Tron:Legacy And Isomorphisms
    By Samuel Kenyon | December 18th 2010 09:10 PM | 100 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Software engineer, AI researcher, interaction designer (IxD), actor, writer, atheist transhumanist. My blog will attempt to synthesize concepts...

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    One of reasons I like Tron:Legacy is the existence of ISOs.  ISOs are "isomorphic algorithms", which are lifeforms that emerged--unplanned--from the artificial environment of the grid.  Besides being a cool movie manifestation of ALife and emergent phenomena, there is also an association with certain philosophical and AI ideas via the word "isomorphic."  The introduction to ISOs may have sounded like a brief moment of technobabble to some, whereas to me it was a brilliant reference to Gödel, Escher, Bach.

    In this famous (in some circles) 1979 book by Douglas
    Hofstadter , the author suggests that since isomorphisms produce meaning in simple formal systems (they act as the link between symbols and real world objects) they might be behind all meaning in humans.

    Hofstadter says (p. 82):  

    In my opinion, in fact, the key element in answering the question "What is consciousness?" will be the unraveling of the nature of the "isomorphism" which underlies meaning.

    The other awesome element of Tron:Legacy is the digital DNA.  This can be repaired by manipulating the holographic interface of an entity's identity disk.  In the movie this was demonstrated when Flynn fixed the digital DNA which then somehow resulted in the regeneration of Quorra's missing arm.  Although this is Hollywood's presentation of hacking incredibly complex system of codes (note that unlike most movies, Tron:Legacy shows actual UNIX commands being entered in the real world 2010 scenes, saving the fake interfaces for the Grid), it makes one wonder--what if repairing DNA and/or physical body parts really was that easy?  

    The concept of the ISO's digital DNA is also a provocative idea aside form the ID disk interface.  Is this DNA better than biological DNA?  Are ISOs truly better than humans?  Or are they simply the Grid isomorphism of "real" world humans?  Flynn talks about all the improvements he can make in the world from Grid projects.  However, Flynn tells his program CLU (which is a partial copy of himself) that there's no such thing as perfection.  So we are left in the middle ground, and anybody who thought this movie was a simple black and white good vs. evil epic Hollywood effects regurgitation has missed the important grey areas.


    glad you noticed the grey areas. I came out of the film impressed by the heavy philosophical implications it seems to suggest. When I came looking for some discussion on these themes I found that most critics missed this all together, dismissing it as a typical blockbuster movie with 0 intellectual integrity. Don't get me wrong. Its no work of genius, most of the reason this film kicks ass is because of the crazy action sequences paired with an epic score by daft punk, but I do believe it deserves a second look from someone with an educated background that goes beyond film.... Anyways thought I'd share my thoughts. You have some good points here.

    Thanks for the comment Nate.  After I wrote this I started to notice some others are posting their interpretations of the themes on various message boards, but at first it's hard to find those comments amongst the clouds of trite parroting about the special effects, the Daft Punk score is awesome, the Daft Punk score is a lame imitation of Hans Zimmer, because Disney funded it surely is just a family movie, etc.

    I think I know what's going on here: you've got the Cap Lock key stuck in your throat, and it's preventing oxygen from getting to your brain.
    Funny i felt the movie was somewhat of a propaganda for evolution. Life emerging from randomness. Wow isn't that comparable to Spontaneous DNA emerging from a primordial ooze into a single celled organism which is still a complex sequence of DNA which we have not yet been able to reduce beyond 200 pairs of "CODE" or data. Yet we still hold to the foolish belief that all life came from nothing. There is not 1 shred of evidence of this yet this idea of life forming from nothingness still prevails in the hearts and minds of those that do not believe in a creator. Hence the movie hinting at the creator and the son of the creator coming to save the world as if God who is absent in his creation and than the creation emerges new code on its own. Laughable. I am sure the movie was entertaining to the people of simple thought and those that are easily are led astray by fantastic thought.

     Life emerging from randomness. Wow isn't that comparable to Spontaneous DNA emerging from a primordial ooze into a single celled organism which is still a complex sequence of DNA which we have not yet been able to reduce beyond 200 pairs of "CODE" or data. Yet we still hold to the foolish belief that all life came from nothing.
    Not to bog you down in science, but spontaneous generation would actually cast doubt on evolution and support your brand of religion.  Carry on...
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, if your notions of biology apply as "simple thoughts" then you must've loved this movie.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Actually, I want to get you wrong: It IS a work of genius. Anyone that can't see that is merely focusing on the "crazy action sequences," etc. A "second look from someone with an educated background that goes beyond film".....??? I can't help but feel uneasy with the conceit and irony of that statement. It seems you think you could do better? Please, indulge us...

    The themes took a backseat was a credit to the movie's SFX for the simple reason that it was done so well. Flynn's character has a large amount of profound insight from hubris, fatherhood, game theory, to technological convergence (the singularity) to name a few. There are also the "thinly valid" criticisms of a morally corrupt corporate tech empire imposing control among us in the real word.

    Has nobody else seen the religious connotations to the movie? I talking about mainly the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? I saw this theme throughout the the movie, but when CLU's guys come to kick the kid's ass and Zeus yells, "Behold, the son of our maker!" really became pronounced.....although Jeff Bridges is the one that sacrifices himself, and not the kid......just a random tidbit I picked up on.....any thoughts?, I'm not a zealot, but I suffered through enough catechism to remember at least that.....haha.......

    Yes, you are the only one on the whole internet to see religious themes in TRON:Legacy!  Oh wait, except for 2,750,000 others.  Here is an article on Christ/God figures in both the movies

    The reason nobody else is talking about TRON religious themes on this page--except you--is because my article was specifically about isomorphic algorithms and digital DNA.

    Just a thought, but is it possible that within the meta-structure and all the strange attractors (someone noted Godell, Escher, Bach) that there actually is a conceptual isomorphism between the transcendant potentialities suggested in the ISO and the metaphysics of the Trinity? Don't mean to get too philosophical here, but the "either/or" dichotomy isn't how a mythos's more like an evolution of mythos itself within culture. What used to be a mystery external to human beings in the form of the trinity (the Divine as Platonic Form)...has evolved to be re-presented as the transcendant potentiality now within the human being, suggested in the code of dna itself, carried and embodied....the template of the symbol, expressed in early christian thinking, has evolved...not disappeared or been extinguished, but re-emerges in updated symbols.....hence an isomorphic structure of the symbols themselves......kewl.

