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“Truly Programmable Matter”

There’s an interesting book review in the Guardian (go here). Below is a brief excerpt. The book is about biocomputing. Increasingly it’s looking as though all the interesting biology is really a form of engineering. If I ever became the president of a university (per impossibile), I would dissolve the biology department and divide the faculty with tenure that I couldn’t get rid of into two new departments: those who know engineering and how it applies to biological systems would be assigned to the new “Department of Biological Engineering”; the rest, and that includes the evolutionists, would be consigned to the new “Department of Nature Appreciation” (didn’t Darwin think of himself as a naturalist?).

. . . Amos’s fascinating book shows how such miniature manipulation is a step on the road to “truly programmable matter”. Researchers dream of a microscopic “doctor” robot that travels around in your bloodstream and dispenses drugs at the first sign of illness. But it will not be a submarine shrunk by a miniaturising ray, as in Fantastic Voyage; it won’t be electronic at all. Why reinvent the wheel? Nature’s “machines” already contain the components we need. “Science-fiction authors tell stories of ‘microbots’ – incredibly tiny devices that can roam around under their own power, sensing their environment, talking to one another and destroying intruders,” Amos notes. “Such devices already exist, but we know them better as bacteria.” . . .

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30 Responses to “Truly Programmable Matter”

  1. This was all foretold in 1986 by K. Eric Drexler in “Engines of Creation”. He even predicted the World Wide Web. It’s been an engineering problem since way back then. Automated lab equipment that lets a few technicians do in a day what used to take a dozen people a year is what’s really driving it all. The rate of progress is on an exponential curve about to go vertical. Moore’s Law of doubling the number of transisters on a single chip every 18 months is now working to double the number of molecular biology experiments that can be performed on a single chip.

  2. A quick review of a single paragraph of total non-sensical babble in an attempt to vainly maintain one’s worldview.

    “The book also shows how hard it is to get away from the constant application of engineering metaphors, such as Amos’s claim that genes are “computing components”, and anthropomorphic language, as when it is said that ribosome works by “interpreting mRNA messages”. This is manna to creationists, who insist that where there is a computer, there must be someone who designed it. Amos skips lightly over such philosophical problems, but it is a serious question whether appeals to “self-organisation” or “information” are themselves in some sense metaphysical, even if one rejects the epistemological nihilism of “Intelligent Design”. Understandably, however, Amos is more of the pragmatic scientist’s persuasion: sure, there’s a mystery here – so let’s tinker around and try to solve it.

    Ohhhh Brother, haha! The Guardian provides great fodder of entertainment value too.

    1) Whine and complain about appearance of Design. “shows how hard it is to get away from..” From what? Logical use of language applied to patterns inferring Design? Ooops!
    2) OK, shucks, just admit it. “from the application of engineering metaphors(hmmm, like rotor, bushing, stator, motor, edit/repair, reading, duplication, dispose of, transfer, communication, message, code)
    3) Obligatory Creationist comment “manna to creationist” How about manna to anyone curious with an open mind seeking the truth?
    4) Complete snaffu of english language, reason and logic all in one gloriously bungled statement, “… who insist that where there is a computer, there must be someone who designed it” Doh!

    We take a momentary reality check pause to make a brief announcement to all passengers. All people aboard the evolutionary flight to hell. The oxygen mask do not really contain oxygen. They only appear so. Do not allow the sudden transition of the downward motion alarm you. We are certain, that despite the current mutational sequence of engine failure in all 4(oops, make that 3) engines, after a million years, the situation will shortly resolve itself by a million beneficial mutations or the co-option of a flock of geese who just happen to be going up on our way down. Should this message become garbled, panic do not, tationsmute uallyevent comebe stress under eratedaccel sultreing ni elnov ineeng sepyt taht yam yet sav su.e

    Ahmm, back to Monty Python logic and deadly wabbits. So, logical conclusions of what is observed are not appropriate. And the way we know such logic is invalid is due to one’s religious beliefs. Therefore, search for most unlikely conclusion opposite anything a Creation Scientist might say. These people are losing more than marbles. Forget the deck, the box is empty and the Jokers are all Queens. Lumberjacks all I presume.

