Bio-hackers (NetFuture #105) : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

From a particularly good edition of NetFuture by Steve L. Talbott Netfuture

Genome Hackers

Last month a 17-year-old girl won first place in the Intel Science Talent Search for an impressive bit of cryptographic work using DNA sequences. Many would be surprised to learn how common it has become for secondary school students to work with DNA. In what passes for high school biology these days, students are often given sophisticated, highly automated kits enabling them to carry out various recipe-like manipulations of isolated DNA.

Of course, this training as lab technicians has little to do with understanding the world of plants and animals -- and a good deal to do with the cultivation of false and one-sided notions about living organisms. But there's no denying the glamor in those kits. And while such abstractions as the students employ may reveal almost nothing of the world's biological richness, there is nevertheless power in them -- a power that is all the more fearsome for the fact that it is mostly blind.

If there's one thing hackers understand, it is the appeal of blind power, which might be described as throwing a wrench into the works and seeing what happens. This brings to mind a recent comment by Donella Meadows, who teaches environmental studies at Dartmouth: "It is only a matter of time before [biological] hackers appear who think it might be fun, as computer hackers do, to create and release their own viruses".

If and when this happens, we'll get a fresh perspective on the shallow characterization of computer viruses (and their hosts) as living things. The real danger is not in the fanciful prospect of raising our machines to life, but rather in the already entrenched practice of treating living things as if they were machines. In this game, it is not only Intel prize winners, but also hackers, who will feel quite at home.

(Donella Meadows' brief, excellent article is available here)


"We are a culture obsessed by new technical capabilities for their own sake, rather than the worthwhile activities and institutions that all technical capabilities presumably exist to support." ---James Howard Kunstler (The Geography of Nowhere)

-- (, April 18, 2000


Are we headed for a wonderful technological Utopia or one more similiar to "This Perfect Day" by Ira Levin?

Will techonology be both our salvation and our downfall?

Are we going to find Utopia before we open up a pandora's box and extinguish ourselves?

Inquiring minds want to know!

-- eloy&morlock (x@...ed), April 18, 2000.

Sad to say but if something can be done, it will be done.

-- Lars (, April 18, 2000.

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