Parasite Processing [B-Life Model]
Parasite processor
Image from Steve Bowers

Parasitism is a very wide spread strategy in the natural world and there are parasites that exploit nearly every form of life, including other parasites. Parasite Processing is the technique or act of one entity exploiting another's resources for the purpose of data processing. In the B-life model this involves the use of biotech placed in biological life-forms and from this point on all references to "parasite" or "parasite processing" in this article are of the B-life model (except if otherwise noted).

Parasite Processing can be a difficult subject for discussion, partly because many bionts are uncomfortable with the idea of something crawling around inside them and partly due to the many variant strategies for its use. For example, in Envomes parasites are just one of the vectors used. Perhaps the best place to start is the Seventh Sagittarius Periphery War, when Parasite Processing was forced into the mainstream conscious of the Terragen Sphere by the Soft Cathedrals. The Softbot superiors had been fighting the Sagittarius Sphere, off and on, for almost a thousand years and they had turned to Parasite Processing as a way to gain some high ground. A hundred years earlier the Softbots had begun using BioGeoComputing as an addition to their terraforming projects but found that the resulting Bio-Geo Planetary Brains were too slow in their thinking. [And such minds only get slower if they ascend.] Although the Softbots never intended to use these brains tactically, as the Biovirate would do centuries later, they did find them useful in strategic planning - they just needed the development of these plans accelerated. Ironically the Softbots' use of Parasite Processing may have hastened their destruction at the hands of the Sag Sphere as "cleansing the parasites" became a battle cry in the Eighth Sagittarius Periphery War.

The main barrier to fast computation in a Bio-Geo Planetary Brain is the loose/porous rock in which its micro-organisms live. It not only lowers the population density of these micro-organisms but also slows communications. By giving a BG Brain consent to contaminate their well-water with the appropriate organisms the life-forms above the ground, with their greater freedom of movement and denser concentrations, could act as messengers and higher speed sub-nodes. With Parasite Processing any surface life-form could be used to extend the capabilities of the BG Brain, but of course some life-forms are more useful than others: Fast, global travelers (such as birds) could act as messengers and large, herd dwelling animals (like horses or humans) could be linked into an entity that was itself transapient. Or at least that was the possibility. Had the Softbots actually gained the advantage of post-singularity minds they most certainly would not have lost to the superbrights of the Sagittarius Sphere. As it was, it was only after the destruction of the Soft Cathedrals that the full potential of Parasite Processing would be realized.

Although the Softbot system of Parasite Processing was not the first it became noteworthy because of its extensive application; both in the number of neogen parasite types that could infect one life-form and the numbers of life-forms that were allowed to be infected. In their system the infection starts in the gastrointestinal tract and spreads to the lymphatic system to set up a number of different biocomputers (with different capabilities) that are linked together to create a sub-node that is greater than the sum of its parts. Micro-organisms first collect in the colon (large intestine) where they organize into a DNA computer, large in volume it is capable of massive parallel computing. From there gengineered bacteria invade the surrounding lymph nodes and expand each of them to about the size of the spleen. The bacteria then set up a more advanced type of molecular computer in each of these that uses the parallel interactions of peptide sequences and antibodies. This type of molecular computer has some critical advantages over DNA computers: While a DNA computer can only use four letters of code one using peptides can use twenty. The peptide-antibody interactions are also more flexible with respect to recognition and affinity than an interaction between a DNA strand and its reverse complement. Generally, after this initial infection larger parasites (worms) move in. One type is a tape worm.

