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Monday, July 9, 2007

A Green Dream

posted by on July 9 at 17:15 PM

Will this
Hanging%20Drops.jpg

ever equal the impact of this
Locomotive.jpg

It has become part of the accepted wisdom to say that the twentieth century was the century of physics and the twenty-first century will be the century of biology. Two facts about the coming century are agreed on by almost everyone. Biology is now bigger than physics, as measured by the size of budgets, by the size of the workforce, or by the output of major discoveries; and biology is likely to remain the biggest part of science through the twenty-first century. Biology is also more important than physics, as measured by its economic consequences, by its ethical implications, or by its effects on human welfare. …. The domestication of biotechnology in everyday life may also be helpful in solving practical economic and environmental problems. Once a new generation of children has grown up, as familiar with biotech games as our grandchildren are now with computer games, biotechnology will no longer seem weird and alien. In the era of Open Source biology, the magic of genes will be available to anyone with the skill and imagination to use it. The way will be open for biotechnology to move into the mainstream of economic development, to help us solve some of our urgent social problems and ameliorate the human condition all over the earth.

I wish I could share Freeman Dyson’s optimism.

RSS icon Comments

1

Yeah, sure hope none of that generation of bio-savvy chldren decides to use the "magic of genes" to, say, engineer incurable diseases or something.

Posted by flamingbanjo | July 9, 2007 5:38 PM
2

I'll believe in the possibility of wide-spread open-source biology as soon as I see wide-spread open-source technology. As it stands now, much of the genome has already been copyrighted.

Posted by Charles | July 9, 2007 6:08 PM
3

Small typo. It is Freeman Dyson.

Posted by Matt from MI | July 9, 2007 6:33 PM
4

Thank-you Matt. I've corrected it.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | July 9, 2007 6:57 PM
5

I think he's wrong, but not because I think the importance of biology won't increase. I think it will. It's just that as we gain more knowledge in each field, they actually become more integrated. Witness biology. Once, it was merely descriptive of how animals acted and perhaps their anatomy. Eventually, biologists realized that chemistry was so important to their field of study that biochemistry became a field unto itself. Now, biochemists are looking into the actual shape of molecules, and the way proteins fold, meaning that physics is going to play a bigger role, and nanobots will be used to construct proteins.

Also, we'll learn how to use stem cells to build new Shakey's.

Posted by Gitai | July 9, 2007 7:07 PM
6

Biology is inefficient.

It will, in the end, be replaced.

No matter what happens in the 21st century, the 31st will belong to technology once again.

Posted by supergp | July 9, 2007 7:16 PM
7

"The way will be open for biotechnology to move into the mainstream of economic development"

Fear that day. Because poverty is not a biological problem. It's a power problem.

Posted by wf | July 9, 2007 7:16 PM
8

Sure, would that be an agribusiness or in-home grade PCR machine (I like the name GeneSwirl, but GeneWhiz sounds more high-techy, I think) , an internet connection (down-loadable modules seem in order), probably some chemicals from the “Genetic Modifiers” aisle (clean-up, aisle 10)… then that’s that… an essence of pork chop apple mint plant. Over a few generation I think I could really bring out a hint of cinnamon. I could then grow it into a tall maple sized tree, and the little helicopter seed pods would become the next gardener/foodie craze.

I wonder if we would need to modify a few of our existing environmental laws to accommodate the home hobbyist?


Biotechnology in the hands of the “rurals”? Pleazzze.

Posted by Happy Freedom Day!!! | July 9, 2007 7:26 PM
9

Grandpa!

Posted by Lauren | July 9, 2007 8:49 PM
10

Grandpa!

Posted by Lauren | July 9, 2007 8:49 PM
11

A bit premature for the physics/biology bit. At the start of the 20th century it looked like physics was finished except for two nagging problems: the lorentz contraction, and black-box radiation. Then boom: Relativity and Quantum.
At present we suspect that a) the universe is composed mostly of particles we can't even detect yet, b) the universe was we know it is a quantum projection of information that can exist only at the universe's edge, c) the four dimensions of space-time are a sliver of the real universe's multi-dimensional spread, d) quantum still has all sorts of craziness to pull technological novelty from (e.g. quantum teleportation). If any one of these areas of phyical research pans out it will completely determine science for the next hundred years.
So if biology is trumps it's only because we are too stupid at present to find our way past the present wave of pysical enigmas. So like Plato's cave dwellers we make do with figuring out what shadow follows the horsey.

Posted by kinaidos | July 9, 2007 10:03 PM
12
...and nanobots will be used to construct proteins.

That would be pointless, like training snails to install vinyl siding.

Posted by tell me another one | July 9, 2007 10:14 PM
13

"The domestication of biotechnology in everyday life may also be helpful in solving practical economic and environmental problems. Once a new generation of children has grown up, as familiar with biotech games as our grandchildren are now with computer games, biotechnology will no longer seem weird and alien."

How will biotech solve these great problems? Apparently through new modes of consumption, for the kiddies!

Posted by johnny | July 9, 2007 10:30 PM
14

Our heirs may find that biology is obsolete by the end of the century; though at the time, they will be slowly reforming the moon into a swarm of self-replicating machines.

Or we'll be living in caves again.

Or both.

Or neither.

Recently I read an article about the effects of global warming that predicted Mongolia would see a 122% increase in international tourist arrivals 93 years from now.

Naming this century's science is the same kind of nonsense.

Posted by imofftoseethewizard | July 10, 2007 1:19 AM
15

One could argue that physics comes first, since chemistry is just applied physics. Then biology, since that's just applied chemistry. But math should probably be the first step (before physics) since physics is just math applied to one possible universe.

I predict that the 21 century will be the century of math.

Posted by Steve | July 10, 2007 9:55 AM
16

Freeman Dyson likes Bush.

I think I'll file him away in the Used Up Their 15 Minutes Of Fame box.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 10, 2007 10:59 AM
17

oh, and if you want real genome science, there are free lectures by some real top notch scientists at the UW Foege Building in S-060 every Wednesday at 8pm from now until August 8 with free cookies and coffee afterwards.

http://www.gs.washington.edu/wednesdays/

Now that is the FUTURE.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 10, 2007 11:02 AM
18

@12 Granted, it's an example I pulled out of my ass, but if it turned out to be more efficient and predictable than programming bacteria to do it (genomes mutate and all), it might not be pointless.

Posted by Gitai | July 10, 2007 4:54 PM

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