Home Computers Join Artificial-Life Research

Internet-connected units will act like a supercomputer

By Tudor Vieru on September 30th, 2009 06:44 GMT
A massive cluster of high-performance computers may have the ability to artificially generate new forms of artificial life, experts believe. Numerous combinations of chemicals are put together in a virtual environment, and their interactions are documented. Silicon Valley scientists propose turning software originally used to search for extraterrestrial life into a comprehensive tool to look for for such possible forms of life, in thousands of computers around the world.

The first initiative that took to people's personal computers was the SETI@Home project, which sifted through massive amounts of data in order to assess the possibility of extraterrestrial life existing among the stars. The project was started by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, program, The New York Times reports. The new initiative is entitled EvoGrid, and its purpose is to search for patterns of self-assembly within computer simulations modeling the evolution of life on the planet.

This tendency is one that is very important to the development of life. When the Earth's primordial soup was filled with large amounts of amino-acids, it was self-assembly that allowed for them to form proteins, and RNA, later on. “The main challenge, is not the generation of some kind of novel molecular interaction. Rather, it’s the analysis and trying to see what’s going on,” Silicon Valley computer scientist Bruce Damer, who first proposed the EvoGrid in his dissertation, says.

The expert adds that the keys to the Grid's success are two open source software projects. One of them, funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), allows experts to take advantage of free computing cycles, available on computers connected to the Internet. For example, 500,000 computers were recently connected through this project, and a total computing power of 2.45 petaflops was obtained. The program is entitled Boinc.

Gromacs is the second initiative. It was developed by experts in the Netherlands, and it is able to detect molecular interactions in computer simulations. It will be instrumental in EvoGrid's plans of creating a simulation of the primordial ocean, which will be populated with virtual, self-assembling molecules. The project will benefit from the huge computational power of Internet-computers, which far exceeds that of any single supercomputer. “We can’t build cars and airplanes or even toys these days without computer modeling and simulation, So why not biochemistry?” Damer concludes.
Studies on the origin of life have come a long way since the early days
   Studies on the origin of life have come a long way since the early days
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