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Ray Kurzweil: Reprogramming Biology

Reprogramming Biology
by Ray Kurzweil, July 2006 Scientific American

Biology is now in the early stages of a historic transition to an information science, while also gaining the tools to reprogram the ancient information systems of life. Our electronic devices typically update their software every few months, yet the 23,000 software programs called genes inside our cells have not changed appreciably in thousands of years. As we begin to understand biology in terms of its information processes, however, we are developing realistic models and simulations of how disease and aging progress and ways to reprogram them.

Read the rest at the link above.

Biologists are becoming obsolete. This is why they whine so much. Mathematicians and computer engineers are trained to think in the relevant terms of the new era of biology – information theory and information processing. Biologists don’t have a clue while our information gurus find themselves right at home in the new biology. Historic biology is irrelevant. Whether the exact order of all the extinct species in the phylogenetic tree is perfected or not makes not a whit of practical difference to the world. Why bother funding it when there are diseases to cure, food to grow more efficiently, and aging to conquer? We have more practical things for science to do than wool gathering about how whales and horses evolved or which dinosaur preceded which or whether bird feathers came from reptile scales and when. The chemistry and physics majors at Berkeley call biology a cross between pipetting and stamp collecting. Levity? Not much.

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9 Responses to Ray Kurzweil: Reprogramming Biology

  1. I have often said we would get into some real food fights when ID succeeded and the discussion turned to religion and what were the intentions of the designer. This issue has the same sensitivity. As people find uses for the technology such as having designer children, or deciding who get the expensive gene therapy, or what to do with people who live to 140 or 150 and how they fit into a society built on time frame of maturing, having children, and then retirement and dying.

    What will be the outcome if they find out how to make people more intelligent. Will the newly created super intelligent have the same attitudes towards the not so smart as they will for each other. This area if it is fruitful could make past controversies trivial. Modern biology gives a new meaning to Pandora’s box.

  2. Nice post Dave….

    As another note, with Bill Gates impending shift of responsibilities and the announcement timing of Warren Buffett, the Microsoft 2020 research goals paper will provide some direction of the Gates Foundation on medicine and finding cures. I suspect much of that paper will foreshadow Gates committment to excellence in helping third world countries.

    That paper includes the future of computer scientist, math, physics and myriad forms of engineering entering into the biology landscape. This is information centric and searching for laws heretofore unfound based upon the hard sciences, not RM&NS.

  3. “Another important line of attack is to regrow our own cells, tissues and even whole organs.”

    This is what I’ve touted about the bladder and scientific work being done by Dr. Anthony Atala, “This suggests that tissue engineering may one day be a solution to the shortage of donor organs in this country for those needing transplants.”

    “A major benefit of this “therapeutic cloning” technique will be the ability to create tissues from versions of our cells that have been made “youn-ger” by correcting DNA errors and senescence-related changes. For example, we will be able to create heart cells from your skin-derived stem cells and introduce them into your system through the bloodstream. Over time, the new cells will replace your old ones, resulting in a rejuvenated heart.”

    What a time to live….

  4. I used to be down with Kurzweil’s whole schtick, but I’ve started to back off some in the last few years – I don’t think that all of biology can really be reduced to genes. There are holistic factors at work (maybe Sheldrake’s concept of “fields”) that go beyond the simple protien expression of the genome. There’s simply too little information there to completely specify an organism. I still think that conventional biology, that looks at actual organisms and their environment instead of computer screens, has some life in it yet…

    There’s simply too little information there to completely specify an organism.

    I hear ya. There’s less than a gigabyte of information in the ordering of 3 billion bases (approx. human genome). Epigenetic information is almost certainly understated today. Omne vivo ex ovum (everything comes from an egg). Every daughter cell inherits a lot of structure other than DNA from its mother cell and as far as anyone knows there isn’t any cell that didn’t have a mama. I’m not familiar with Kurzweil’s thoughts in biology. I’m acquainted with his speech recognition products from circa 1988 when I designed a speech recognition card for the IBM PC that year. Other than that I really don’ t know him from Adam. -ds

  5. Right on, Dave. The biologists have to get out of the way and let the big boys take over. They are woefully unprepared to create results or draw conclusions from the very things that they have discovered.

    Stu Harris
    http://www.theidbookstore.com

  6. Conceptually I agree with Vinge and Kurzweil. Kurweil’s math tends to be based on somewhat arbitrary epochs. But at least he makes predictions that can be tested.

  7. I recently completed a book on the origin of life in which one of the chapters was titled The Origin of Biological Information. Guess what was absent from that chapter.

  8. 8
    SatyaMevaJayate

    Since someone mentioned about regrowing our cells… I wanted to know is there any effort to regrow cells from scratch, in the sense you don’t use a mother cell.. or in other words, is it possible to assemble a living cell from scratch( atleast theoritically) & get it to multiply…

    I began to ponder on this question while thinking of the E = mc2 equation & if it has been practically tested in every manner possible.. I can see there is a lots of labs which site conversion of mass into energy but only one(CERN) which talks of converting energy to anti-matter & matter..

    But we see the creation of matter all around us everytime in the growth of very living thing which we assume is by converting the energy from the sun our food etc…

    But has there been more research done on this topic.. is there a IC concept somehwere in here???

  9. Kurzweil co-authored a book with the Discovery Institute founders and fellows Geogre Gilder, Jay Richards, and William Dembski some time ago (something to do with Spiritual Machines).

    I’m glad his association with the DI didn’t preclude him from being published at SciAm!

    I’m of the opinion Gilder is very friendly to Kurzweils ideas (with the exception of the nature of man’s soul.)

    Salvador

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