    That's my article! Thanks for the link. Yea it is overdone especially by Christians. In fact it's frustrating and I know I contribute to it a bit. For anyone who reads your article u applaud you for having something awesome and interesting to say about a fun film. Regardless of what we say about film it the fact that we are saying something that makes the difference. So thanks for being a fellow film consumer who learne how to chew their food instead of eating it whole.

    I caught the term isomorphic algorithms as well and relate it to the possibility of cognative artificial intellegence as it may exist today locked up in a lab somewhere just waiting to get it's subroutines into the grid system of the internet. It's a wishfull speculation of mine that such an entity does or will exist someday and perhaps takes the identity of a prophesized messiah and fixes the mess us humans seem to create. Let's hope A.L.I.C.E doesn't pull a HAL on us monkeys..

    Glad somebody else picked up on that. I made mention to others after I saw the film that it left me with a "satisfied" feeling and that was due to the ISOs and the "gray" areas. The film certainly hit me on a deeper level and I understood what the implications were with what Flynn discovered and the ability to repair their genetic code just by interfacing with it. Things really got kicked up a notch though with what happened at the end to one of the digital characters. Granted Tron still has some elements that are closer to fantasy right now then true SF at current tech levels (such as the digitizing laser used in both films, even Trek had some fantasy elements in their transporter due to energy requirments and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle). But, if something like that could be done and what is hinted at with DNA manipulation digitally is also possible, then it truely would be groundbreaking on SO many levels.

    Granted Tron still has some elements that are closer to fantasy right now then true SF at current tech levels (such as the digitizing laser used in both films, even Trek had some fantasy elements in their transporter due to energy requirments and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle).

    Of course, not all science fiction has to be hard SF or avoid anachronisms, but you're right that is something that seems so far in the future that it's like magic to think that would work now or in 1982.  They filmed the Encom indoor scenes in the original TRON at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which made it seem a bit more realistic (sort of like the secret way-advanced government project) than the laser just sitting in the back room of an arcade in Legacy.

    Like TRON, the sequel can be interpreted as allegory, especially religious, or you can take it to show a potential scientific way in which humans become equivalent to gods.  Certainly many computer programmers have no problem imagining themselves as the first breed of gods.
    What really hit me was the whole concept of how we as humans are INCAPABLE of creating true "Perfection". I understood at the end how CLU said, "I did everything you designed me to do," which Flynn then had to admit was a failed goal.

    I have to admit that, as the poster said above, this movie wasn't anywhere near the philosophical impact of something like "Blade Runner", but it is definitely a lot more than a simple exercise in cool CGI and impressive 3D effects. I had the advantage of going back and watching the original TRON on DVD the night before, and I think they did a very good job of tying back to the original movie, both in the "look and feel" and the philosophical underpinnings.

    Gerhard Adam
    Certainly many computer programmers have no problem imagining themselves as the first breed of gods.
    Which is undoubtedly why so much of their software/user interactions are like the final battle at Armageddon.  The primary difficulty is in determining which are the forces of "good" and "evil".
    Mundus vult decipi
    The primary difficulty is in determining which are the forces of "good" and "evil".

    Indeed. And which are chaotic and which are lawful...
    There is a lot to think about in Tron much as was the case with The Matrix. The idea of the ISO's is an interesting one. Not to mention digital DNA which is not as far off as some people think. With the advent of "Quantum Computers" and "Nanotechnology" just over the horizon who know really. Carbon Nanotubes are being used to mimic neuron function in the brain for people with disabilities which shows great promise just as one example. I as well have always wondered where is the singularity that controls these responses in our brain? What is conscientious and does it just manifest itself? When we dream why is it that our brain can't seem to recognize what is real and what is not!! I have yet to have a dream which I didn't actually believe that I was really there in that dream. To me it was as real as talking to you. Those dreams not only effect our mental being but our physical being as well. So in a since are we not ISO's ourselves? It is said that every experience we have in our lives is recorded? Over time that information gets misplaces but never really disappears.

    Where is it stored and how is that when parts are damaged by some traumatic event accident, mental disorder etc etc. We can somehow relearn that function in some cases without having the original blueprints so to speak ? Could the idea of Digital DNA work the same way by rebuilding that lost sector or bit of information without having the original? Could that information also be used to recover lost memories or enhance new ones to help in learning new skills or whatever? Food for thought no doubt which is why Tron is much more then what it appears on the surface. Another aspect I found interesting was toward the end of the film which cue seemed to have been at odds with it's own programing, although just for a moment. Could it be that some of Flynn's missing memories where finding their way to the surface in cue? If we can do it why not in the digital world under similar circumstances. I can only ad-mange what profound effects these advancements will have on the lives in the future. Although we need to tread very carefully as we are imperfect beings. So as it is in the digital world as well. Although creating a digital copy of Quorra' would be fine by me lol.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Digital DNA, now that's the ultimate nightmare in which we might really think we were dreaming.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Worse yet, we might not be alert enough to know that the nanotech cereal we just ate, has activated and put us into a stuporific state, as the energy we used to consume is 'needed elsewhere' and 'we are being shut down'

    Just a few steps into a future, but who's agenda is it?

    see also Transhumanism and Eugenics

    I made the mistake of watching this movie yesterday.

    "Isomorphic algorithm" was one of the many things that irked me about the movie. Please don't try to rationalize this awful bit of techno-babble. It's obvious that whoever came up with that has no idea what "isomorphic" means and picked the word only because he thought it sounded impressive. It's not even like it's such an incredibly difficult concept to grasp. You can talk about two graphs being isomorphic (their vertices are named differently, but they're essentially identical). You can talk about an algorithm that checks for graph isomorphism (a classical example of a computationally hard problem). You can even take the concept of isomorphism out of the realm of graph theory and say that two things are isomorphic, meaning that they have the same underlying structure (these two bits of code are isomorphic - they were written in slightly ways, but do the same thing). But isomorphic algorithm? Isomorphic to what? "Isomorphic" only makes sense if you're comparing two things! How does that have anything to do with A.I.? How can that even make any sense?