    5) Brief Reality check – “serious question”, “some sense metaphysical” or is it puff-piece words to console some readers? Communing with the non-Darwinian infidels? We feel your pain moment?
    6) Whoopsie, spoke to soon, moment is over, lets slam the opponents now utilizing the Brite methodology of misdirection, dishonesty, and projection of negative stereotypes onto opponents, “epistemological nihilism” onto the beast itself in quotes “Intelligent Design” Ha! This guy is good. He deserves a spot on BBC 4. Instead of Bend em like Beckham, it should be Dork em like Dawkins. Twist reality and words that are justifiably used against evolutionary atheist and they toss the words back at ya with Brite logic. Similar to the quaint socialist logic of waiting 3 months for surgery in a queue and calling that improvement of health care! Faulty Towers meet Black Adder. Any moment Benny will come along with a bunch of short dressed girls and the pragmatic evolutionist will all go dancing after them in a revelry of kazoos.
    7) Final wrap up of arrogance and one last put down, “Amos is more of the pragmatic scientist’s persuasion” Oh yes, unlike Newton, Sanford, and whatshisname… Behe! The guy whose tinkerings led to a conclusion that is still not falsified.

    Pragmatic…., What is more pragmatic?

    1) Discovering evolution was a great waste of time and of little consequence in operational genetics? And as a result of discovery, then arriving at a formal rethinking that much is wrong with the current evolutionary theory as a result? paraphrasing Dr. Sanford.
    2) Or, Dawkins pathetic petitioning attempt of the UK government to eliminate religion?

    Who is acomplishing more in the name of “pragmatic” science? The tinkerer of GeneGuns? Or the tinkerers tinkerer of social policy from a zooligist attempting to force worldviews onto people?

    I remember utilizing “pragmatic” and science in the same sentence and it does not apply to those who ignore reality.

    Tinker…

    Hey, any engineers don’t know how to “tinker”?

    This just in, Brites discover engineers can’t “tinker” and IDist have no imagination.

    More news, from ConSpiracySciTheorist…
    IDist are secret society of Marx, Kant, Russell and Nietzsche admirers utilizing reverse logic osmosis interpretive danctronics. The girls will now start chasing Benny.

    ID is thy name o’Beast! And nihilism is thy game you Feast!

    Haha… really, this is hysterical work of a highly imaginative con artist. ID is “epistemological nihilism” We wrote rubbish, you eat it! Repeat ad nauseum and their readers repeat it to others. Virul illogicae personify.

    Can we hire people like this in our much needed media intel war against terrorist? I’m thinking Osama will give up in a matter of days from such insanity. Tony Blair can then take a much deserved breather if this is what passes for truth in journalism.

    We are the Brites. we are the Brites and all your imaginations are belong to us, are belong to us, belong to us.

  3. Dr. Dembski, you asked a simple question earlier.

    Why does it take engineers to do “synthetic biology”?

    Short Answer: Because life forms are engineered in the beginning.

    Long Answer: We don’t have another billion years to wait for results of evolutionist experiments. ;-)

  4. Bill,

    In your hypothetical university, would you be happy for for the faculty to freely follow any research avenue they wish, including (naturalistic) evolution?

  5. antg: Yes, provided the university doesn’t have to pay the bill for their research.

  6. Michaels7. Like many Darwinists have interacted with over the years, you are being excessively nasty and snide.

    I would be too if the worldview I had adhered to for many years were disintegrating all around me.

    Just like Dawkins, you think by being rude and condescending you can scuttle any attempts to point out the flaws in Darwinism.

    Front-loaded evolution is a better explanation for the world around us than random mutation and natural selection. Granted that natural selection had a role at the level of microevolution.

  7. physics, geology, biology, chemistry and information theory show that the cosmos is designed so as to enable life’s becoming and then to enable that life to be.

    The entire cosmos as a designed, information structure, as opposed to an undesigned material structure

  8. “A quick review of a single paragraph of total non-sensical babble in an attempt to vainly maintain one’s worldview.”

    Michaels7 , lets not deceive ourselves. Who’s worldview is truly crumbling here?

  9. Exactly in what way is ID “epistemological nihilism?” I’m still trying to parse that. Last time I checked, it was atheism that logically progresses to nihilism, in both existential AND epistemological terms.

  10. If I ever became the president of a university (per impossibile), I would dissolve the biology department and divide the faculty with tenure that I couldn’t get rid of into two new departments: those who know engineering and how it applies to biological systems would be assigned to the new “Department of Biological Engineering”; the rest, and that includes the evolutionists, would be consigned to the new “Department of Nature Appreciation” (didn’t Darwin think of himself as a naturalist?).

    There is a grain of emerging truth in this suggestion. At a recent biotechnology conference, one of the paricipants, a very accomplished professor of chemistry was astounded no biologists were present. In attendance were chemists, engineers, computer scientists, physcists, mathematician….no biologists. The discipline of biology is ripe for a revolution….

