Only if you try to import anything biological into NZ, you go to prison, so you can’t get them here, which is sad and bogus, because I’d like some glow in the dark mushrooms.
Which might be a fairly moot point before long… as genetically-engineering things to glow in the dark seems to be a fairly standard “hello world” in DIY bio spheres... a bit like getting an LED to blink if you’ve got an arduino. GFP they call it. You can get different colours
Anyway, we saw that “Day The Earth Stood Still” the other night – it’s got Keanu in it, who we like on account of being “our Keanu”.
Anyway, the massive orb thing turns out to be a bit like Noah’s Ark – in that it collects a version of every species on earth… which I’ve long thought was a good idea – store a bit of the DNA of every species so if they go extinct, we can get them going again… which probably betrays a misunderstanding of “what it’s all about”, ie: it’s about conserving ecosystems rather than individual species…
… but it has kindof crossed my mind, that if we get really good at combining/coding DNA… and basically learn how to make pretty much any combination of traits you can imagine… then even if there’s not a massive Cambrian explosion of species, there IS a massive Cambrian explosion of possibilities… and while keeping examples of naturally-evolved versions is worth doing from an archival POV… the whole thing takes on a bit of a different spin… if there are zero-limitations on what it’s possible to make. Sticking to old species is a bit like only using web-safe colours when you have access to the entire spectrum. In analogue.
Is an animal just a physical instantiation of a code?
Would it be possible (then) to auto-generate every possible combination – like a rainbow-table or The 9 Billion Names Of God? Is that what the Earth/Universe already is? A combination generator?
It’s crossed my mind that maybe complexity is a dimension… like time or possibility. It certainly seems to be something that’s acting in the opposite direction to entropy, and from where I’m sitting, it’s not looking linear. It could be that the Kurzweilian singularity isn’t to do with machine intelligence – although that’s part of it… it could be that it’s more to do with complexity… somewhere between being able to create any organism/thing imaginable, and having direct access to our own brain-chemistry.
Some ratbags at the University of Glascow are experimenting with making replicating… “things”… with a metallic base. “oooh go all the FUDers”, they’ll take over the world. Ermm… really? I wouldn’t have thought it likely… unless metal has some inherent advantage over carbon… and maybe it does, and maybe it doesn’t – but just because a tank can beat an elephant, doesn’t mean that things that evolve from a metal base, will somehow inherit human-made machine characteristics. I’m talking about cellularity.
Still… nice idea.
I have this feeling that one advantage that synthetic organisms might have over naturally bred ones, is… “clean code”. I saw this analysis of DNA from a programming perspective a while back, and it’s a fucking shambles – exactly what you’d expect etc… it looked like 4 billion year old drupal. Forked and forked and recombined with loose-coupling here, tight-coupling there… so you change one thing and something utterly unrelated breaks somewhere else.
Maybe that’s an inevitable byproduct of the process – the whole genetic-algorithm that rebuilds its own OS with every generation… and there is obviously huge power in that… but the fact that it’s taken about 4 billion years to get this far isn’t a terribly good sign. I mean 4 billion years is a long fucking time. If Moore’s law can carry on for that long… (Moore’s law being a type of directed-evolution) then… what is that? Current processing power, doubled 2.666 billion times?
I don’t even want to think about how many zeros that is. It’s a transcendentally large number.
Assuming evolution has a trajectory, which of course it does not. It just looks like it does. Moore’s law has a trajectory though, and the two are coming together.
So about a year and a half ago, there were all these things on TED by biotech people who all got standing innovations because it looked like they were going to save the world… and around the same time, the DIY bio thing started to make waves. I joined the DIYbio list for a bit – then got into flame-wars with the people there so left… I don’t think I’d ever encountered a cleverer bunch of stupid people (or vice-versa) in my life. What they knew about biology/org-chem was pretty incredible – but balanced by their willful (or not) blind-spot regarding ecology.
