Friday 21 May 2010

Synthetic life - life as information

"Craig Venter creates synthetic life form" Guardian 20/5/2010
"...we've started with information in the computer, built that software molecule - now over a million letters of a genetic code - put that into a recipient cell and [..] that has converted that cell into a new species"
Cue loads of discussion of the ethics, of course, and in comment in the Guardian, Andrew Brown says:
But at this moment of complete victory for materialism something odd has happened: the chemical and material world turns out to be entirely shaped by something called "information".

But, then he goes on to say
But though this information clearly exists in some sense, it's impossible to say what kind of thing it is, because it isn't a thing at all.
OK, sort of.
Whatever this may be, it isn't material, and it isn't bound by physical laws. Information turns out to be as elusive and as omnipresent as God once was.
Well, information is elusive and omnipresent - which is the motivation for this blog - but I don't know about 'isn't bound by physical laws'.


BobK99 said...

There's no need to bring 'God' into it at all.
Nobody's 'playing God'. Human beings are doing what human beings can do, and there's no need to dress that up in a hypothetical and self-deluding metaphor.

Information is omnipresent, and it's more or less susceptible to artificial manipulation. At last we know what we're doing.

Perhaps they'd care to look into the possibility of a species that can clean up oil spills. Oh, and throw in a dash of apoptosis, so we don't make an even bigger mess by introducing an alien species.


David Chapman said...

I can see value in the 'playing God' metaphor because I worry that you need a 'God's-eye' view of the world to understand the consequences of releasing a synthetic life form into the wild.

It's like with geoengineering. It would be so easy to get it wrong, catastrophically wrong, and I think it would take more than a dash of apoptosis to reassure me.