25, 2013, 07:26 AM   #1
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Moore's Law and the Origin of Life

Saw this and thought it was pretty interesting. My first reaction was that life doesn't increase at the same rate, partly at least because of mass extinction events which would cause the complexity to slow down, at least.

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Here’s an interesting idea. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years or so. That has produced an exponential increase in the number of transistors on microchips and continues to do so.

But if an observer today was to measure this rate of increase, it would be straightforward to extrapolate backwards and work out when the number of transistors on a chip was zero. In other words, the date when microchips were first developed in the 1960s.

A similar process works with scientific publications. Between 1990 and 1960, they doubled in number every 15 years or so. Extrapolating this backwards gives the origin of scientific publication as 1710, about the time of Isaac Newton.

Today, Alexei Sharov at the National Institute on Ageing in Baltimore and his mate Richard Gordon at the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Florida, have taken a similar to complexity and life.

These guys argue that it’s possible to measure the complexity of life and the rate at which it has increased from prokaryotes to eukaryotes to more complex creatures such as worms, fish and finally mammals. That produces a clear exponential increase identical to that behind Moore’s Law although in this case the doubling time is 376 million years rather than two years.

That raises an interesting question. What happens if you extrapolate backwards to the point of no complexity–the origin of life?

Sharov and Gordon say that the evidence by this measure is clear. “Linear regression of genetic complexity (on a log scale) extrapolated back to just one base pair suggests the time of the origin of life = 9.7 ± 2.5 billion years ago,” they say.
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Old Apr 25, 2013, 10:54 PM   #2
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You shouldn't use linear regression to predict values that are beyond the range of your data.

Why not?

Why look at this linear regression!



Extrapolating out another hundred years, it looks like men will be running the 100m in under eight seconds. That may be amazing, but it pales in comparison to the year 2600 or so when the fastest men can run the 100m in negative time.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 12:45 AM   #3
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"Complexity" of a genome is not an obvious thing to determine. Simply measuring the size isn't a good metric.

Incedentally, the lungfish has a genome of about 100 billion bps, and I believe there is a plant with even more. There are lots of plants and animals with much larger genomes than us. Who is more complex? Again what does that even mean?

Also, what is or isn't "functional" is a huge open question. We understand very little about our own genome, and we've spent billions of dollars studying it. So how can we say anything about other genomes that get substantially less attention or don't even have a draft reference genome sequence?
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 01:26 AM   #4
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In their paper, they proclaim that life on earth could not have been deliberately seeded by other intelligent life from elsewhere, but they fail to support this, it is just a bold, empty claim that fails in the math. If the universe is 13+Gyo, and the earth is 4Gyo, and it takes 10Gy for intelligent life to develop, there would have been plenty of time for intelligent life to form and then seed earth 3Gya, after a somewhat survivable environment had started to stabilize. Even time for it to traverse vast reaches of space at sublight speeds. Bad math suggests bad science.

Then, there is Moore's Law itself: how does it fit the curve today? It took us about 30 years to go from 1Mhz CPUs to 1Ghz CPUs, and now we are up to, what, 4Ghz? Has anyone tried to fit electronic progress to a quadratic curve, as Moore's Law indicates, or do we just say, "yeah, seems about right," and leave it at that?
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 02:15 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sydde View Post
In their paper, they proclaim that life on earth could not have been deliberately seeded by other intelligent life from elsewhere, but they fail to support this, it is just a bold, empty claim that fails in the math. If the universe is 13+Gyo, and the earth is 4Gyo, and it takes 10Gy for intelligent life to develop, there would have been plenty of time for intelligent life to form and then seed earth 3Gya, after a somewhat survivable environment had started to stabilize. Even time for it to traverse vast reaches of space at sublight speeds. Bad math suggests bad science.

Then, there is Moore's Law itself: how does it fit the curve today? It took us about 30 years to go from 1Mhz CPUs to 1Ghz CPUs, and now we are up to, what, 4Ghz? Has anyone tried to fit electronic progress to a quadratic curve, as Moore's Law indicates, or do we just say, "yeah, seems about right," and leave it at that?
Moore's law is still alive and well. It says the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years, nothing about the clock speed, I believe.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 02:42 AM   #6
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interesting read. (this is the actual article: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1304.3381v1.pdf)
I m not sure however how accurate are the 'reading points'. they make a lot of assumptions which might or might not be correct in what to consider 'functional'. which is being re-considered all the time especially in higher eukaryotes, with the ever increasing recognition of RNA complexity and epigenetic mechanisms.
if you push the latter points 'up' a little, the intersection on the x axis quickly moves to the right by billions of years.

nevertheless, a lot of interesting considerations.

one that i disagree with, though, is the assumption is that all life would develop at the same rate and on the same direction. we have no idea about that.
if there is life in other worlds it might be completely different and, for example, not DNA-based.
or even if it is (which is honestly unlikely) in a different context the 'doubling of functionality' could occur, say, every 250 million years, which would dramatically shorten the time needed to get to 'intelligent life'. not to mention the key role played by the various mass extinctions due to planetary crisis. without them the curve would very likely look completely different
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