The only convincing argument I came across re: the dangers of introducing new organisms into our life-support system is that “we already have all of the problems that new creatures might create, and we aren’t taking them seriously now, so why worry?”
Personally I don’t think you can (or should) stop information-flow… and that means tech-advancement… I don’t think that scientists should have to sit around and wait while fucking old “ethicists” hold irrelevant debates etc. I think we need to protect ourselves through diversity – and by having highly (and specifically) educated populations. So I’m in favour of it all… even though I think that there are a fair few DIYbio people too stupid not to fuck it up. These are the same sorts of people who thought it would be a good idea to introduce rabbits into NZ and Aus. Then thought it would be a good idea to introduce ferrets to control them. Got a problem? Introduce a new species. Got 2 problems?
Still… long time coming. Every 5 years, our lives are changed by a software development that nobody had even imagined. Every 5 years. The Biotech Revolution on the other hand, has been en-route since the 70s, and I still can’t think of a single incidence of it that I’ve actually seen anywhere… Frankenfoods? Actually I haven’t noticed the difference. Good times are-a-comin… but they sure comin slow.
The combination of temporary shelter, and hi-tech/low-tech DIY/FAB machines has “future” written all over it (sounds like Vinay in the background as well if I’m not much mistook :)). Favela Chic and all that… it needs to be chic. Our physical systems evolve/conform to the needs of our information-systems… and whatever moves the fastest wins. We still have the roads of the Roman Empire, our cities today are built around the needs of cars – I’m sure there are loads of other examples, but it’s a general rule. As George Lakoff will tell you, “learning” involves physically changing brain structure. As above, so below.
So it’s the early 21st C. What’s to come? Dunno… but one thing you can bet, is that we’re going to have physical structures who’s specific purpose is to route around the obstructions created by 20thC institutions holding onto the past.
Or to put it another way, Favela Chic ain’t just going to happen because people are poor. It’s also going to happen because it’s the only place you can get anything done without retards from the past trying to get in the way. A place where lawyers can’t find you, and if they do, you can kill them.
A little sci-fi maybe, but if biotech comes anywhere close to what we’re imagining it might do (with our sub-5-year imaginations) then the drivers are going to be insane. Exxon gave $600,000,000 to Craig Venter. Give me the Napster of that.
So tents I think. And hi-tech/low-tech DIY/FAB machines.
It’s from the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award in which someone attempted to make bullet-proof material using spider-silk… which has fairly remarkable tensile properties… and they did and they didn’t succeed in that, but check out how they made it. Goats milk? Holy crap!
Won’t someone think of the kids!!! – what happens to them if they drink spider-protein milk? They get all spidery and frightening? Will it fuck with their minds and cause them to climb trees?
The clip above is from a to-be-made documentary about synthetic bio – which has been (successfully) funded on Kickstarter
I get a bit of a chill whenever they talk about “companies” doing stuff… I mean I’m a company director and I do know that a company is kindof a sensible package for getting stuff done – but… you do know that companies are essentially psychopathic right?
And the other thing is – in my experience, if you try to broach the issue of “what happens when you introduce a species that can out-compete the native species” to people doing this stuff… they don’t seem to understand the question – it’s like talking to libertarians about social-policy. All you get is really simplistic justifications of something they’ve already decided – it’s not even theory. It’s not even hypothesis. It’s wishful thinking.
Now I’m not imagining goats spinning webs, but spider protein in goats is not micro-biology.
I feel like I’m being a little over-acidic here – the DIY guys are nice people… but… “what happens when you introduce a species that can out-compete the native species”?
People visiting it have to dress up in white coats like proper scientists etc, because people are the ultimate contaminating species. It’s in a tent.
