Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Synthetic life and nanotech

A while back, Coast to Coast AM had Dr. Rosalyn Berne on as a guest.

Dr. Berne is an academic who studies the intersecting points of developing technology, science fiction, and myth.  She discussed such weighty matters as synthetic biology, nanotechnology,and robotics.  The underlying premise of her work is what grabbed me the most: as technology changes, we change.  One does not preclude the other and that's not necessarily a bad thing but it demands examination.

Of the many topics Berne discussed, none intrigued me more than the concept of synthetic biology.  As the phrase implies, this is a form of engineering where material already existing in nature is taken and then altered into an entirely new lifeform.  Why would you do that?  Well, if the new lifeform were completely programmable, then it might have numerous uses for us.  A "living robot" if you're searching for an overly-dramatic moniker.  This kind of engineering has already drawn considerable fire from environmentalists, perhaps not without good reason.  It certainly is a form of technology

She also discussed nanotechnology and I was pleased to hear Berne cite one of my favorite arguments for the devices.  Imagine a horde of robots within your circulatory system.  These "nanobots," "nanites" or whatever term one wishes to call them, lay dormant until something such as a cancer cell arises.  That's when they swarm and attack (I've blogged about this before.)  The upside of this technology is that unlike chemo or many other treatments for cancer and the like, the healthy areas of the body are not damaged in the treatment.  This is a truly surgical strike and it can happen the moment cancer rears its ugly rear in the human body.

Think it sounds crazy?  Well, nanotech is already here.  Berne pointed out that there products presently on the market that carry nano-materials, things such as sunscreens.  Get used to it.

I don't know what it is about it, but as I said earlier, synthetic biology truly intrigues me.  This holds the promise of enormous benefits for many aspects of life, especially biology.  Extending lifespan is good news for anyone looking to dodge their eventual obsequy (like most people) or just wanting to modify or shuck "human" altogether (like me.)

If you fear this technology, take heart!  First we've got to fully develop it and that will depend on the human race surviving long enough to do so.  Climate change may bring about environmental disaster, terrorists could release a bio-weapon, or we might even do ourselves in with a good ol' fashion nuking before we even get to the full use of synthetic lifeforms.   You know, render us to a state like the "real world" in The Matrix?

Then we might be wishing for miniature robots that could put us all back together.

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