Monday, March 10, 2008

Digital Organisms

I was sitting in class the other day and had a thought.

Before I detail this thought, the class I am taking is a gradate course at Cleveland State University titled "Bio-informatics", or "Computational Molecular Biology". To be brief, the purpose of the course is to apply computer science to solve many of the data processing problems when analyzing biological information. The objective is to determine the function and purpose of biological material to understand the evolutionary history of that material. For example, gene analysis. Genes are studied to identify a function in an organism. Modification and manipulation of a gene over time, or in a lab, yields outcomes to let us understand the function of that gene. This is a very simple example, but the point is made. If you want to learn more, please read up on the topic, a starting point might be some links below.

Now for my thought... can't digital information be studied the same way?

Think about it... Lets use the comparison of DNA. DNA is made up of four elements, or nucleotides, making up the alphabet to essentially make sentences defining the governing rules of an organism. Within an organism there are large strands of DNA that detail the entire genetic structure of that organism called chromosomes. We study the DNA sequence of the chromosomes to determine what genes do what (function). For example, eye color, hair color, height, facial expressions, all defined.

Now, lets compare that DNA to a data source. These sources can be anything, a file, a database table, a document, a photo, etc. All digital information is made up of the same fundamental alphabet. All digital information is created in a sense, has a life cycle, and is destroyed. The creating and destruction can either be absolute, or continues from another cycle. Based on the assumption that we know nothing about the digital information, how can we come to understand is function, purpose, and why it really ever existed?

We can do so the same way we come to understand genetic material and function. Lets use an example of data transformation. Given 3 data sources, how can we determine what was the combination of the datasets to form another? To be direct, assume two data sources as an input, and the outcome is a single data source (similar to human reproduction, a male, and female combined to form a child). The logic between the two sources and the target can be compared to as the combination process from the sources to determine the target.

We now have a map. If we can determine the mapping between the source, we understand how they combined to form a target, a part of its evolutionary history. This sheds light on what the functions and pieces are of the sources, given that they were broken down and reused in the target. The sources will always share a similarity to the target since that target was the result of the combination. We've also done so without any existing examination of transformation logic, or meaning of the originating data.

And so begins the accumulation of sequence information about digital material similar to biological. Each process of examination builds towards the whole. Eventually leading to a complete sequence of digital information, or a classified organism of digital information, such as a business unit, an identity, or any digital organism.

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