DIY biohackers in the news

Discuss

71 Responses to “DIY biohackers in the news”

  1. Ed Bear says:

    Warming yourself with a couple of balls of subcritical uranium has at least a clearly defined Bad Outcome – it’s not at all obvious what baroque series of unlikely events would have to happen to bring forth the extreme scenarios. I’m personally pretty comfortable that we’re way down into Planck constant-sized probabilities here.

    If you’re in a university town I can personally guarantee that somewhere near you, hungover 20-somethings have been dicking around with this stuff (and with all of the most up-to-date equipment and techniques) for 25+ years now without bad effect. The probability of making a bad bug slightly worse may be nonzero, but I honestly think it is much smarter to worry about your personal cholesterol intake in terms of realistic threats.

  2. Takuan says:

    “misery loves company”?

  3. Takuan says:

    comforting to hear, it’s just that I have boundless belief that the most potent force in the universe is human stupidity. It’s already more common than hydrogen.

  4. zuzu says:

    Or, “many hands make light work”. :)

  5. UrinalPooper says:

    Antinous: “You do understand that life is more unpredictable than simple chemistry?”

    Let people mate with whom they please and bring any old sport to term with the help of advanced science… Oh wait, that’s OK. For some inconceivable (pun intended) reason.

    Nature is a far harsher laboratory than anyone’s kitchen, basement or garage. Even with the best efforts no one is going to recreate the horror of the 1918 flux. Even some terrible mistake will at worst be another agent orange or asbestos. Compared to the horrors that nature haphazardly tosses our way? I don’t see the risk worth stunting our growth through the acquisition of knowledge. No way, no how.

    Fear is what makes us weak. Fear is what confounds curiosity. And I’d rather be a curious cat than a scaredy-cat. Although if I had my druthers I’d be lolcat.

    • Antinous says:

      Given the vastness of life on earth and the tiny number of biohackers, I’d say that nature is still far more likely to create a new plague. But I’d just as soon not see ads for ebola samples next to the sea monkeys in the back of comic books.

  6. arkizzle says:

    True, both! Tak’s is funnier though.

  7. dculberson says:

    “cult of science”

    And that’s where the crazy leaked into the thread!

  8. zuzu says:

    “cult of science” And that’s where the crazy leaked into the thread!

    I don’t think it means what you think it means. “cult of science” in this context (or at least how I also thought about citing it until someone else did first) is rather another way of saying “technocracy“.

    Watch James Burke’s Connections series, which concludes with addressing this dilemma of modern society.

  9. Takuan says:

    I agree, Monsanto is the real enemy.

  10. noen says:

    Kieran O’Neill
    “Noen, you’re not really giving people “root”. “

    Yeah, I know.

    Zuzu
    “I’m looking forward to having open-source programmable organic molecule synthesizers the size of household refrigerators available to anyone”

    Which brings me back to my original concern. “Is that really such a good idea?” And it’s just a concern, not paranoia. On the whole I’d say yes, it is a good thing but I worry about the outliers and I notice that with each technological advance the odds increase for “very bad things” to happen. I like “trust by verify”, we should let these go forward but have safeguards in place.

  11. noen says:

    Arkizzle
    It is more fun until someone’s eye get poked out and so you go to the nerd down the street and the eye drops grow the eye back. Only they don’t stop growing because he forgot to put that instruction in and so you’re all covered with eyeballs. So… you know… there’s that.

    Zuzu
    “Where I disagree is this “obviousness”.”

    You don’t think there need to be rules? Well I guess 4Chan is your idea of utopia then amiright?

    “We need people to be able to test their dog food themselves for whether it contains melamine or not, rather than trusting police to ensure its safety for us.”

    Why? I shouldn’t have to test all my food. I shouldn’t to have to have a degree in a dozen different disciplines just to survive. The whole point of this “civilization” business is that it is built on trust. That frees me up to do what I am best at.