Tape worms live in the ileum (small intestine) of animals, a place rich in pre-digested food. As a result tape worms can absorb all their nutrients directly through their surface and don't need much in the way of supporting organs for themselves. A baseline tape worm is made almost entirely of reproductive structures with a small "head" for attachment. The Softbots' neogen tape worm on the other hand was made almost entirely of neural tissue and formed a biocomputer well suited for sequential computation. This neogen linked itself to the other biocomputers through the peyer's patches and lacteals of the animal's lymphatic system. Other neogen worms of the Softbot system of Parasite Processing are various nematodes (or round worms), and flukes (or flat worms) if the host is a marine animal, which can collect in any number of body cavities or tissues as loose neural networks that can reconfigure themselves as needed. One of these 'worm neural nets' even forms on the outside surface of the blood-brain barrier and can set up a basic DNI, allowing a sophont host to access this processing resource. However with their system the Softbots could bring to bear an amount of Parasite Processing in a single hu sized individual that it could gain sapience independent of its host or (theoretically) basic transapience in a much larger host and the DNI could also allow the parasites to guide the host's actions to some degree. Yet it was in groups of individuals that a BG Brain could gain a real advantage - potentially high transapient servants with a chronometric rate faster than the same below the ground, even when taking into account their distributed nature. But for that an inter-host communication system was needed.

For most data transfers the ubiquitous nematode is sufficient. Able to survive in any ecological niche on a terraformed world, these worms are easily taken into a host with their food. They are also robust enough to either survive a trip through their host's digestive system or find a way around it so the data held in their large bodies (large relative to other micro-organisms) also survives. This way it can be passed on to the host's Parasite Processing system and, later, passed on to the next host. However, although this form of inter-host communication works well enough for subsapient hosts most sapient hosts create some form of food preparation (to make eating more enjoyable) that destroys parasites. They may even take to filtering their drinking water (to improve its taste and look/clarity). For this reason the Softbots also created a data transfer protocol utilizing viruses.

Viruses don't have a lot of space in them for information not related to their own continuance so the Softbot system of Parasite Processing puts that information into the parasites instead. Each of the gengineered nematodes in their system has a number of extra gene sequences that do nothing other than generate viral protein shells, or capsids. These gene sequences are never allowed to enter the capsids so their volume is freed up for data. Even so the space is limited so this data is broken down into packets and each packet is enclosed in a capsid with a predetermined shape. In this way a data stream can be released as a 'numbered' sequence to be reassembled later in a new host, it is the host's own lymphatic system that performs this reassembly. When a virus finds its way into the host's body it is quickly consumed by a white blood cell and taken to a lymph node. Once there it is only a matter of waiting until all the viruses in the sequence are collected.

In the overall system different data streams have different functions and it is possible to have different infection vectors matched to them. For example, an airborne virus is suited to broadcast messages. An airborne virus can infect any number of citizens passing through a given area but the results are random. On the other hand the infection vectors for a waterborne virus are more controllable. Water is easily contained and separated for different uses. One of the most obvious uses is data input and output.

Tapping into the ubiquitous computer resources of a Bio-Geo node involves drilling a well and such wells can also provide a surface population with fresh water. It thus becomes a simple matter for a BG Brain to use these wells to distribute data to its surface nodes. In fact because these wells can be privately owned it's possible for different data streams to be inputted to different hosts with great selectivity.

Another infection vector are social contacts - the so called "sexually transmitted infection (STI)." A society has structure and by the very nature of society individuals form connections with other individuals and maintain those connections over long periods of time. These connection can branch and loop into complex structures and a BG Brain can exploit those structures with a well designed STI.

Sophont hosts offer the greatest possibility of upgrade to a BG Brain. They are often very social beings that can live in very high densities if the appropriate infrastructure is in place. A factor that can greatly increase the chronometric rate. That these hosts are also fully capable of building such infrastructure themselves is a bonus. And as such infrastructure often includes high speed global transportation systems the viral vectors can be pandemic so it is not just the chronometric rate that sees an increase. The better their transportation system is the more nodes the distributed intelligence can include, and thus the greater its potential toposophic level. A global population of infected humans can become a godling as great as the BG Brain they live above, with the advantage of being faster but at the cost of not being as well protected.

Parasite Processing doesn't need a Bio-Geo computer of course, and in the current era it sees its greatest use as a biotech augment for individuals. The Softbots made every effort to gengineer their parasites to be as benign as possible to their host and this work was continued by others after their loss so many bioist clades have no problem using it as if it was just another form of bioborging. A full suite of these biocomputers in an otherwise average but mentally prepared neb can push him/her into the superbright level.

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Text by AI Vin
Initially published on 23 January 2008.