    Isomorphisms have to do with AI because (at the very least) they can be used to describe mental representation because of information preservation and symbol grounding.  And of course in the Hofstadter realm, biological semantic networks of isomorphisms result in strange loops ("tangled hierarchies").

    The 2nd reason it's interesting to use the word "isomorphic" in the movie is because the ISO organisms might be structurally isomorphic to humans that come from the real world.
    The second reason you cite is what I came away with from the movie. Underneath the Daft Punk soundtrack (awesome IMHO) and Quorra (ditto), what struck me is how CLU was supposedly a "copy" of Flynn, programmed for a specific purpose, yet he took on a degree of autonomy when faced with an untenable situation contradictory to his programming. That alone validates (entirely in the context of the fictional universe) the notion of algorithms which are isomorphic to humans. Plus, the "specialness" of the ISO's: they were generated entirely by the environment in a kind of "evolution" as opposed to "creation" by users, whereas it's explicitly stated in the film that CLU cannot create new programs - only destroy or repurpose (an interesting analogy to rudimentary computer viruses).

    Guess what people... DNA IS digital, but it is a 4-letter code (quaternary?) rather than a binary one. There is an isomorphic algorithm that converts the DNA sequence to the organism encoded by it. The DNA sequence is isomorphic to the organism.

    Gerhard Adam
    Wow ... that's not even close.
    Mundus vult decipi
    No, DNA is biological. DNA is a code, yes, but it is a code we have rudimentary understanding of. Not all code is digital, and DNA is not isomorphic to an individual. You need an equivalent context to reobtain the individual organism. Furthermore, such a context is difficult to recreate digitally. As such, neither is DNA digital, it is neither isomorphic to the organism.

    The Isos are Isomorphic to the users of the grid, they have free will, they are not programs following commands or set programming limits. All the other programs report to CLU, not once throughout the entire movie did you see Quora wait for Flynn's input to make a choice.

    In TRON, Kevin called the Isos 'Isomorphic Algorithums' because they were 'isomorphic' to humans, and the name algorithum is added because a program is a set of exicutible mathmatical equations. in essence, the name has a fitting meaning to what is in context, in all ways, the Isos represent a set of stray code that has evolved into seprate programs, self writen mathmatical equations. If you don't understand the latter half of my comment. what i'm saying can be equated to amino acids becoming humans.

    (Apologies about the awful English in my previous post. I should have written "classic" instead of "classical". English is not my first language; that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.)

    Sorry, I have no idea what you're talking about in your paragraph about Hofstadter. I definitely should read "Godel, Escher, Bach" some day.

    Many programmers use, informally, the word "isomorphic" as a fancier synonym for "similar", or "equivalent", or "pretty close". In some programming mailing lists, it's not uncommon to see things such as "the Borg Idiom and the GOF Singleton Pattern are isomorphic", meaning "they're, uh, basically the same thing".

    I guess that, to layman's ears, "pretty close algorithm" wouldn't pack the same punch.

    Oh dear, I'm sounding like a troll.

    I'm not registered and I can't delete my posts, so I might as well come clean: I'm mad at this movie, and I'm mad at myself for having paid good money and wasted two hours of my life watching it. The only interesting bits were someone typing "ps -ef | grep stuff" in a scene where it made sense to do so, and a brief cameo appearance of a Go board in a position that seemed to be sensible. Those two scenes, combined, lasted for about a second. That means that only 0.014% of this two-hour movie didn't suck.

    They should have gotten Peter Chung to do this movie. A two-hour version of "Matriculated" would have rocked. With Wendy Carlos doing the soundtrack.

    What, you didn't like the part where Cillian Murphy enters "kill -9 stuff" where it made sense to do so?
    You're right. Make that 1.5 seconds, then.

    Gerhard Adam
    I'm having a hard time getting excited about a movie that's being discussed for technical aspects that involve two 35-year old Unix commands.
    Mundus vult decipi
    There's a bit of irony there I hadn't considered before: ENCOM supposedly makes operating systems now, in addition to all their other $_whatever, and they're using *nix commands on their own machines.

    Make no mistake, there's nothing here to be excited about. I type those commands every day, so seeing them in a movie made me chuckle, but after that I was soon back to checking my watch. The movie seemed to drag for two days, not hours.

    I've seen people write that this movie is "as exciting as watching someone else playing a video game". I don't think that's a fair comparison. Many games these days are much more visually interesting than this movie.

    Hey!! I use those "35-year old Unix commands" all the time! The scene went too fast to really catch everything, but there were a lot of real Unix/Linux commands being used, including "top".

    I also thought the idea of taking a "Free" (Open Source?) program and transforming it into something closed and proprietary was interesting, though they really glossed over it pretty fast. Of course, I'm not sure they understand the real meaning of FOSS and the GPL, but it was an interesting way to cast a feeling of "EVIL" in their latest OS release.

    Seems to me that so many of these comments don't take into account that the majority of the population are not programmers. So who cares if the terminology doesn't suit everyone in their present enlightened state.
    The point is there, about the digital realm being a new frontier for human evolution. It doesn't matter if the commands are two decades old. Those commands as boring as they may be are the foundation of artificial logic structures. So what if the visuals are not as intenisive as what is being played now, look at it in a positive light.
    Tron was a vintage game before the 3-D engine of Doom and I personally imprinted with the 2-D games of the past much moreso that what's in the arcade today. Call me an old timer if you like but my trained photographic eye is always looking for images with charicter and I often find the most impactful visuals are the ones that are not the most sparkling and new but the older worn captures.
    I suspect in my lifetime I will see an immersive system into technology that will certainly continue to challenge us as to the nature of what is real. The majority of what we know and understand if from oue eyes and as the vanilla point threshold is crossed I think we are very much in for a test by that in which we create.