Ok, it’s not in a tent – it’s in a gallery of some sort by the looks. It was set up in May (finishes tomorrow) and in the words of the writer of the link above
“Verdonck’s garden opened in May and looked like a little piece of Eden. All lush flowers, green parrots, colourful plants, cheerful amphibians and mysterious moustachioed fish. When i visited the show a week ago, the place was still jaw-dropping but in a rather post-apocalyptic way. It felt a bit desolate. Good care was taken of the fauna and flora but the flowers were perishing, the parakeets had to be taken away because they were wolfing on any flower or fruit they could get their beaks on, tadpoles were vanishing, etc.”
Balancing biospheres is fucking hard – I know, I used to do it when I was a kid. The Axolotls eat everything.
One of my themes here (or at least tags) is “Are We There Yet” Technology – ie: technology that we’re always hearing news about, but which never seems to fucking arrive.
You know what I’m talking about.
Matchbox-sized video projectors
Personal Robots that actually do anything useful
The Biotech revolution
And so on. I’m not talking about flying cars or laser cannons or trans-galactic space flights or those stupid see-through screens… not sci-fi stuff that everyone wants because they’ve seen it in a movie, I’m talking about the stuff that fill blogs.
Now I think the energy crisis is going to dissolve in the next 20 years. Maybe even the next 10. I think that a mixture of solar and gen-tech algae are going to cover it. The solar side of things is going to meet the-web-of-things half-way, and conspire to make everything very efficient… so there is no need for a house that sits in the sun all day to be on-grid for lighting (duh)… because we’ve stopped using lightbulbs that run on 240v. There’s no need for a house that sits in the sun all day to rely on a power-station 400 miles away to heat water.
Sure we might need something else – like micro nukes (still a bad idea) if we want to carry on making 18 trillion beer-cans a year… but for the stuff we actually need… for the basic civilisational hierarchy of needs, I think the problem is going to dissolve. New tech is going to cover it.
It’s a way of converting CO (and other) exhausts into ethanol. Now this isn’t some TED-oid bit of standing-ovation-fishing vapourware… they’re actually doing it. Their demo-plant in NZ is producing 5 million gallons of ethanol a year – and they’ve just sold the tech to a Korean company… which (if I’ve got this right) produces 33.7M tonnes of steel a year… which means about 50M tonnes of greenhouse-gases. Now this system won’t capture all of those gases… but to put that in perspective, the other day the pro-nuke shills were bewailing the idea that Germany getting rid of nukes was going to add 40M tonnes a year in Co2. For a couple of years.
This process will make a healthy dent in that, from one factory alone.
Read the website though. Christ on a bike, they simply cannot get over themselves re: “ownership” of the organism. Forgetting for the moment that this was partly tax-payer funded, you can’t fucking “own” life. Fuck what the law says, the law is wrong. At a basic logical level, patenting life is a software patent. We’re dealing in software here. Programming it in different ways, sure but it’s still software.
The legal frameworks constricting biotech are being put in place to fuck it before it’s even started – if this had happened with computers, we wouldn’t have an internet. We probably wouldn’t even have fucking computers.
Big talk on the insanity of IP Law from a lawyer who actually thinks we need it here:
“7 Ways To Ruin A Technological Revolution” – and looking at this, I’d say it’s not entirely off the cards that America simply doesn’t survive it’s own IP laws. If you’re starting a tech business, you’d be much better off doing it in a place like Brazil… or Iceland… or some place where you can simply tell corporate lawyers to fuck off.
For example around 1/2 an hour into that video… someone has attempted to patent the gene-sequences “OR, AND, IF-THEN, IF-NOT”. That’s fucking software. Can you imagine where computers would be if that level of ring-fencing went on back in the day?. We should physically fucking destroy these people.
I think a similar B2B before B2C thing is happening with solar – Konarka have been able to do $1 a watt for… ooh, at least a year – and every couple of months I keep visiting their site to see if you can actually buy the stuff… and apart from fucking solar backpacks, it seems to be industry-only. I might be wrong about that, but that’s the impression I get.
