Book recommendations : Computer viruses and such


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Book recommendations : Computer viruses and such

feb. 1, 2009, 9:45 pm

Any good books out there which explore the application of universal Darwinism to computer 'life' (programs such as viruses which 'reproduce')?

Are names like computer viruses, worms, trojans just metaphors inspired by their modus operandi or is the parallel with carbon-based life deeper than that? In particular I am looking for a book that details or is willing to speculate on the potential agents of 'natural selection' in the world of computer programs. A very recent account is desired.


feb. 2, 2009, 6:18 am

Can't think of any - and the parallel is not very close. The names were just inspired by the transmission mechanisms. There is no mutation of code. Different creators might write analgous viruses but once released they don't change their code - unlike real DNA. The only agents of natural selection would be anti-virus programs and filters servers, but the situtation is quite different.

feb. 11, 2009, 7:27 pm

Try asking LT Author Chris Adami. I think that's his field of research.

ag. 5, 2009, 3:50 am

There is actually a whole scientific sub-field dedicated to this topic. "Artificial Life" it's called.

I attented a couple of "Artificial Life" conferences in Santa Fe New Mexico in the late 1990's. I haven't really "kept up" with the field, as it were, but I'm sure there are still people out there doing stuff in it.

Things I remember from a decade ago:

- the field was divided into two "camps", people who thought that they were simply using computer programs to SIMULATE properties of living things, and people who thought that if their programs had properties X,Y,Z (whatever), they could actually be considered to BE LIVING THINGS (at least in the context of the "universe" of computer memory).

Of the people who wanted to "create actual artificiel life" (as opposed to "simulating" life), there was one guy -- Tom Ray -- who developed a system ("Tierra") that had self-replicating programs that he considered "alive": they reproduced, mutated, even "competed" for scarce resources like memory space.

Another big name in the field was Christopher Langton -- you may want to search on his name.

Virtual Organisms is a book that you may want to check out.

But like I said, I haven't kept up in the field. Try "Artificial Life" or "ALife" and see what the google spits back at you.

ag. 13, 2009, 11:39 am

What is universal Darwinism?

ag. 13, 2009, 12:00 pm

5 : I'm assuming (from context) it is the most general interpretation of the notion of "evolution", as a purely formal process: that is, a means through which the composition of a population of things can change over time through a mechanism that involves both copying and random change in an environment that constrains the traits of the population members.

That very abstract statement of "evolution" can be applied to anything: computer programs, ideas, cultures, whatever.

This would be as opposed to "biological darwinism", which is the specific instance in which the above abstract process applies to structural change in populations of living organisms.

ag. 13, 2009, 12:16 pm

The phrase "biological Darwinism" is devoid of meaning. Maybe you mean the theory of evolution through natural selection?

ag. 13, 2009, 12:26 pm

Hey, dude, I'm just talking about *uasage* here. We can argue all day about whether a term is being "correctly" used or not. I don't think it's useful to be that pedantic.

A lot of people use "Darwinism" and "evolution" interchangeably. As such, I would guess (again, from the context of the first post) that "universal Darwinism" would refer to something like the abstract process of diversification and selection in populations, and the word "universal" is added in order to differentiate it from the specific INSTANCE of "Darwinism" that is used in the discussion of biological organisms.

ag. 13, 2009, 12:34 pm

A lot of people with an axe to grind use "Darwinism". The problem is that "Darwinism" has no meaning except that given to it by creationists. People who accept the theory of evolution don't believe in Darwin. Anyone who uses the phrase "Darwinism", and especially a loaded phrase like "universal Darwinism" (since one of the claims made by creationists is that "Darwinists" think there is a "Darwinian" explanation for everything, including things like gravity and the formation of the Earth) is immediately suspect.

ag. 13, 2009, 12:44 pm

OK, I can see that interpretation. I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt in the above case (assume it was just uninformed term usage) -- but I won't deny what you're saying; I've noticed that pattern, as well.

ag. 13, 2009, 12:59 pm

See Darwin's Dangerous Idea for a philosophical approach to Darwinian Evolution (which I think is an acceptable phrase), wherein Dennett does take the idea beyond just biology.

There are some cosmological arguments that take things a whole lot further. In the multiverse theories, our universe is seen as one of many that has been spawned from some other universe, and spawns yet more via black holes. 'Our' universe is 'successful' in evolutionary terms because it is stable and supports life.

ag. 13, 2009, 1:30 pm

#11 says, "There are some cosmological arguments that take things a whole lot further. In the multiverse theories, our universe is seen as one of many that has been spawned from some other universe, and spawns yet more via black holes. 'Our' universe is 'successful' in evolutionary terms because it is stable and supports life."