  11. 11

    jb,

    You are absolutely right. The epistemologies of all historical forms of atheism logically lead to relativism, and conclude in nihilism.

    This is most notable today. As Plantinga has pointed out, metaphysical naturalism supplemented with metaphysical evolutionism offers no reliable basis of knowledge. (Good audio on this here.) As some Darwinists have pointed out: reason, knowledge, culpability, and even consciousness itself, becomes an illusion when viewed through the universal acid of Darwinism.

    This is shy it is so ironic when Dawkins speaks of reason and evidence. If all of his reality conforms to blind chance and meaningless necessity, there is no good reason to think any particular epistemic view is better. And if no particular view can be better, how can one adjudicate if what one is thinking is even a coherent view? Adios knowledge.

    According to his worldview, he is deluding himself that he can even assert he, as a willful agent, is think about something. We saw this so clearly illustrated with his confusion about whether he could take credit for writing his book.

  12. jb, bFast, GilDogden: Is there an ID prediction here — things in biology that at first seem stupid (to Darwinian eyes) will on closer inspection show themselves to be clever and necessary.

    This is an interesting news flash about how Darwinists jump to conclusions.

    Study: Hobbit Humans ‘Impossible’

    http://dsc.discovery.com/news/.....0821103030

  13. Re #11:

    Wow, you go from “human-like individuals” (which, in an NDE view are OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE™ of human evolution, since we have very human-like NON-HUMAN species) to just being a regular old diseased human.

    (Sigh)

    You think they;d learn a little modesty after all these goof-ups.

  14. Inquisitive Brain,

    I read the Dawkins answer and I have to say that I don’t know if there is a better answer. I agree with him that the problem of free will and determinism is one of the most difficult in philosophy. Not having a firm answer, he is right that the best we can do is to act on the feeling that we are not completely determined, because things would become impossible if we didn’t. I do think that people have far less free will then they would like to think.

  15. re Department of Nature Appreciation

    If Harvard Rice University had one perhaps William Sidis could have continued being a professor there. I know how Sidis felt.

  16. DMerton,

    Say, huh? ;-) It is called humor, sarcasm, quite mild actually. Didn’t consider it “nasty” at all. And not sure where you got I was on Dawkins side, unless your pulling my leg.

    That paragraph against ID and Creation science was hysterical to anyone who knows the score. I really was laughing at one point and guffawing at the “epistemological nihilism” word contortions to try and paint ID unfavorably to a pseudo intellectual readership that merely baa baa baaas at such drivel.

    The Brites are especially attracted to verbal olympics and word jousting. If you’ve seen this battle go on for a little while, you understand the lines of division. The word, “nihilism” is attributed to Darwinist, NDE’s and the like. Never to IDist, but it is a good attempt to distort reality and another way of stating ID proponents have no imagination and therefore cannot lead good scientific research.

    I give them points for effort and chuckles for the latest Brite word manipulation. I merely pointed out it was propaganda, not journalism, nor a review. More like how can we slant this so what “appears” designed even in your book, is not taken as an admittance of design and still insure materialist evolution is fact?

    The line about computers was one of the most absurd statements I’ve ever seen publised in my life. Either there was no editorial oversight, or the Editor shanked this one too. No matter what the reviewer was trying to get across to his public, he completely blew it.

    “This is manna to creationists, who insist that where there is a computer, there must be someone who designed it.”

    This is comedic material grand royal. Jay Leno type monologue stuff. You don’t hand lines like this to your opponents. Haha… I’m still laughing.

    Is it merely by listing the word, “creationist” in the sentence structure that they think it is wrong?

    Whatever the reasoning of the mind for that one sentence, it clearly misses its mark and is open fodder for humor.

    Although, I hear WalMart is selling on special starting tomorrow, Evolved Computers. It’s a pile of dirt with some water and amino acids. Buy now and 4 billion years later, voila! Computer! It only cost $2 and is imported from China.

  17. 17

    avocationist

    The problem of free will and determinism is a question that Dawkins is woefully under equipped to deal with.

    This is a problem that has plagued philosophy, psychology, biology and theology for a long time now and is something I give a lot of thought too.

  18. “This is manna to creationists, who insist that where there is a computer, there must be someone who designed it.”

    I got a good chuckle out of this, too. Of course, all intelligent, educated people who aren’t in complete denial of the facts will admit that blind natural processes build computers.

    Wait, this makes me wonder if the computer I’m using right now is designed. Are any computers designed? How could I know? I’ve never actually seen a computer be designed. And even if I had, how would I know that its “designers” were actually designing when they “designed” it? Oh, the epistemological nihilistic tailspin I’ve been thrown into! :P

  19. a5b01zerobone

    From Piltdown Man, Hesperopithecus and Java Man to Homo floresiensis the so called “hobbit”. Fossil hunters are all too eager to ignite controversy by over-stating claims.