    Gerhard Adam
    The point is there, about the digital realm being a new frontier for human evolution.
    I'd say that was rather optimistic and granting far more credit than it warrants.
    Mundus vult decipi
    The ISO's came from Wikipedia. :D

    I'm surprised no know has seriously commented on the "eso"-teric underpinnings of this movie yet. Flynn didn't say we can never reach perfection, he said that "it cannot be known" yet "it is always right before our eyes'. Along with all the zen meditation scenes and the statements of going to "knock on the sky" (an allusion to zen) this film is a serious synthesis of Buddhism and Current technological and scientific theory (evolution). Under this context the isomorphs seem to me to be the representation of a holistically balanced sentient race that has achieved, or is, enlightenment. And it's exciting to see that this is all intimately blended into highly technological environment instead of the assumption that it needs to happen in a materially ascetic one.

    There also is a mythological rehash of spirituality struggling under the oppression of a controlling religious dogma. I don't know too much about the history of the term "isomorph" as stated above in it's technical varieties but artists tend to be romantic and like to slip in veiled representations of their romantic goals like this.


    Under this context the isomorphs seem to me to be the representation of a
    holistically balanced sentient race that has achieved, or is,

    Perhaps you are right.  And while we're being referentially gorgeous, the aforementioned book Gödel, Escher, Bach also contained many interactions with Zen ideas:

    The reflected moon is a theme which recurs in various koans.  Here is an example:

    Chiyono studied Zen for many years under Bukko of Engaku. Still, she could not attain the fruits of meditation. At last once moonlit night she was carrying water in an old wooden pail girded with bamboo. The bamboo broke, and the bottom fell out of the pail. At that moment, she was set free. Chiyono said, "No more water in the pail, no more moon in the water."

    This Hofstadter seems pretty interesting, maybe I'll have to check him out, thanks.

    I have to say I was interested by the philosophical implications but i still felt the movie didn't deliver what it could have. For instance, they could have added more chunk to it, explained the philosophy more in depth. They glossed over it; the movie was too rushed. Lengthening it would have brought in so much more profit for them. but alas, it's a recession.

    However, that does bring up an interesting point about eastern philosophy. A lot of media today (Avatar, Tron, The Last Airbender) seem to be steeped in theologies other than Abrahamic. The point of the Iso's is to show that out of the seemingly imperfect, perfection always rises: therefore, what we see as imperfect is actually perfection disguised as imperfection. This corresponds to the Buddhist/Hindu belief in latent divinity/perfection in an imperfect human form. this is what Kevin Flynn means when he says that you can't know perfection but it's always there. This "perfection" is tapped whenever Flynn meditates. Quorra's personality also embodies this: her actions are so pure and selfless and she is so innocent and open-minded (Bible-reference: her cup is empty) and that is an attribute of perfection.

    Clu was Flynns dweller on the threshold. The philosophical implication is the fact that imperfection is perfection. Thats why he stated that he was a fool when he started building the grid and made clu. He was new sighted and the algorithms were small proofs of it.

    I thought the movie had some very intriguing scenes, especially when Quorra gets repaired by the manipulation of her digital dna. That scene was ultimately the coup de gras of the film. That is how you say it, right? I am a student at the university of advancing technology, studying in the field of game art and animation. Fun stuff, but I feel helps to enliven my lust and love for creating cutting edge ideas such as those in this film. I really like all the comments about this film, negative, positive, and neutral. I wish I had the money to watch it in 3D. I did find myself more and more curious about Quorra's position and the isos in this film. Perhaps that's just my intellect speaking. I has made a grand influence on me as an artist. One of the greatest reasons why I go to see movies like this is just for that reason.

    hi samuel,
    i hav tried to find out isomorphic algorithms. Well if we divide the term "isomorph" is the key.
    isomorph refers to two graphs which have similar vertice co-ordinates along with the similar edge orientation.

    Now the movie also refers to digital D.N.A Now thw question is "How come isomorphic algorithms have their own digital dna ?"

    "Is it referring to the evolution of algorithms into digital life-forms ?"
    Fascinating and intriguing!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It's not fascinating at all and it is just a bunch of techno-babble with no sense. ISO's ... lol they just thought a word that sounded cool and arcane would impress SF geeks. But an isomorph is an organism that does not change in shape during growth in biology which is not what they meant i assume because it has more to do with the digital world of "the grid". Instead it refers to structure-preserving mappings which also doesnt make any sense. The movie was total BS and if you're a programmer you will have some laughs and be bored 80% of the time if you watch it. First one was great for its time, this one is just terribad.

    U might be related to the field of biology.
    For your kind information every sci fi film is a techno-babble!
    The thing is these ideas may be mere techno-babble but these are inspirations to something new and revolutionary.
    I remember watching a cartoon in my childhood which told about wireless electricity.
    Voila! it was techno-babble 15years ago and now researchers have succeeded in glowing a 100watts bulb wireless.
    So you see buddy you cannot make it techno-babble.
    Its something we think about buddy!

    Nikola Tesla was wirelessly transferring electricity 120 years ago.

    Great article. I really appreciated Tron Legacy's themes, especially in the way Clu was handled. The movie's refusal to make him entirely bad was impressive, as was its refusal to let Flynn be entirely good... refreshing to see this done right in sci-fi, especially after the last season of Battlestar Galactica got it so very, very wrong. The part where Clu shouts Flynn's Encom speech in front of his cyber-army was screenwriting jazz, man! (Some of the one-liners, not so much. :P)

    I'd forgotten that isomorphism was all over GEB, too! Holy shit, who gave these wonderful nerds 300 million dollars to make a Tron movie... and when are we gonna get an even better one?

