This year’s theme was “Inspired by Nature”, which I believe has broad and interdisciplinary relevance, especially to the future of intelligence and information technology. By the end of the conference, there was a common thread running throughout the myriad talks, a leitmotif along the frontiers of the unknown. I felt as if I had been immersed in a fugue of biomimicry.
I am still trying to synthesize the discussions I had with Kurzweil, Venter and Hillis about subsystem complexity in evolved systems, but until then, I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes and photos.
• Rodney Brooks, MIT robotocist:
“Within 2-3 weeks, freshmen are adding BioBricks to the E.Coli bacteria chassis. They make oscillators that flash slowly and digital computation agents. But the digital abstraction may not be right metaphor for programming biology.”
“Polyclad flatworms have about 2000 neurons. You can take their brain out and put it back in backwards. The worm moves backwards at first, but adapts over time back to normal. You can rotate its brain 180 degrees and put it in upside down, and it still works. Biology is changing our understanding of complexity and computation.”
• Craig Venter, when asked about the risks of ‘playing God’ in the creation of a new form of microbial life: “My colleague Hammie Smith likes to answer: ‘We don’t play.’”
“With Synthetic Genomics, genes are the design components for the future of biology. We hope to replace the petrochemical industry, most food, clean energy and bioremediation.”
“The sea is very heterogeneous. We sampled seawater microbes every 200 miles and 85% of the gene sequences in each sample were unique... 80% of all known gene data is new in the last year.”
“There are about 5*10^30 microbes on Earth. The Archaea alone outweigh all plants and animals... One milliliter of sea water has 1 million bacteria and 10 million viruses.”
• Graham Hawkes, radical submarine inventor, would agree:
“94% of life on Earth is aquatic. I am embarrassed to call our planet ‘Earth’. It’s an ocean planet.”
• Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry (discussion):
“Our heat, beat and treat approach to manufacturing is 96% waste... Life adds information to matter. Life creates conditions conducive to life.”
• Kevin Kelly, a brilliant author and synthesizer:
“Organisms hack the rules of life. Every rule has an exception in nature.”
“Life and technology tend toward ubiquity, diversity, specialization, complexity and sociability…. What does technology want? Technology wants a zillion species of one. Technology is the evolution of evolution itself, exploring the ways to explore, a game to play all the games.”
• James Watson, on finding DNA's helix: “It all happened in about two hours. We went from nothing to thing.” (Photo and discussion)
• The Bill Joy nightmare ensemble: GNR epitomized in Venter (Genetics), Kurzweil (Nanotech) and Brooks (Robotics).
• The Feynman Fan club: particle diagrams take on human form =)
• GM’s VP of R&D on the importance of hydrogen to the auto industry.
• Amory Lovins on the inefficiency of current autos
• And, for entertainment, a Grateful Dead drum circle, Pilobolus, and polypedal studies.
• Bono, Streaming video of his TED Prize acceptance speech:
“A head of state admitted this to me: There’s no chance this kind of hemorrhaging of human life would be accepted anywhere else other than Africa. Africa is a continent in flames.”