Reading Prey by Michael Crichton

At the moment I am enjoying reading Prey by Michael Crichton. I’m a slow book reader (over a decade of web-surfing has changed how I read), so I am only a little way into it (please don’t reveal the plot to me).

Anyway – in-between the drama he writes about distributed processing and agent technology along with Nano-tech. I won’t pretend that I full understand the science of it all but it facinated me enough that I was unable to sleep thinking about how it all works. Earlier this week I ended up getting up at 2am and reading biology sites and writing code for an hour to emulate an ant colony (one of the examples from the book) in search of food deposits.

The code kind of worked, although I think that I optimised the algorithm to the point that it wasn’t interesting to watch (dots and trails on the screen). At the moment the code is spread out on the floor (so to speak) as I try to figure out how learning works.

One of the tips from the book is that you can try to break problems down into simple parts, so I am trying to model some basic instincts and devise a system where these basic instincts can form into sequences or complex behaviours in successful members of the colony (basically those who make it back with food).

Unlike Marvin, I don’t have a brain the size of a planet so I have a few questions floating around my head. For example, assuming the evolution geeks are right and we all evolved from single cell organisms, how does a cell splitting effect the genes in the cell? How do single cell organisms evolve into organisms get to a point that they have something called instinct? How do they get to a point where they stop just being cells divding and start producing complete replicas of more complex structures? How do these self replicating structures start requiring binary relationships?

Do I need to get a life, or do I need to do some more reading – hang on – reading is what got me into this mess. Learning is a slippery slope . . .


2 thoughts on “Reading Prey by Michael Crichton

  1. Alan A. Kopta


    I’m an electrical engineer so bio-engineering is a bit out of my league,but I think I can help you with some rudiments of evolution. At some point the goo from which life supposedly originates, after a period of time developed Desoxyribo Nucleic Acid (DNA) the cool thing that seperates DNA from other chemicals which is that it is a double helix. The nifty thing about the double helix is that it can be torn apart and then in the presence of the right mix of chemicals each half can be put back together in the original configuration producing a chemical duplicate. Organisms, even single-celled ones are a mix of differentiated parts, it is not clear how we get from primdial ooze, a mix of the right chemical to single-cell organisms. Sorry, but for more you may have to read.

    -Alan A. Kopta

  2. Mitch Denny

    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for replying! Actually I was looking at this stuff again last week. I think the problem is that when we approach this stuff we try to model exact behaviour of nature where we could simulate nature with much simpler algorithms.

    Its really facinating stuff though – I think I may need to do some reading into DNA to really appreciate this side of things – thanks for the pointer!

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