Life is a cyclic process; it waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows. The moon and the tide - there is an intimate link between inorganic and organic, environment and organism. So close is this association that these terms blend into each other, making them difficult to distinguish.

The 'Age of Rocks'

In traditional evolutionary history, life's progression through Time has been divided into 'Ages' or 'Aeons'. The 'Age of Dinosaurs' superceeded the 'Age of Pleiosaurs' and so on. Unfortunately, the fossil record stretches back only so far, failing at the pre-cellular ages. However life started, its origins must be rooted in the earth - though even on this point there is dispute. Geochemical cycles played their part; it is difficult to imagine early life forms that could avoid earthly interference. With feet of clay it is not surprising that many seemingly ancient biotechnologies for energy transformation involve rocks. Geophagy is more important than just digestion for many bacteria.

Machine Life

The intermediate 4 billion years have been rocky for organic life. Very recently though, a life form has gained unprecedented control over its environment. This has been bad news for most of the rest of life, but good news for silicon and other minerals. Once enslaved as bones, teeth and nettle spikes - we have begun to grant greater freedom to the inorganic. Shaping and selecting flint tools; writing on clay tablets; making networks of glass fibres. There has been an explosion in the diversity of metal and silicon forms in the last century alone. Electronics, optics, even hybrid organic-metallic nanomachines. With a greatly compressed time scale, evolutionary machines have the advantage.

Spin, Spin, Spin the Wheel of Fortune

Yet even now the seeds of new organic life are being grown. It turns out that electronics and optics are not limited to the heavier elements. Indeed plants and animals have had molecular circuitry and optical switches for several billion years. However, a similar reduction in scale and increase in computing power as machines remains a challenge. Yet how long would machine life ignore the synthetic properties of organic molecules. If we are ever foolish enough to let computers modify themselves they may find their victory short lived.

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