Cheat-Seeking Missles

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Quote Of The Day: GULP! Edition

"We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened." -- Jack Szostak, Harvard Medical School

Jack Szostak is reputedly one of the leaders of the frightening and unethical scientific movement that's seeking to create artificial life from scratch, and the best he can hope for is to turn on the switch, stand back, and see what happens.

just because we have the ability to walk up to someone and poke their eye out, that doesn't make it right, no more than having the technical ability makes it right to try to create molecules that are alive. But they are pursuing it, nonetheless:
WASHINGTON (AP) - Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they're getting closer.

Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life."

"It's going to be a big deal and everybody's going to know about it," said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. "We're talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways—in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict."

That first cell of synthetic life—made from the basic chemicals in DNA—may not seem like much to non-scientists. For one thing, you'll have to look in a microscope to see it.

"Creating protocells has the potential to shed new light on our place in the universe," Bedau said. "This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role."

Frankly, I don't give these folks much chance for success. Molecules are marvelously, divinely complex, with so many parts that the time required and chances for error make their manufacture by humans unlikely.

Still, very smart minds are working on the probem just because there is funding available to allow them to do it. Why do we need to make molecules? Who knows? They say these molecules might eat up greenhouse gas (how trendy) or eat toxic waste.

Of course, they could also use good ol' evolution to become something else entirely -- something, perhaps that eats beneficial gases in the atmosphere or creates a massive spawn of new toxicity.

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