So what’s happening here is that the first markets to be catered to are the ones with million dollar budgets. Well, wouldn’t you? And maybe that’s where the maximum benefit is. And maybe it’s not.
Meantime, from the cheap seats…
The Makerbot of biotech – OpenPCR.org – where you (yes you) can buy a DNA sequencing machine for $512. Now this isn’t quite the same thing as Craig Venter’s DNA synthesiser… but it’s a start.
Trouble is, “the alphabet” that makes up this technology is being ring-fenced by corporate IP. This revolution is at about the same stage (we are repeatedly told) that computers were in the early 80s. Unless we radically cut back IP – and personally, I’d kill it completely, we won’t have an internet. We probably won’t even have a computer.
And on that note, here’s a computer for doing protein-folding calculations made out of lego
Probably illegal in some way… or more accurately, if you tried to sell it, you’ll probably be sued… and there’s nothing you can do about it, because you can’t afford it. IP Law is not an encouragement to innovate, it’s a threat and a tax hanging over innovation… so severe that you probably need VC money (aka: be owned by someone rich) to start anything.
Outsource everything to the Favela. It’s the only way of being safe.
I don’t know if any of that’s true actually, it is the way it’s starting to feel though.
Although I think you need mirrors and whatnot to get anything resembling a laser-beam. Still… if this gen-tech revolution that has been on the horizon for pretty much our entire lives, ever hits, it’s going to (as they say) change everything. A Golden Age. Maybe.
Nope. Because what it will do… what its promise is, is…
…dissolving scarcity… and the trouble with capitalism, is that it needs scarcity. People Not Having Enough is what capitalism lives on.
It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out… Craig Venter has done a $600M deal with the most evil corporation on the planet, Exxon Mobile… It’s not entirely impossible that in the next 20 years we’re going to see The Napster Of Food, The Napster Of Pharma, The Napster Of Energy… all from a bathtub of bugs that reinvent themselves for free. Expect Evil. Expect a lolly-scramble over “IP” in which only the bullies get anything. “Intellectual Property” is going to get uglier and uglier and uglier.
“Intellectual Property” is a fake constraint, designed to create a fake scarcity, set up so only the bullies win.
Kill the bullies, that’s my advice. If the deaths of the entire executive of every big pharma conglomerate can create the leverage to save hundreds of millions of lives, then it’s got to be done. It’s traveling sideways in time to kill Hitler. Hitler was only responsible for what? 60 Million? If a corporation tries to corner the water supply of an entire planet, then all bets are off – if it was a foreign occupying force, we’d go scrapping-mad with guns. Well it’s happening. We need to recognise that globalised corporate power is globalised baronialism, or facism or Romanism or whatever-evil-it-is-that-is-reinvented-in-every-age. We need to crush it down to a size where it is democratically accountable.
After that we can go skateboarding in the Sahara…
…if indeed we’ve turned it to concrete, which we probably haven’t. Becuz… we know humanity well enough now to know that trying to control change is almost always more dangerous than the change itself.
To be honest, I only read the title. Still… scary title… and you know… to the point.
Adendum 2: More perspective, listen to this Podcast. Forget that this isn’t happening in your village, or your city, or your country (although it probably is)… forget that this isn’t happening to you. It’s happening to us.
“Darpa is investing $6 million into a project called BioDesign, with the goal of eliminating “the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement.” The plan would assemble the latest bio-tech knowledge to come up with living, breathing creatures that are genetically engineered to “produce the intended biological effect.” Darpa wants the organisms to be fortified with molecules that bolster cell resistance to death, so that the lab-monsters can “ultimately be programmed to live indefinitely.”
Of course, Darpa’s got to prevent the super-species from being swayed to do enemy work — so they’ll encode loyalty right into DNA, by developing genetically programmed locks to create “tamper proof” cells. Plus, the synthetic organism will be traceable, using some kind of DNA manipulation, “similar to a serial number on a handgun.” And if that doesn’t work, don’t worry. In case Darpa’s plan somehow goes horribly awry, they’re also tossing in a last-resort, genetically-coded kill switch:”
Jesus Jumping H Jehosephat. I mean what could possibly go wrong?