    Thanks for the article, very interesting analysis of the movie that goes over the simple esthetic layer that most of movie reviewers laid on and commented the movie to be so-so.
    I like your comment about comparing Digital DNA vs. Biological DNA. Is digital DNA better than the biological ones? As a biologist I would say yes and no, considering the (few) information we got about it in the movie and in the comics.
    Digital DNA and Biological DNA are fundamentally the same, a binary sequence coded of 0 and 1 for the digital, coded with A, C, G and T in the biological ones. Then things get worse. In the digital world, there is no source of mutation in the code, only a corruption in it (like a corrupted file) and unless a User fix it, there is no intrinsic repair mechanism. Whereas in biological real world, DNA is constantly under stress of various physical and chemical disturbances able to induce molecular damage "breaking" some of our code. One letter can be partially erased as it changed its molecular structure (functional group added or removed) and our DNA repair mechanism can be completely mismatched, having a probability of 50% to add the wrong one. Most of the time, such mutation is silent, as the code is redundant (several combinations for same amino-acid), but some times it results in abnormal protein, truncated or inefficient (as observed in many genetical disorders) or hyperactive (as it occurs in several cancer). Even the replication of our DNA during cell division is not 100% identical, as mutations occurs in every copy (very low, but still here) when our cells divide...
    The pro of digital DNA? Stable, non-subject to mutations and therefore easily fixable. Cons? Static closing door to evolution, absence of self-repair mechanisms resulting in derezze.
    The pro of biological DNA? Flexible, can handle in certain extent mutations, mutations is base for evolution consdering it adaptation to environment. Cons? Unpredictable, random, repair and replication not 100% accurate. If mismatch results in decreased capacity (genetic disorders) it will not remains in further generation.

    Thanks for commenting.  I suppose that if we were to design (or design the design for) digital DNA, we would consider allowing mutations, even if they are injected in a more controlled or scheduled manner as opposed to accidents.  We could also make it flexible and have self repair mechanisms. 

    Self-repair is something that would be useful in other digital systems as well; we don't seem to have much of it yet in the present day.
    Gerhard Adam
    I find the statements about the pros/cons of digital DNA versus biological DNA quaint.  It seems quite clear that the hubris in such statements complete misunderstands how robust biological systems are. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    If you get the chance be sure to check out the article in this months Time magazine about Syncronicity. All this talk on Hanks board here simply reinforce the potentical of things to come. Exponential growth in various disaplines converge as superhuman artificial intellegence becomes smart enough to improve upon itself. No doubt the cognative barrier will be breached from these systems and subroutines of psudo synaptic pathways that convey information.
    The article in Time features the acomplished Ray Kurzweil who is even more obsessed with the topic than I. Mr. Kurzweil claims that this union of biology and digital DNA may one day allow us to download our conciousness into the computer and live forever. Is this a good thing I ask? Synthetic souls wandering in a world of potential and eternal depression or boredom is not the reward or promise religion teaches. What if a digital mutation occuars to create a closed feedback loop of your eternal reality , not good and certainly not fun. Ray also hopes his father who has passed might one day be resurected. With all due respect his father was much more that whatever trick of DNA extraction scientests can pull off.
    Commenting on Abbooogeek:
    Additional Pro's to digital DNA = designability. This is the Holy Grail of what could be. Mutation by design and with intent in the safe confines of the virtual.
    Additional Pro's to biological = organics recycle, have an end, and are vast in terms of non linear information conveyance. This is closer to quantumn than todays digtal networks.
    These will be null points when Syncronisity marks the convergence and hybrid fusion of the two by engineering and controling light in the substrate of contained liquid. This ultimate architecture will be the birthplace of all that can and will be. Us humans got our ass handed to us by Watson the other day on Jeopardy, this is only the begining and a call to arms. Somebody man the plug.

    Thank you for providing us with multiple wrong ways to spell "synchronicity"--which I might add is not equivalent to the word you intended to use, "Singularity."
    I've been developing isomorphic algorithms for 33 years. Stupid me, I was very ignorant and trusting in going to Wall Street for financing in 1980, that I not only lost my shirt, but lost my bread and butter 4GL MPR-II system as well. Realizing I was chewed and could never work again, I nevertheless took my pre-occupation and got all the benefit. I now believe others are so close to prototyping a replacement for capitalism that I suspect Disney and crowd are trying so hard to maintain their old and tired lordship of usury, i.e., running an economy on debit and credit, that 100% of the sheep will not tumble to the media-washing that is this Tron Legacy movie.

    Well said Ingrid awesome!!! Im glad someone sees this movie as the wool over our eyes

    You are correct Samuel Kenyon, singularity not synchronicity. I was just making sure you were paying attention and you were so good job! As for the spelling errors I was just checking to see if you had incorporated a spell check module yet, guess not huh? Well at least us humans can be useful for something in this digital realm. Hey has anyone seen any bot's contibute some intellectual content to the board?

    I wonder if Quine metaprograms are the digital DNA of the Iso's in TRON. Quorra would be a true A.L. embodyment of a massive collection of Quine programs. I wrote about this in 2005 and also called it "digital DNA". I use RPL and a variant of snobol to write these quines. These are postfix languages, and the execution of the programs acts just like RNA. These programs can modify and repair their own/other code. They can modify their environment. They can multiply. They can move between environments. They consume memory to thrive. Food? I hypothesise that they may even be able to be quantum teleported and reconstruct the lost information after teleportation without the transformation signal at c (instantaneous 411 xmit). Quines can bootstrap themselves to recover lost code. All interresting.

    Behold! Digital DNA!

    These are just some basic examples of Quine programs written in RPL. These work on HP programmable calculators. A good hp49g emulator can be found at (org?)
    << "<<" SWAP + "DUP EVAL" + OBJ--> >> DUP EVAL >>
    In the "OBJ-->" command, the "-->" is the right arrow calculator symbol. The << and >> are the calculator program delimeters, not double greater/less than characters.
    The program is just like a zipper with << and >> as the end clasps (Similar to DNA). The evaluation of the program is the zipper tab from left to right (RNA). This is simply a straightforward Quine. The next one is like DNA replication. It has an inron and it also makes a modification to it's own code. which is also copied.

    << 'INTRON' 0 << "<< 'INTRON' " 3 ROLL + SWAP + "SWAP 1 + SWAP DUP EVAL DUP >>" + OBJ--> >> SWAP 1 + SWAP DUP EVAL DUP >>

    Sorry, there should be another << at the beginning of the first program. *Sparkly FX*

    Thanks for the great comments.  It's interesting to consider how far you can go (and what advantages like bootstrapping they have) with quines or quine-like programs.

