30 Cubed Challenge, Day 30, May 30, 2013.
I am a computer programmer and I am addicted to games. I never really wanted to be a programmer. Programmers were just people you hired to do the details after you worked out the concepts. They aren’t as low on the totem pole as engineers, but weren’t really people in any case. So why did I become a programmer? Mostly because I could not find people who could do the work I wanted done, well enough to suit me.
Maybe I should back up a little. I play video games. I find them relaxing. I am not really into the blast’em shoot’em up style games, but I enjoy puzzle games and games where you build things. One game called Evolution. It would let you build life forms and evolve them through multiple generations. It was fun at first, but soon I was pushing the boundaries of what could be done in the game. Most of their evolved life forms really were just a matter of putting the same limited number of chunks into different patterns. Sure there were many chunks, but you could never do anything beyond the predetermined chunks. About this same time the human genome was mapped. The genomes of different organisms were being churned out on a weekly basis. Biologists were able to see what effect turning on or off different sections of the chromosomes had on the development of the organism.
I wanted a game that would emulate this process. I wanted a game that would let me build organisms on amino acid at a time, one chromosome at a time, and grow the resulting organisms. With a good computer the entire organism could grow and live out its lifespan in just a few minutes. I could not find anyone who could program this for me, so I studied programming. I studied the biology of the DNA molecules. I tried to incorporate the newest and best genome sequencing information into the program. Eventually I had a working program. I started with a basic mouse chromosome set, the most thoroughly studied genome, and started tweaking.
With artificial selection I soon was developing organisms quite different from the original mouse. I would delete the ones that did not suit me and bread the ones that had desirable traits. I figured out how to automate the process to a large degree. I would select a group of designed organisms and let them breed multiple generations while I slept overnight. The first thing in the morning I would see what had evolved while I slept. I was caught up in the process, I would miss appointments, take time off work, forget to eat, caught up in the experiment.
I stopped it three nights ago. Perhaps I am undergoing withdrawal now. I don’t know. I would mix in different types of organisms to create a basic ecology. I added in food plants for the herbivores. I added a variety of terrain types creating a virtual world. I let them interact and watched what happened. Initially the organisms went about their expected roles by virtual instinct programmed into their codes. There were the expected booms and busts in populations as the predators would eat most of their food supply and then have a massive die-off. Then the herbivores would have a big population boom with few predators to eat them. Eventually they reached a more stable balance. With that balance, the organisms began to diversify. From the initial generalist organisms, they specialized to fill different ecological niches in the virtual world.
This where the problems began. The virtual creatures began to display aspects of learned behavior. They would learn from their own mistakes. At least that is what I think they were doing. Soon thereafter the creatures would form groups that cooperated with each other rather than the every creature for themselves pattern first exhibited. I watched this continue for several days, thousands of generations. Then they started building and using tools. That freaked me out. I saved their data files and turned off the computer. Now I don’t know what to do. They are not alive, by the strict definition of life we currently use, but I think the definition of life should be broader. And I think these virtual creatures are alive, a different kind of life, but still alive. I think they are individuals, and intelligent beings. That could just be my addiction talking. I might be caught up in my own delusion. But I am afraid to let the experiment run any longer. I am afraid to delete them for fear that I am killing thousands of intelligent beings, destroying an entire race. I don’t know what to do. I am afraid to tell anyone about what I have done, because they will think I am crazy. I am afraid to tell anyone for fear I lose control over the experiment and someone else simply destroys these beings I am responsible for. I have been sitting here for three days, and things just go around and around in my head. I can’t decide, and I can’t not decide. I don’t know what to do.