Articles Featured — 30 October 2013

“Some of the tensions around DIY biology, it’s exactly the same as the tensions around computing. It reminds me of the 1982 movie War Games about a kid in his bedroom that manages to hack his way into a government computer and almost starts World War 3. You can see the parallels. Whereas in the previous generation it was computers falling into the wrong hands, now it’s synbio and DIY bio.

“I can think of a dozen ways a computer can kill you and make your life miserable in an afternoon, it’s not the hard. The entire world runs on computers now. There are privacy concerns or the fact that your bank account could be completely erased, and it’s not hard to destroy someone’s life by getting them on the no-fly list or planting [inappropriate material] on their computer, there’s so many ways to abuse systems. What generally surprises me is how we manage to function so well with the poor security that exists.

“Living things already solved a lot of the security problems along the way. Right now we’re playing clean-up with a lot of electronic systems and fixing things after the fact, but biology has layers & layers of security. If you look at your own body, it starts with your skin, physically defending against intruders, you have enzymes in your saliva, antibodies and a whole immune system that’s constantly looking for foreign invaders and attacking them, internal checkpoints in cells always looking for damage and corruption, and so on. 25 years ago before there were things like antivirus software, people were starting to say we need to build an electronic immune system. They could already see the parallels.

“Can you imagine being back, in the mid-1970s and deciding no we can’t let this technology fall into the hands of individuals, think of the damage that can be done. I think in general standing opposed to an exponential technology, particularly one as ubiquitous as living things, is just fool hardy. It’s perfectly natural to be afraid of things that are unfamiliar, and to think of the worst case scenario. You can be afraid of them at the back of the pack, or you can be afraid of them at the very front of the pack, leading the technology, so you have a very complete understanding of the technology, who the leaders are, gaining all the intellectual benefits of being a leader. Don’t close doors, open them.”

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Anat Reichman

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