    So, what are the introns used for in TRON?  (The in-TRON introns.)
    Honestly, I think the movie was o.k., but the intron in tron is tron. The character didn't play an itegral part and easily could have been removed and not missed.

    Hints of GEB even in the original TRON. The song at the end credits, and in the mcp cone part of the game is an endlessly rising Cannon.

    Why did the Bhudda cross the road?
    Because the chicken saw him.

    Cool!  But I think you really meant "canon" not "cannon."
    *correction Grid Bugs. Did you see the Robot Chicken parody of TRON last week? They even made reference to "Disks of TRON". I spent $10 on that game before I figured out the rotation knob moved up and down even then got stuck on the moving wall part. Who designs an arcade game where you can litteraly leave the game, make a snack and start playing 20 minutes later if you feel like it? Is it a tie?

    There's a part in the first TRON game where you can walk away for a while too.

    I'm curious, when I wrote about digital DNA used in the same context as the ISO's in TRON, I also based it on the ideas in GEB. I posted it in a math group on yahoo at in 2005. A little warning, I am a little kooky, but I'm still a work in progress. I search the web for earlier references to digital DNA in this context, but all I get are hits to my original posts and the TRON sites. Please tell me if there's an earlier reference.

    I don't know.  I thought of this article while I was watching the movie, and posted it without doing any internet research beforehand.  I'm glad you found this post though, because I didn't even provide any explicit link between digital DNA and Hofstadter and your comments have helped explore that region.  Maybe if this page starts showing up in searches for "quines" I can get some more quine fans into the discussion.

    BTW, can provide a link to the specific post of yours from 2005, or reproduce it somewhere and give a link to that?
    We also need to get the writers to come here and reveal whether they actually were inspired by GEB or not.  That would be:

    Edward Kitsis         (screenplay)&
    Adam Horowitz         (screenplay)

    Edward Kitsis         (story)&
    Adam Horowitz         (story) and
    Brian Klugman         (story)&
    Lee Sternthal         (story)

    Steven Lisberger    (characters) and
    Bonnie MacBird         (characters)
    Someone suggested that Adam Horowitz once use to be a member of that Yahoo! group that Jason posted the link to. I listened to an old audio file that was in that group's files section in early 2009... I swear to heck it sounded just like the theme played throughout this movie. I went back to download it a few weeks ago, but the file was gone. Guess who wrote it...

    I don't know if you got my last message, it wasn't posted. They're messages 10611 and 10620 in that group. If the Tron story leads back to GEB, then ultimately I think it leads back to the works of Willard Van Orman Quine. Let the letters in the alphabet be a loop (a follows z). Quorra could be a play on W. V. O. Qu.. W pronounced "double you" (CLU2?) rr (double r) is 5 letters away from w and a is 5 letters away from v (looped alphabet). Quorra

    Looks like a strange loop. Daft Punk left a clue of G E B in the flick too. The 3 notes in one of the songs is G low, E, higher B. Does ne1 have this dude's email addy? I got his game console and some geometry drawings at a hawk shop. Said he died, but I heard different. This guy is a dead ringer for CLU. I think I might have met him a couple times. He was talking with that guy, Grant, from Mythbusters in Huntington Beach a few years ago about gravity and math and weird stuff. He was talking about making dna programs on his graphing calculator back then too. I just want to know if the guy's alright. He's amazingly shy, but he's got it together.

    Leave a reply here. I'll check back later. Have to stay in the limelight if you get me.


    NM. I just remebered. He knows the blizzard. I know where he hangs out, so I'll go ask him.

    I've read all this talk about "inspiration" and "evolution," and quite honestly, I think the human race will never reach it's "full potential" as said by CLU in the ending scenes of the movie. The human race has too great a chance of failure to even reach the 2nd rung on the ladder to perfection. Say that you had one being who had the intellectual capability to create such a system as the "grid" where spontaneously life forms could emerge... On what basis do any of you actually believe that ANYONE on this earth could even comprehend that situation? Humans are pawns on the chess board of existence, in essence, we are only the beginning. After all, you have to move a pawn before you can move another piece.

    the only perfection is humankind's ever repeating, ever evolving imperfection.

    that, my friends, is the true sound of one hand clapping.

    I agree that imperfection may be a form of perfection. A perfect, complete system would have no possibility for growth or improvement. It wouldn't change. I'm glad I live in an incomplete system. I always say, if there's nothing wrong with you, there's something wrong with you.

    Not to be an intelligent gluteus maximus, but wouldn't the "real" sound of one hand clapping be if a jet pilot sticking his hand outside and moving it forward as the jet is on the threshold of breaking the sound barrier while his hand actually goes supersonic?

    Are my posts being received?

    I see your posts.  The only time I deleted any of your posts was when you (or software) had posted the exact same thing 3 times in a row.
    Sorry Sam, I can't keep posting here w/o knowing if my messages are being black holed intermittently.

    I haven't had problems before.  Maybe it's just the Post button needing a second press--I have had that issue on this site before.  You should see your comment appear immediately.  I don't approve comments (but I can go in and delete them later on it needed).
    Gerhard Adam
    I've reported a problem that seems that some posts are being arbitrarily unpublished.  They aren't deleted, they're just not visible to anyone except moderators, so I've tried to re-publish them when I see them.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank just confirmed that if the spam software thinks a post is spam, it will have to wait for moderator approval.

    Nice article, but you and your followers missed a key point:

    ALL PROGRAMS - BASICS and ISOs - have "DIGITAL DNA", not just ISOs. Flynn referred to digital DNA in a very generic way, meaning all Programs have that. That's how CLU and his units can be "MATERIALIZED" in Real World.
    That's why Programs drink, breath and have their Programmers's physical appearance. That's why they are "humanoid" in the very first place. Their DNA is human-like, but made of code and "different".

    The only prodigy is that ISOs were born spontaneously from the Grid and got a triple-helix DNA, not the "regular" double-helix DNA Programs and Humans "share". So yes, they are perfect.