Mind you – $6 million is bugger all. That’s how much Steve Austin cost back in the 70s, and although he could run really fast and do fast things with one arm… well… I doubt that you’d get $6 Million for him today.
No – the worrying thing about this is more to do with the fact that the people that we pay to act in our interests are fucking INSANE enough to think that
a) DRM is a good idea
b) DRM works
c) DRMed biotech weapons might be a good idea
d) DRMed biotech weapons wont lead to some sort of biotech weapons arms race which is even less controllable than the nuke one.
e) So we should make some and find out.
f) because this is somehow “defence”
And a kill switch? Isn’t that what Baron von Harkonnen had in his slaves? Fuck that. At least staring at goats was relatively harmless… I hear some of the goats actually quite enjoyed it.
This is one I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while… a hothouse with amped up mutations, and an environment tweaked to drive the forces of natural selection into overdrive. An insectoid, microbial, vegetative piranhasphere. An evolutionary fast-breeder for creating new and useful monsters.
Which is obviously as good an excuse as any to dig up this clip again, which is not connected in any way.
So anyway, something that’s turned up recently is a Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering machine, which as far as I can gather is this concept operating at a microbial level – though I’m not sure if this isn’t just a mass-mutation creator rather than a sphere where competition actually happens – “instead of trying to directly create double-mutants, Wang and Farren’s approach produced hundreds, even thousands of mutations simultaneously, resulting in billions of different strains. Because lycopene colours cells red, the researchers simply selected the brightest bacteria.”
Still. A step on the way I think. Combine this with the machine in Wales that can perform its own experiments, and we could well wind up with something… well, utterly ungovernable.
Here’s some insane person’s fantasy about using robotic bugs to spy on and kill people. The voice-over is flirting with that whole hollywood macho tone – an indication that they’re living in movie-land rather than the real world. Just like Ronald Reagan – who had an alarming habit of telling anecdotes about his life which were actually from movies, and they named a battleship after him. I’m talking about The US Air Force.
1) they’re all little flying robots that look a bit like bugs
2) they all employ first-personism
3) they’re all evil. Either for spying or killing people – apart from the last one maybe. Or any of the other ones.
4) they’re all a bit rubbish.
I mean no offence etc, they’re a lot better than I could do – I can barely tie my shoelaces, but if you compare them to an actual insect… they’re crap. Take a proper hornet for example. It can :
fly : really accurately. Straight through holes the same size that it is without hesitation.
walk : like the clappers, up walls, upside down on the ceiling, all limbs individually sensored and controlled.
3D print using locally sourced materials (their nests are 3d printed)
self-fuel using locally sourced materials.
reproduce itself from locally sourced materials, with sexual selection and variation so evolution happens.
Now that, my friends is quite a feat of engineering. Think of the best flying machine we have today… a stealth bomber? It doesn’t come close to what a simple wasp can achieve.
So I’m guessing that we’re going to learn to make “brains” that learn how to use alien systems faster than we’re going to learn how to build robots that actually manage to do what mad-scientists want them to. I’m guessing that the biotech revolution is going to merge with and eclipse all the others – robotics, nanotech etc… they’re not going to be like they are in sci-fi movies because it’s easier (and a lot more potent) to program/adapt existing creatures than it is to make them from scratch.
These people are from the future: I have no idea what any of them are talking about.
Still, shiney happy people holding hands. It could be worse, and good to see Terence Taylor, the Washington biosecurity guy saying that “overall, our best defence against biological risks is the rapid dissemination of the life-sciences”.
“what we have to do, and this is so important in the approach that we take, is to safeguard the advance of this technology. That’s a very different approach to restrict, control, prevent… that is… not the way to do it”.