Biocurious is a weblog about biology, quantified.

Biocomputation at Edge

by Andre on 12 August 2005

I’ve been meaning to mention this recent article at Edge for a while, but I’ve been busy analysing data since getting back from Munich. The title may be a bit of a misnomer: Ventner doesn’t talk about computation at all, and while Kurzweil and Brooks both have backgrounds in AI they stick mostly to biology as well.

This is the type of article that I like to read every now and then to jolt me out of those inevitable phlegmatic spells that seem to result from too much data analysis. Here are some excerpts from the talks to whet your appetite:

Biology is starting to approach the threshold that the electronics industry passed where all of a sudden people had all the components and could start building virtually anything they wanted, using these different components.

We ultimately will have not just designer babies, but designer baby-boomers.

A long time ago the brain was a hydrodynamic system. Then the brain became a steam engine. When I was a kid, the brain was a telephone switching network. Then it became a digital computer. And then the brain became a massively parallel digital computer. About two or three years ago I was giving a talk and someone got up in the audience and asked a question I’d been waiting for — he said, “but isn’t the brain just like the World Wide Web?” The brain is always — has always been — modeled after our most complex technology. We weren’t right when we thought it was a steam engine. I suspect we’re still not right in thinking of it in purely computational terms, because my gut feeling is there’s going to be another way of talking about things which will subsume computation, but which will also subsume a lot of other physical stuff that happens.

As you might expect if you know anything about him, Kurzweil’s talk was the most speculative of the three. I think he’s really interesting when I’m in the mood for something far out, but not quite science fiction – it can be refreshing – but I was still a little bit disappointed that he brought up Robert Freitas’ “design” for what he calls respirocytes. Freitas (and Drexler and Merkle and…) “designs” various nano gadgets assuming Drexlerian molecular manufacturing capabilities and then estimates how well they will perform. The speculation can be fun, but they take themselves way too seriously for my taste. Just read the abstract. It’s a little bit like Leonardo da Vinci designing a robot.



  1. Maria Thistle    4335 days ago    #
    ah,.. how i miss the days of Drexler bashing. :) hope all is well with you both.
  2. andre    4335 days ago    #
    I don’t know what you’re talking about :)

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