This seems like a mis-application of the idea, based on a mis-understanding of the evolutionary process.

In the multiverse view, there is no actual selective force that "culls" some universes and leaves others. There is no real fitness function that selects the population -- universes without life are presumably still out there, they just don't have any observers.

ag. 13, 2009, 1:44 pm


The problem is that "Darwinism" has no meaning except that given to it by creationists.

Utterly wrong. "Darwinism" is a perfectly respectable and valid term that applies to the particular theory of evolution proposed by Darwin (differentiating his theory from many other theories of evolution). It is routinely taught and encountered in the fields and textbooks on general biology, evolution, history of science, philosophy of science etc.

If, as it seems, you learned everything you know about evolution and/or Darwin from skirmishes with North American creationists, please try to supplement this with some actual science.

ag. 13, 2009, 2:16 pm

But we don't call the Theory of Relativity "Einsteinism" or the Theory of Gravity "Newtonism" so why should be call the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection "Darwinism"? It's an over-identification of a scientific theory (that has been refined since Darwin) with a single person.

ag. 13, 2009, 2:26 pm

I agree with 14.

ag. 13, 2009, 2:55 pm


Who's "we"?

I'm pointing out a simple fact, not offering an "idea" for discussion.

ag. 13, 2009, 3:11 pm

On second thought--it takes me a while to shift from my usual context--perhaps this ridiculously trivial statement DOES need to be "supported" in here... Let's... google! Three out of first four hits (skipping the one referring to social darwinism)

Newton, Einstein--false analogy; there were many more pre-Darwinian concepts of evolution than of gravity and relativity, both concepts which originated with Newton and Einstein. But, frankly, a discussion of scientific terminology doesn't interest me--I just wanted to point out the statement in #9 was bullshit.

ag. 13, 2009, 6:18 pm

May I recommend The Emperor's New Mind, Redgiant?

Editat: ag. 13, 2009, 10:59 pm

13: Sorry, but the term "darwinism is simply a misnomer. The term has no meaning with respect to science - Darwin's theory was evolution through natural selection, and that's what any scientist will call it. The use of the word "Darwinism" was at one point moderately used, but it is now disfavored, as it is innaccurate.

Linking to a philosophy paper, a poorly written book review, and a wikipedia article that points out the perjorative connotations of the term in the first paragraph (and goes on to point that even the most innocuous usage has dropped out of favor) isn't really helping your argument.

ag. 17, 2009, 4:21 pm

To continue various tangents (sorry, redgiant)...

11, 12:

There are such theories of "cosmological evolution" (I don't give them much if any credence), but their statement is a little garbled in the first post, which says, 'Our' universe is 'successful' in evolutionary terms because it is stable and supports life.

Support for life is completely irrelevant; our universe would be successful in evolutionary terms if it produced a lot of black holes (for which stability is necessary but not sufficient). You can argue (far from convincingly, in my eyes) that our universe produces around the maximum possible number of black holes, making it "successful", and thus likely to exist in the "multiverse".

In these schemes, production of black holes is the fitness function: each black hole supposedly creates a "daughter" universe, which inherits the properties of the universe in which it was created, with some random variation. Universes which don't produce black holes are culled, and few if any universes with such properties will actually exist; universes which can successfully "reproduce" come to dominate the multiverse.

That all said, I think the whole idea is bullshit.


Galilean relativity is different than Einsteinian relativity, though the latter is typically referred to as "special" relativity, since Einstein (et al.) also developed a more "general" form that improved upon Newtonian gravity. Speaking of Newton, Newtonian mechanics (which is often just called "classical mechanics" and includes Hamiltonian mechanics and Lagrangian mechanics, probably among many others) is different than quantum mechanics in one historical direction, Aristotelian mechanics in another. Granted, these terms use a different suffix than "-ism", but still identify scientific theories with individuals, which is what you specifically object to.

(Best not to mention the "Higgs" mechanism.)


I find it tedious in the extreme to argue about terminology when meaning is clear. gregstevenstx's meaning was clear, making it perfectly fine to use "Darwinism" to refer to "evolution through natural selection" (though for reasons already mentioned repeatedly, I prefer to use the latter myself).

set. 2, 2009, 2:51 pm


Linking to a philosophy paper, a poorly written book review, and a wikipedia article that points out the perjorative connotations of the term in the first paragraph (and goes on to point that even the most innocuous usage has dropped out of favor) isn't really helping your argument.