    This is why Libertarians are seen as glib and superficial. Because they think that if you just hand everyone powerful technology, like say military assault rifles, that everything will be fine. Everyone will pursue their own rational self interest and there are never any outliers anyway. It’s so stupid it borders on the delusional.

    So that’s my argument. That just as we ought not to allow easy access to guns we ought not to allow easy access to bio-engineering labs. I don’t want the kid down the block to be working on a hack for the Marburg virus. Just like I don’t want him to be like the Nuclear Boy Scout who built a reactor and dosed everyone around him.

    That said I think this lab is probably a “good thing” and run by responsible people. I’m just advising caution going forward.

  12. zuzu says:

    More like ads for the Spanish Lady on Craigslist.

  13. GuidoDavid says:

    Speaking as a person highly trained in biochemistry, enzymology, and molecular biology, I find all of the talk about biohacking to be highly inspirational, and a sign of the times to come and the commentary of Anonymous delusional and self righteous.

    Current technology allows to build a thermal cycler for around 10 dollars. The price of DNA synthesis keeps dropping and dropping. Sure, there are many things that for the foreseeable future are out of reach for amateurs, but to dismiss so sharply the notion that untrained people cannot do anything useful shows that you may have training, but you lack vision, imagination and lack appreciation for human ingenuity.

    There was a time when fire was restricted to a few, and I am sure that once the techniques to start fire were easier and our ancestors understood about combustible materials, they had exactly the same discussion we have now. And now, so many years later, we have pyromaniacs, arsonists, and torturers. But we have cuisine, soldiering and metals. How would be a world where only specialists in “fire manipulation” were the only ones allowed to cook, given the enormous risk of third degree burnings when people manipulates boiling water? No one else could prepare meals according to their own taste and needs. Now, apply the same for biotechnology, and you get to the point where we are now, where thousands of problesm could be solvable but the tools are in the hands of few people and restricted by patents and IP.

    Not anymore.

  14. Takuan says:

    a million wannabe Shakespeare monkeys? Let’s see what happens.

  15. UrinalPooper says:

    Noen:
    The 12 year old down the street is more likely to WEAKEN a sample of Marburg virus. You’re basing your entire rationale on fear. It’s pure emotion and no logic. And if they do weaponize it and it kills… what’s the worst case scenario? Stephen King novel levels of destruction? Then you know what? We weren’t worth it as a species.

    But the worst case scenario isn’t that bad and even then it is still in the range of ‘highly unlikely’. Far less likely than meth-head chemistry set guy blowing up part of his trailer park. Y’know what? I still want kids to have [expletive] chemistry sets… because the risk of mayhem and mischief is far outweighed by the benefits of wisdom, knowledge and insight.

  16. Takuan says:

    I’d worry more about a common bacteria becoming totally resistant.

  17. Takuan says:

    though my mosquito with castor bean genes would be scary.

  18. zuzu says:

    though my mosquito with castor bean genes would be scary.

    Check out the jumping gene / mosquito episode of ReGenesis.

  19. zuzu says:

    No surprise here – this is Meredith Patterson we’re talking about. She gave a presentation at Codecon 2005 on isolating DNA using common kitchen equipment. (That was one of several Codecons where Dan Kaminsky was doing appalling things to DNS…) She’s also done presentations on more traditional computer science applications, worked on computer security, etc. and is an all-around bright person.

    Hell yes, this is exactly what I was trying to think of to include but couldn’t dredge up the name of the convention. Thanks!!! She’s great.

  20. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    The issue isn’t whether amateurs should be messing with biotechnology; it’s what they’re going to do with it.

  21. Ed Bear says:

    Speaking as someone else who has spent many an hour doing work which would be broadly classed as “genetic engineering” by the criteria of this article, the notion that people are going to be creating superbug variants or bringing back mastodons in their scrounged lab setups is fantasy.