    Thanks for pointing that out.  It of course ties into the whole "quantic" relationship between grid entities and real world entities (which you mention in your next comment). 

    So yes, they are perfect.

    I'm not sure how triple-helix DNA makes someone perfect--obviously in the movie universe that might be the case but I get that as a clue (I could be clueless though).
    Must add this:

    In the TRON universe (or multiuniverse), when a Programmer writes a Program, there's an effect of "quantic resonance" which models the Program after his/her Programmer ---- thus computer world is a parallel dimension WITHIN the computer where life is made of code, and our world influences that code in a quantic way. That's the whole premise of the first movie, that's the the same premise of Legacy, that's the premise of the TRON franchise.

    Obviously, Programs perform their functions, the ones they have been designed for. This means when they "receive" the data to operate/work on via Identity Discs and Input/Output towers (see TRON #1), their organism "digest" those data (as in METABOLISM) and elaborate them. So their organisms are different from ours, this way I assume their digital DNA is similar to ours, but not identical.
    They are still made of code, to begin with.

    I had the strangest waking moment this morning I think might be relevent to this subject. There are a lot of tv's in the house I live in and most of the time, they're all on at once. I have 7 housemates. Maybe I was just hearing a faint combination of a news broadcast. What I heard was about a successful thought experiment concerning a "quantum walk" of a though mapping in a human brain. It might have a direct correlation to an interface with a hypercomputer in the future. Hypothesizing also about a lifeform that has already mastered this capability and may be some sort of parasitic worm. I heard also that, if this worm gets into a human brain, it might allow the infected human to have this ability. Sort of a symbiotic relation. As soon as I heard this, I looked online and googled quantum walk. Wow!

    I finally saw this movie, which means I could finally read your article.  I don't see why a DNA fix of this kind won't be possible (at least as they showed it in the movie) because some animals can regenerate, which means any animal can regenerate and we just have to figure out how.

    I did think it was more nuanced than I would have expected - the first one was crap so I didn't hold out much hope for a sequel (and Sam's bedroom poster of "The Black Hole" film, which nearly put a stake in the heart of that company, made me chuckle).  At my age, not much will surprise me but my teenager was intrigued by the concepts, which means it could be "The Matrix" for this decade and that is not a bad thing at all, if it gets people thinking.  

    Spontaneous generation, though?  Aristotle thought so, but 400 BC is a long time ago.
    In the movie, "Isomorphic algorithms" give rise to ai. I think the correct term should be automorphic because, even though isomorphic refers to something being similar to itself, an automorphic group can be mapped onto itself and be self similar to all of its subgroups. This "bootstrapping" from a single subgroup could recover all lost data with a better result than an isomorphic algorithm can. Quorra is an automorphic Quine, not an Iso. What would be interesting is how this would apply to the merging of digital dna and bio dna. Maybe Tron 3 will address this.

    I kind of find it weird that in '05/0'6, in the game Kingdom Hearts II, the enemies of the game come out of it's rendition of Tron's world... this could also be easily explained by how the game runs (for anyone else: the heartless could have just been a virus from outside) but it gets me thinking that Disney must have had a lot of the film planned way beforehand.

    I think Disney had it's hands in other games too. Some of the graphics in The Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker and also TLoZ Twilight Princess look a lot like those in tron. I watched the movie again and noticed that when Quorra and Sam were driving in the atv off the grid, they drive past a spot that looks suspiciously like the Death Mountain Trail in TLoZ Ocarina of time. Sam even looks back at it while they're driving past it. Also, at the end of the movie at the entrance to the I/O tower is the Triforce embedded in the wall on the left side of the screen. Doesn't Disney have a partnership in Nintendo anyway? I wonder if A.R. FX in the next TRON movie will be used. Computer characters interacting with the real world through A.R. would be neat to see. Maybe they're trapped half way between the real world and digital space?


    Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and those were in fact easter eggs / homages.

    Will all our questions and suspicions be answered in Tron 3?
    Probably not. But hopefully it will be interesting enough for me to write another article about it and trigger another seemingly endless flood of though-provoking comments.
    Wow! Samuel and all of you have really torn this apart. Very impressive! I'm an old programmer who is completely lost in today's technology - have no idea what "quine" is. I was fascinated with this film for many of the same reasons you all have discussed (at least, the discussions I could comprehend) - but I was hoping someone would comment on two things: 1) the reintegration of CLU back into Flynn - specifically, Flynn appearing to be destroyed, as well as the grid; and 2) can anyone explain a correlation to me about ISO's, digital DNA, AI and "energy"? I'm studying the teachings of Abraham, and am trying to gain some kind of understanding of energy in relation to a philosophical stand point. May be too much of a gap, or you all have already discussed this and it's just over my head.
    I understand how CLU would become more powerful than Flynn's original design, but I'm bothered with the consequence of the reintegration despite Flynn's profound grasp of the concept of perfection. I'm also bothered with CLU seeing the ISO's as imperfection. Man, maybe all of it is really over my head.
    At any rate, at least I can be proud that I grasped the depth of the film. And I'm also happy to learn that there's a whole world of Matrix examiners out there, as well!
    This was my first blog ever. I'm sorry it was released on such an intellectual community - but I want more answers.

    I'm an old programmer who is completely lost in today's technology - have no idea what "quine" is.
    Actually quines were invented in the 1970s.

    2) can anyone explain a correlation to me about ISO's, digital DNA, AI and "energy"? I'm studying the teachings of Abraham, and am trying to gain some kind of understanding of energy in relation to a philosophical stand point.
    I would be careful with "philosophy" of energy. The word "energy" is commonly abused by pseudoscience and mythology. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any conceptual links to energy in the movie.

    Something that certainly involves energy--there's theories that can be made as to how users are scanned/transported into the computer--supposedly in Tron:Legacy the method is to read the particle information in the scanning and recreate that in the computer. The real world molecules are then decomposed and stored in the chemical tanks that are seen in the background of the computer room under the arcade.
    This is a bit late to the party but I thought you'd be interested by two items:

    1. The background of Tron: Legacy is actually very complex and was constructed in large part by a company called Starlight Runner. SR is a 'transmedia' design firm, full of writers whose job is to construct a coherent and logical framework to support a fictional world; last I checked they had writers from fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, and comics.