You just don't know when to stop. Your original statement is ridiculous, and your defense of your own ignorance even more so.

I studied, teach and discuss evolution within my greater field of study (biochemistry and molecular biology), almost on a daily basis, and not with creationist twits on internet forums. I'm telling you how scientists, biologists and philosophers of science use language and the term "darwinism". If you prefer not to believe me, google "darwinism", "Darwinismus", "darwinisme", "darwinismo", "darvinizam" etc. and look up the professional sites that come--including, especially, scientific publishing houses.

I've no more clues to give. Ta-ta.

set. 2, 2009, 3:04 pm

OK, come on. Deep breathes, everyone.

I think it's possible that there are scientists who use the term "Darwinism" to refer to evolutionary theory, or to a specific instance thereof, without any pejorative connotation.

I also think it's possible that critics of evolutionary theory have latched into calling it "Darwinism" as a pejorative term.

These are certainly not mutually exclusive views.

Personally, I like using the term "evolution" to refer to the most general possible statement of the theory: an abstract statement about a way in which populations can change, something that can be applied to anything from computer programs to biological organisms. I then use the term "biological evolution" to refer to the more specific case of when we talk about living organisms changing as a result of the (more abstract, general) evolutionary process.

But that's me. People use words differently, and that's ok.

Editat: set. 2, 2009, 3:25 pm

Greg, there's nothing wrong with my breathing. :)

I'm thinking you aren't an evolutionary biologist. (Neither am I--but I actually TA'd for one course, and had two different evo-biology courses as an undergrad.) So, how you (or I) use the term evolution is neither here nor there, and whether you know how people who ARE in the field use "darwinism" is going to depend entirely on what you read and who you talk to. This, however, in no way affects the fact that "darwinism" has a specific meaning within the field and is used with that specific meaning routinely, with nothing "possible" about it. The creationist onslaught in the United States may have contaminated the public discourse, but that's not the scientists' fault.

By the way--always looking for ways to plug for favourites--for a greatly enjoyable, detailed, erudite, all-ready history of evolutionary theories, bypassing the piecemeal construction from papers (unless you'd prefer that), I recommend Ernst Mayr, The growth of biological thought, for instance.

set. 2, 2009, 3:38 pm

23: I understand your point. The relationship between scientific/jargon meanings and popular meanings has always been one of tension. It's why when I have taught statistics I prefer using the term "reliability" in the place of "significance" -- it's closer to the common meaning of the word.

My background is more computational, so I've been conditioned by discussions of "evolutionary algorithms" and "evolutionary programming" and so on. I'm sure this has biased my perception of the words. :)

Editat: set. 5, 2013, 10:47 am

A general public book on computer malware was written by 2 prize-winning reporters (2008, Union Square Press, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co.). It does a great job of explaining how computer software can expose its users to identity and financial risks:

Zero day threat: the shocking truth of how banks and credit bureaus help cyber crooks steal your money and identity

The book title refers to: (noun) a hazard so new that no viable protection against it yet exists.

This book gives examples from the PC platform, but others tell me that the Apple-verse also has its threats.

des. 25, 2019, 6:35 pm

Thinking it is ok to morph this topic into “Books about Science” in general; here is a link to 12 Science Books You Should Read Right Now by wired magazine.

des. 25, 2019, 6:54 pm

You would do better to open a new topic with a subject that fits what you want to discuss. This is from 2009 with one message from 2013. It is also specifically about computer viruses.

des. 26, 2019, 12:45 am

I agree with >27 MarthaJeanne:. But I have to mention: I only count 11 books in the Wired story. Am I missing something?

des. 26, 2019, 4:33 pm

As >21 LolaWalser: said, “Darwinism” is used among scientists as a shorthand for his theory of evolution. What others use it for, I can not say. There is really no point in arguing this. It’s just true. The fact that other people use it as a pejorative is not the issue here. I suspect Darwin might find his evolutionary principles being linked to computer-generated “evolution” quite shocking, but that’s not my field.

ag. 6, 2022, 12:38 pm

From 2021, a book takes a deep look at social media, how social media tries to fracture human culture, and our choices going forward:

If more gets published on this subject that is of general interest, we can split this sub-topic off from 'computer viruses' and stand it on its own feet.

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