- Education and Science
Carbon and Silicon
Life on Earth is not possible without carbon. Around 4 billion years ago, it was one of the most abundant chemical elements (others being oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen) when there was still no life. In times, carbon-based organic compounds were formed followed by its complex molecules that were the basis of the living cell. Today, all life forms are made of cells, billions of them; each performing a specialized function that is vital for the life forms’ survival on Earth. The proliferation of the intelligent machine is not possible without silicon. It is what sands are made of and has a unique property that allows the flow of the electrons to be easily controlled. Seizing on this feature, the human mind is able to create lighting fast machines that sort, store, and transfer information that is needed to fuel the advancing civilization. As the tasks are getting bigger, the machines become ever more complex and automated. Since intelligence and consciousness are the result of complex automation, it is just a matter of time that these machines that humans built will acquire the same capabilities that the human mind possesses.
Carbon is one of the 112 chemical elements that make up the Earth. Every in-animated or animated object consists of one or a combination of those elements. Carbon has always been one of the most abundant elements found on Earth. Its ability to combine with other elements to form compounds as well as complex molecules made carbon the basis of life on the once barren land. Around 3.5 billion years ago, fueled by the energy from the Sun, a carbon-based molecule called the nucleic acid was formed in an ocean filled with other chemical elements essential for life. This primitive nucleic acid possessed the property to replicate, change, and pass on the change that was the basic requirements to start the life process. From then on, there came the living cells, the oxygen producing algae and plants, the oxygen consuming fish, reptiles, mammals, and eventually human beings. All these living things are made of living cells. Inside the living cell are the DNAs. The DNA is made of the nucleic acids. The nucleic acid is hold together by the carbon. The human being is at the last stage of the evolutionary development of the life process that was started 3.5 billion years ago. This process is completed with the human’s capability to understand how and when did life start and what life is all about. This crowning achievement is primarily due to the formation of a complex automated neural network inside the human’s brain.
The humans with their awareness, curiosity, creativity, and tool-making ability became the only living thing on Earth no longer at the mercy of the unpredictable and harsh environment. In times, the humans learned to use the raw materials found in the environment to build machines to cultivate the land for food, to excavate the mountain for natural resources, to explore the universe for its origin, and to control their ever expanding local and global commerce. With the discovery of the chemical element, silicon, the machine can now be built with more complexity, in smaller size, and faster speed. Silicon is almost everywhere. It is what ordinary sand is made of. However, special processes are needed to:
1) isolate it from the sand,
2) combine them into useful crystalline chip,
3) design and etch electronic circuits onto the silicon chip,
4) package the finished product to be used in the machine.
The early popular silicon-based machines were digital watch, video game, calculator, and Apple II, etc. They were also used to connect the banking systems in an electronic network for reliable fund transfer and management. As the silicon manufacturing technology and the circuit design process are maturing, the calculator is evolved into the cell phone, Apple II is evolved into the iPad, and the whole world is interconnected by a fault tolerant network (Internet) that allows anyone with a cheap PC to do banking, shopping, researching, and emailing in the comfort of the home. The 24/7 Internet is controlled by the sophisticated and automated silicon-based machine that can correct soft errors, bypass and report hard faults and power outages, store and guard information for authorized access, record and trace information transfer, etc. To fuel the human’s expanding population and civilization, the Internet will be designed to:
1) generate the necessary power as needed,
2) repair failures and ensure reliable operation 24/7,
3) anticipate changes, add functions, and increase capacities as needed,
The resulting complex automation will be a thinking and living machine that will outlast its creators.
Life without Death
It has taken Nature 1 billion years to mode carbon and its molecules into life and another 3.5 billion years of continental drifts, meteor bombardments, natural catastrophes, and survival of the fittest to strike gold with the emergency of the human beings. The human has not only evolved with a brain that is capable of thinking but also a body that is capable of realizing its imagination and aspiration. The most incredible and amazing thing is that the whole package enables the human beings to figure out and visualize how it all happened from the very beginning. The carbon and its molecules are merely the building blocks of life. The humans need the silicon to help them figure out who or what is behind the building of life.
With silicon, the humans are able to build machines with minimum moving parts to increase reliability and durability, and in small size to pack in more functions and complexities. Silicon-based machine can do number crunching and data analysis in a fraction of the time, store and retrieve vast amount of information with minimum effort, etc. Realization the silicon’s potentials, humans start to implement the complex algorithms behind their thought processes into the machine. This machine can then help in diagnosing common human medical issues, executing the high volume, billion dollars stock transactions, forecasting weather, managing and controlling the complex land, air, and sea transporting systems, etc. Unlike the humans, this machine’s learning and memory capacities will never diminish and have no limit. It will be the guardian of the human’s civilization and maybe even the human’s savior.
It is not by chance that carbon is the most crucial chemical element that is responsible for the biological life on Earth. Everything on Earth is made by the precise arrangement of one or more of the 112 chemical elements. For example, water (H2O) is made of 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen atoms, salt (NaCl) is made of 1 sodium and 1 chloride atoms, ammonia (H3N) is made of 3 hydrogen and 1 nitrogen atoms, etc. The formation of the much more complex carbon molecules that are made of hundreds of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and phosphorus atoms needed to wait for times and conditions to allow the precise chemical reactions to take place. From then on, the road to humanity was long, slow, and treacherous, but guided by the life form’s simple ability to change in a sporadically changing environment. By applying Nature’s laws of physics, the intelligent humans are able to make silicon as the most crucial chemical element that is responsible for the mechanical life on Earth. The living machine may not feel and enjoy life as the humans do; but, it will understand that the humans are its creator and its role in life is to help the humans to fulfill their destiny on Earth.