Fluxes of Information Exchange

Species composition of the natural biota changes with evolutionary transitions of old species to new related ones. The genetic information of the biosphere changes in the course of evolution. Closely related species differ from each other in about 1% of their genetic information. The average species life span is about 3 million years. Thus, 1% of the genetic information changes in a single act of speciation approximately every 3 x 106 years. A complete turnover of the genetic information of the natural biota, 1016 bit (Figure 2a), takes about 3 x 108 years,

Store of genetic information in the natural biota

1016 bit 1016 bit

1016 bit 1016 bit

Store of cultural information in the civilization

Rate of genetic information change during evolution

Rate of cultural information change during technological progress

Information flux processed by the natural biota

Information flux processed by the civilization

Figure 2 Stores of information (a), rates of their change (b), and information exchange fluxes (c) in the natural biota and modern civilization. Reproduced from Gorshkov VG, Gorshkov VV, and Makarieva AM (2000) Biotic Regulation of the Environment: Key Issue of Global Change. London: Springer-Praxis, with kind permission from Springer Science and Business Media.

that is, about 1016s. The rate of evolution (i.e., the rate of change of genetic information of the natural biota in the course of evolution) is approximately equal to 1016bit/1016 s = 1 bit s" (Figure 2b). This extremely low rate of information change has been sufficient to ensure sustainable development of the biosphere, that is, to support evolution of the natural biota in such a manner that the latter has been able to compensate directional adverse environmental changes of cosmic and geophysical nature during the whole period of life existence, that is, during nearly 4 billion years.

The rate of information change during technological progress of the civilization is determined by the ability of people to generate and assimilate new cultural information. The present-day population of Earth can assimilate no more than 6 x 109 x 10bits"1 = 6 x 1010bits" The present-day rate of technological progress depends on the average time of renewal of modern technological systems, which is of the order of 10 years, that is, about 3 x 108s. Given that the store of information of the modern civilization is of the order of 1016 bit, the modern rate of civilization progress is about 1016 bit/3 x 108 s « 3 x 107 bits" . (This estimate is obtained under the reasonable assumption that the most part of cultural information of the modern civilization is represented by information stored in memory of specialists dealing with modern technologies.) The ratio of the amount of newly generated information to the amount of assimilated information for modern people does not exceed 3 x 107/6 x 1010 « 10"3.

The information rate of the progress of the modern civilization, 3 x 107 bit s"1, exceeds the information rate of evolution, 1 bit s" , by more than 7 orders of magnitude (Figure 2b). This provides an explanation for the unprecedented (as compared to all other extant and extinct species) potential of Homo sapiens to destroy the natural environment.

An estimate of the total information flux going through all modern computers can be obtained multiplying the average information flux in one PC, -108bit s , by the total number of people owning computers. Assuming that at present there is one PC for every hundred of people we obtain that the total flux of information in computers of the modern civilization is of the order of 10 bit s" . This figure will hardly ever increase by more than 6 orders of magnitude (by providing computers for all people on the planet and ensuring a 4-orders-of-magnitude increase of information flux in each PC), that is, up to 1022 bit s"1.

Even the present-day global computer information flux, 1016 bit s"1, exceeds the assimilation capacity of the brain of modern people, 1010 bit s"1, by a factor of million. Computers work on the basis of programs designed by people and speed up significantly the processing of information. But this only makes sense while people are still able to check and control the outgoing flux of information. All the information that is generated by computers and other mass-media devices (TV, cinema, video, theatre, music, etc.) above that threshold represents informational pollution of the environment. Informational pollution affects all the five organs of sense of people, and, among various types of pollution, presents the most dangerous threat to the mental health of humans.

In humans, metabolic power of existence in adults is equal to q = 140 W. The body temperature of humans is approximately equal to Tb ~ 37 °C = 310 K. The average thermal energy of molecules in the human body is equal to kBTb, where kB is the Boltzmann constant (kB = 1.4 x 1023JK—1). Thus, kBTb gives the order of the average amount of energy necessary to excite a molecule, that is, the additional energy committed to a molecule as compared to the average thermal level. Assuming that one molecule corresponds to one memory cell with two possible states (excited and nonexcited), that is, 1 molecule« 1 bit, we obtain that the information flux going through all living cells of the human body is equal to q/kBTb~ 3 x 1022bits—1. This value exceeds the asymptotic information power of possible future computers and by more than 12 orders ofmagnitude exceeds the assimilation capacity of the modern humanity.

Human body contains about 1014 living cells. Thus, every living cell processes on average about 3 x 1022/1014 « 108 bit s—1, which is equal to information flux realized in a modern PC. The biosphere contains about 102 living cells. Thus, the natural biota ofEarth as a whole processes about 108 x 1027 = 1035bit s—1, which is about 20 orders of magnitude more than the information flux of all computers of the modern civilization. Unlike in computers, molecular memory cells of living cells are directly coupled with the environment. Thus, the whole flux of information processed by the biota is used for correct interaction with the environment in control processes aimed at environmental and ecological homeostasis.

Energy consumption of the modern humankind is equal to 1013 W, which is only an order of magnitude less than the photosynthetic power of the natural biota (Table 1). But, due to the huge difference in the rates of information processing between the natural biota and civilization, any kind of anthropogenic energy use is inevitably characterized by a remarkably low efficiency, that is, low information content of most processes generated by the humankind with help of energy use.

The humankind spends a large portion ofits energy on transport, that is, moving macroscopic objects - cars, trains, people, etc. Motion of a macroscopic object is totally determined by only four variables - its mass and three coordinates ofthe velocity vector. Motion ofmacro-scopic objects can be fully described by a very small amount of information coded in corresponding macroscopic memory cells. It is in principle possible to efficiently convert the kinetic energy of moving macroscopic objects to gravitational or electric energy that could be further used for generation of complex correlated molecular processes similar to those taking place in a living cell. But the kinetic energy of transported objects does not generate any ordered, information-rich processes. It is spent on friction, and finally dissipates converting to heat.

Macroscopic motion can be found in natural ecosystems as well (e.g., locomotive animals). However, in stable ecosystems, the amount of energy allocated by the natural biota to this less-efficient channel of energy use does not exceed 1% of the total biotic energy consumption. Meanwhile humans spend on transport more than one-third of the consumed energy. The remaining part of anthropogenically utilized energy is spent even more wastefully with respect to the information content of the generated processes (e.g., heating of buildings).

The total amount of energy consumed by the humankind (Table 1 ) does not characterize the amount of work that can be done by humans in order to stabilize the environment. Of critical importance is the total flux of information that can be processed by the modern civilization. And, as far as information fluxes are concerned, the modern civilization is inferior to the natural biota (Figure 2c), which uses this flux to maintain ecological and environmental homeostasis.

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