Computer viruses as the first experiences of a contact with extrahuman beings.
Department of Physics, Moscow State University, Moscow, 119899
A very important stage in a story of formation of any new science is the shift from discussion of situation which are possible but do not occur in practice due to some reason to recognition of real phenomena of interest. We believe that SETI problem can perform such shift just now, i.e. we believe that the first contact with extrahuman beings is occurring. We refer this new type of life as "extrahuman" rather as "extraterrestrial" because being very different from our type of life it belongs to the Earth and is intrinsically connected with human culture.
We suggest to consider computer viruses as this new specific form of life which is coming in the contact with our form of life.
Computer viruses appeared recently and demonstrated a substantial evolution. Many feature of its behaviour imitate corresponding behaviour of beings belonging to our life. Computer viruses reproduce themselves and are included in an active exchange of information and energy with surrounding medium. They can demonstrate an intrinsic evolution due to computer errors. Computer viruses can cause epidemic. Of course, many features of computer viruses are basically different from our understanding of the living being. This features seems to be most interesting in the phenomenon of computer life.
Material basis of computer viruses is fantastically distant from our protein-based life, they are located in INTERNET rather somewhere in physical space. Acceptation of time by a computer virus depends on the nominal time by a computer rather on a physical time. Correspondingly, one can avoid some kind of viruses shifting the data on his computer.
Computer viruses are occupying more and more important place in the life of human society. From April 1999, new type of computer viruses are discussed in TV-news. Available choice of antivirus soft-ware can be compared with medicine business. Computer viruses accommodate themselves to this medicine.
Phenomenon of computer viruses violates in many respect paradigm concerning most probable scenario of the origin of the life. Computer life has been created by human being, the role of independent evolution of computer viruses seems to be still negligible. Correspondingly, we should consider more seriously the idea that our life has been seeded on the Earth from an extraterrestrial sources in spite of the fact that traditional idea of an independent development of our life looks more attractive from aesthetic viewpoint. Evolution of computer viruses demonstrates that a life appears and propagates just after a minimal set of corresponding conditions becomes available. Really, computers with a more or less developed interface appeared about 20 years ago, computer nets has been widely developed in the last decade. From the viewpoint of computer life evolution, computers and computer nets should be referred as a pre-life, which is not able to reproduce itself however it supports the reproduction process of computer viruses. A possibility of computer life has been discussed at early stage of development of computer science, however it was supposed that a soft-ware which can reproduce itself should be so complicated that it should be created in an invisible future only. Computer viruses are much simpler then this hypothetical reproductive soft-ware and the disagreement should be presumably connected with an underestimation of the role of computer media, i.e. computer pre-life. If the computer life evolution shall have the same rate, we should think about a possibility to obtain in visible future a computer mentality, i.e. a computer human being.
The computer virus problem contains many aspects. From the SETI viewpoint, it would be very important to describe as soon as possible on a reasonable scientific level the first and most important stages of computer life evolution. Presumably, experiences of authors of antivirus soft-ware shell will useful. A critical analysis taking into account the computer life phenomenon of available scenarios of a contact seems to be very important. The scenarios has been developed without any influence of this phenomenon, however many pessimistic scenarios seems to be in agreement with observations. The contact results mainly in epidemic events which seems to be comparable with epidemics occurred during first contacts between Old and New Worlds.
We should stress the importance of the computer viruses problem for the national security (we understand the concept of national security in the most wide sense). Really, no principal obstacle is visible for creation of a computer viruses of a selective action and its directed distribution through computer nets in order to damage interests of a given group of person, i.e. for creation of computer viruses weapon acting like a biological weapon but not forbidden by any kind of international agreement. Creation of computer viruses weapon seems to be realistic even for a small criminal group with a limited material basis.
I am grateful to A.D.Sokolova, who attracted my attention to the SETI problem, and to A.F.Topunov for useful discussion.