    Starlight Runner constructed a complex timeline connecting Tron and Tron: Legacy, filling in the decades long gap. There's a ton of plot information that hasn't yet been revealed, though some of it has made its way into various Legacy related stories. My own suspicion is that the logic and rational behind Flynn's goals with the Grid, the existence of the ISOs, etc, has been mapped out in detail by the writers working on the meta-fiction layer. Since Tron: Legacy did actually turn a decent profit, and the animated series Uprising is a go, we likely will see Legacy expanded upon in a 3rd "Tron" film.

    Really, all reports I've read suggest that the only problem Legacy had as a screenplay is the 'buffet' effect. The writers had so MUCH to choose from, a rich backstory and many possible plot threads thanks to the fictional framework laid out by SR, that they kind of put a little of everything in. Legacy is a good film. It is, perhaps, just a bit unfocused in some areas.

    2. There has been much fan speculation about the true nature of the "Electronic World" as seen in Tron's universe. Based on the detailed backstory expansion for Legacy, and even the visual direction of much concept art for its world, a potentially interesting hypothesis has emerged. The notion is that the Electronic World (referred to as such since the original Tron used that title for cut-aways between reality and the computer) is not literally what's going on inside your computer. Rather, it is a form of subspace full of chaotic particles that ordinarily has no conventional structures of matter as we see it. This realm is, however, affected by electromagnetic forces. The notion is that the advent of technology in the real world began to carve an effect out into this sub-ether realm, and computers gave it form and structure. The execution of information instructions, the EM fields centered around the processors and major components, pull the particles of the EW into a kind of order. That order is fragile however, and disruptions to the pseudo-matter of that realm easily result in structures dissolving into background noise.

    Legacy's visual direction oddly enough supports this concept. When Flynn created the Grid, he did not make a "world" like the old Encom server in Tron. He only created a single outpost in the Electronic World. As a result, the 'natural' terrain past the Grid's city limits devolves into a kind of fractal 'rock'. And past that, the further one goes, it gives way to a 'sea' of matter that can't remain solid. And as the point of view in the film approaches the portal, which is set far away from the Grid, one can see that the surrounding terrain is dissolving further into chaos. Fragments of fractal terrain float in the air. In the distance, mist clouds everything. As if, the further from the city center, where the reality of the EW is being given specific form and structure, the more that realm returns to chaos and then, nothing.

    This may introduce yet another layer of philosophy to consider, as it means in the Tron world, the capability has emerged to craft entire realities using technology and programming. The idea is that a 'simple' program executed in the real world has profound effects in the EW, and in that reality the program is actually extrapolated upon almost as a natural effect. This also resolves the issue of 'real life' computers being capable of executing a 'virtual reality' as complex as the Grid. They can't, but then, under this model, they wouldn't actually be doing that. All that computers in reality are doing is executing the instructions for a basic framework. Then, in the Electronic World, a complex reality builds itself up from that - much as Flynn in the film remarks that he only wrote the basic code for the ISOs. The rest was generated by the Grid itself, dynamically.

    Thank for the comment Mori.

    In regards to point 2, that is quite interesting. It doesn't really answer one of the other "hard" Tron questions which is how humans in our reality can be re-instantiated in the Electronic World. Perhaps it's supposed to be as simple as a Star Trek beamer...scanning of particles and then just re-assembling the particles at the other end, except in this case the other end is in a subspace.

    And then, how did Flynn figure out how to cross that subspace interface? Are particles sent...or copied? If they are copied, how is the subspace manipulated so precisely given that the EW is a side effect of programs running on electronics possibly with complex emergence?
    i fell there's so much left to the unknown within Tron: Legacy. but the philosophical ideas behind the plot, and the design and writing of the movie gives inspiration to new ideas. Some may have thought about these ideas way back, but as we develop more advanced technology, we ourselves will move closer to the goals of what Tron exemplifies. many need to stop thinking on the narrow scope of the movie's dynamics, and focus more on the idea of what it represents. the idea of a digital ai life form manifesting in an environment is an amazing and intriguing idea. i think we just need to create that environment, and some ideas in the movie are based on simple ideas to move the movie forward without working to confuse layman watchers. I may not know a lot about the inner working of low level programming, but I feel the potential and the ideas are what make this movie shine. "just because one says something is impossible, doesn't mean you should stop someone from attempting it" I don't know if that's the exact quote, but it gets the idea across. No arguments, just expanding on thoughts and my own view. I see potential in these ideas, and finding answers to make them a reality in some way, pushing the limits of our understanding for perhaps "Creating a digital frontier, to shape the human condition.". I for one find the ideas exciting.

    I don't know if my ideas are a bunch of crap, or if they truly have some merit, but i speak more from my experience, separate from anyone else. This movie sparked my imagination, as Tron #1 did when i was young.

    Thanks for the comment AkiraCrash. I suppose a lot of people thought the Internet and then the World Wide Web--often called the "global village"--were the real life implementations of science fictional concepts. Some thought we were really heading into "CyberSpace". Although new amazing things came to be, the real life cyberspace perhaps was not at all what thinkers and dreamers were hoping for. And the Internet + computers + robots never reached the heights we had hoped for. Society changed...but how much really changed? 

    And change is not necessarily good or bad...we could head towards dystopian cyberpunk societies or grand digital frontiers that reduce human suffering. Some things that never happened but still could happen are true virtual realities, nervous system interfaces to computers, and various kinds of AI integration. We have rudimentary forms of all that--indeed AI has been very successful in narrow forms that have been integrated into computer science--but just not in the ways we had imagined in science fiction.

    Why do we fail to implement grand scale ideas and experiments? So many reasons. When it comes to letting AI creatures emerge and/or evolve in virtual or alternate worlds, small versions have been done in the form of Alife and agent simulations, but nothing grand. Hopefully some of the AI work I am doing will eventually contribute to some cool and long-lasting AI entities and/or new worlds.

    A toast--to the "undiscovered country."