Reese Jones is an Associate Founder of the Singularity University (SU). Singularity University’s mission is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges. Those accelerating technologies include artificial intelligence, robotics, and digital biology. SU was founded as a non-profit in 2008 by renowned innovators Ray Kurzweil and Dr. Peter H. Diamandis. Reese Jones’ keynote at APIdays Paris focused on how Blockchains and their APIs evolve like biology. A look at evolutionary history of biological life information flow provides insights into likely futures for blockchains and APIs.
What is the link between APIs and biology?
Biology uses technology for communication between cells. In fact, APIs communicate like cells communicate, and this might give us ideas about the evolution and the future of APIs.
If we observe a Petri dish, we see a differentiation of species all based on DNA, because there is diversity in nature, in an ecosystem. Blockchain has also evolved in different species with slight variation, like different species that will survive fails depending on their characteristics. The principle of Darwinian natural selection, with the survival of the fittest, can also be applied to APIs. Some API can be good for Real Estate usages, other for Parking Meters. APIs will survive or fail depending on how well they fit in their ecosystem.
History also gives us examples that monoculture, that standardizes nature, brings diseases. The potato crisis in Ireland, that led to the great famine of 1845, was due to a parasite that attacked and wiped out all potatoes cloned from a single potato. Will API evolve diversity or standardize? In biology, diversity is favored, for survival in an ecosystem. Diversity brings stability. If you create an ecosystem with a diversity of APIs, you might lose some of your API but not all of them.
In nature and biology, can we find other rules that can apply to technology?
DNA and blockchain work in very different ways. Unlike blockchain, DNA doesn’t save every “transaction”, meaning that each DNA replication (when individuals reproduce) doesn’t keep track of every earlier replication. An evolutionary factor of biology is to save energy. As a comparison with the storage capacities of DNA: the human genome takes less space, 1.5 Gigabits, while Bitcoin’s blockchain currently takes 150 Gigabits. And bitcoin storage needs increase at an exponential space, since Blockchain replicates and keeps history of every older blocks. This is less efficient and consumes more energy.
So, for different types of applications we also need to think about their energy cost, and bitcoin requires a considerable amount of energy for mining (similar to reproduction). For the flow of information through an API, this means simple read-write.
Are there also risks we can anticipate through the study of biology?
Distributed ledger systems are thought to be universally good by the developer’s community.
What we see in biology is the evolution of multi-cell organisms with a specialization of cells to form certain organs, and an immune system that has the responsibility to protect each cell and the whole body. We see the same specialization in human societies, through jobs, and the equivalent of the immune system with the police. But a completely decentralized surveillance system would authorize “shoot and kill” to protect the entire organism. This decentralized surveillance system destroys privacy and has severe and rapid consequences.
Can human beings evolve outside of the rules of biology?
The human species is unique to have evolved to the invention of grandmothers. In most other species, the individuals are fertile until they die. But grandmothers live on for another full generation, they are like a memory outside of DNA and across time, and memory increases the survival rate of their offspring and grandchildren. They are therefore beneficial to the selection of their gene line.
In the far future we could see the evolution from a biochemical to electrical life. What defines a person is becoming more and more information, genetics is only a part of who we are. What makes us who we are, is information, as in what we learned from our parents, schools, our medical records, our social media interactions, our social credit scores. We are increasingly made of more digital information, and the digital is growing faster and constantly moving like an information wave that we are surfing on.
Written by Séverine Godet
This article first appeared on Medium.