    Do I dare mention the blatant Archaeoraptor fake? In which Dinosaur bones were put together with the bones of a newer species of bird and then passed off in National Geographic as if it were a very important new evolutionary intermediate.

    “National Geographic has reached an all-time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism”
    - Storrs L. Olson, Smithsonian Institution

    The people with whom our society invests their great trust and respect in continue to deceive the us in the name of Darwinism. Do they take us for fools?

    http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/.....;WT.srch=1

  20. Dr. Dembski,

    While I understand why you would seperate the departments into the two areas I question why would you get rid of anyone? Wouldn´t you allow dissenting voices from your own? This seems to be a situation faced already among those positing ID on a professional level. On the surface this appears to be eye for an eye justice.

  21. 21

    The media in the USA is guilty of either misrepresenting ID or ignoring it altogether.

    When I read something in my daily paper or see something on the news more often than not it is incredibly biased in favor of Darwinian evolution. I find this website below helpful in discerning actual fact from Darwinist spin.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/

    Also, for all you that have not of if this yet. The Scientist reported back on December 22, 2006 that Smithsonian officials engaged in a campaign of discrimination and harassment of evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg because he wrote and published a paper in support of Intelligent Design.
    http://www.the-scientist.com/news/home/38440/

  22. I wouldn’t give the darwinists a second thought. Perhaps the Vise strategy applied to the faculty of a university, and then you can neatly divide them after you’ve figured out their predispositions. One thought, though, how will you treat those who have had doubts but are reluctant to declare a position? There’s not much crossover between Nature Appreciation and Biological Engineering.

  23. If Dr. Dembski were president of a university, one would expect him to want to generate a fruitful biological ID research program. It would seem appropriate, then, to preserve and hire faculty members that actually have some depth of understanding of biology. Additionally, students attracted to a Dembski-led university would likely be interested in ID, and would benefit from learning some biology. Thus, eliminating a biology department might not be a very good way of advancing ID’s scientific endeavours.

  24. Does Dr. Dembski not realize that the vast majority of “Biological Engineers” are also “Evolutionists”? I am affiliated with a major research university and know a number of people who use biological phenomena to design physical machines. And every single one of them uses evolution to analyze how these adaptations evolved. The ability to observe phenomena in nature and develop machines that mimic them does in no way indicate that organisms are designed. All it indicates is that observations of natural phenomena can be mimicked by human design.

  25. thecoalescent

    Does Dr. Dembski not realize that the vast majority of “Biological Engineers” are also “Evolutionists”?

    Do you have a poll to support this or is it just a guess based on your limited experience at a notoriously liberal university?

  26. I am affiliated with a major research university and know a number of people who use biological phenomena to design physical machines. And every single one of them uses evolution to analyze how these adaptations evolved.

    Really? They “use evolution” to “analyze” the design they are about to mimick? Why? Does this help them mimick the design? Or do they do it to, as Francis Crick said, “constantly remind themselves that what they see was not designed but evolved.”

  27. “Using evolution to analyze how adaptations evolved” is a euphemism for making up stories for which there is no evidence and that require blind faith in hopelessly huge improbabilities.

  28. Ah bad sentence sorry (circular!). Should have said “uses evolutionary theory to study the adaptation they are trying to mimic” or something like that. sorry. I was tired.
    In any case, machines can be designed to mimic nature without the study of evolution, I suppose. However, most bioengineering people that I know show their interest not simply in mimicking a trait, but in understanding the history of a trait in the organism of interest. Do its close relatives share this trait? If so or if not in which types of environments do the organisms live? If a sister species possesses the trait but does not live in an environment that seems to require it, why does the trait remain? etc. Simply copying something for human use is only one (albeit interesting!) part of the science.

  29. coalescent

    Did you make that up out of thin air too?

    I see you failed to answer my previous question about the source of your data.

    Consider yourself warned. Start backing up your assertions with independent corroboration or take a hike.

  30. 30

    Salvo magazine
    http://www.salvomag.com/

    Blasting holes in scientific naturalism, marveling at the intricate design of the universe, and promoting life in a culture of death.

    Critiquing art, music, film, television, and literature, interrupting mass media influence, and questioning the sanity of our consumerist lifestyle.

    Countering destructive ideologies, replacing revisionist fictions with undeniable facts, and paring away political correctness.

    Debunking the cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded our appetite for transcendence.

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