    Reality is that it is time-consuming, very expensive, and fiddly work to do even small and well-defined changes to bacteria (ie, introduce a specific new gene into a defined location and verify that it is in place and hasn’t undergone any weird modifications in the process). An amateur with a recipe book might be able to replicate it with a lot of work, but they’re not going to be designing “new life forms” any time in the near future.

    Now when you start getting into doing genetic alterations on mammals, forget about it. Even with millions of dollars worth of facilities and people, this is orders of magnitude more difficult and doesn’t work properly much of the time. This may be a regulatory issue decades down the line, but not in the near term.

  22. noen says:

    urinalpooper
    “The 12 year old down the street is more likely to WEAKEN a sample of Marburg virus. You’re basing your entire rationale on fear.”

    No, it’s the exact opposite. That’s just an example, maybe even a bad one but you get the point anyway. I’m saying that there is a dynamic between reacting out of abject fear on the one hand and complete permissiveness on the other. I’m saying that there should be a balance between the two because I know ahead of time there are some who’ll say this is great let’s give everyone their own biolab in a suitcase.

    Negative emotions are not bad things. Fear and pain keep you alive. This is all hypothetical anyway. It’s just a chance, maybe, to have an interesting discussion about it. Nothing more.

  23. Takuan says:

    agreed an intended outcome would be too difficult for most,what about the twit keeping warm by smacking two hunks of uranium together? Figuratively. Mindless culturing, recombination and general ignorant dicking about that results in 99.999999999999% petri dishes of smelly,harmless slime? Any odds on that tiny percentage that is so unpredictable and unforeseeable since it is just so damned stupid?

  24. Nick Mathewson says:

    I’m no bio expert, but some of the technoparanoia here is outlandish. Meredith Patterson is not working with Anthrax-Leoprosy-Pi or whatever other fictional bug we’re worried about. Meredith is working with your friendly neighborhood Lactobacillus acidophilus. She is not acting like one of those dumb scientists from 1950s SF movies who uses a giant radiation beam to mutate things at random. Instead, she is sticking specific-purpose genes into the bugs with plasmids to (hopefully) produce a nice targetted result.

    It makes me sad when people react to Patterson doing this stuff by talking about how bad it would be if some 12-year-old started messing with ebola. We wouldn’t stand for that in other areas of technology, I think. We didn’t react to talk of people writing an open source web browser by talking about how scared we are that they will write an internet-killing super-worm instead. We didn’t react to the people building musical Tesla coils by agonizing about how bad it would be if they stopped making music with their Tesla coils and instead ran around electrocuting people at random, because That’s What Scientists Do?

    So why do discussions about competent adults who follow good safety procedures to do yoghurt experiments in their kitchens devolve seem immediately to turn into discussions about the Potential Evils of Biology?

    Is it that we think that biology is magic, and that when you splice a glow-in-the-dark gene into Lactobacillus acidophilus, literally anything could emerge from the petri dish, from velociraptors to herpes? Or do we think that all microorganisms are secretly out to get us, and if you turn your back on yoghurt for even half a second, it’ll start muttering “kill all humans” and mutate into MRSA?

    Of course we don’t. Unless your name is Michael Crichton, you don’t think that “Kill all humans!” is the automatic and natural failure mode of all science projects.

    My working theory here is that that we project our weirdest movie-plot fears onto people who are doing things that do not actually resemble what we fear, except inasmuch as they happen to use some of the same equipment, and work in the same field.

    • Antinous says:

      Thanks for at least announcing that you’re no expert before calling us all paranoid. Although we probably would have figured it out on our own. It was a lovely tour of 50s SF films.

  25. Anonymous says:

    “but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.”

    I see this mentioned alot – it’s simply not true. Squid harvest luminescent Vibrio bacteria in crypts to form light organs – so in essence, this would require a tattoo ink with the a modified form of Vibrio bacteria (the same genus that brings us cholera). Possibly not so smart.

  26. Nick Mathewson says:

    Antinous @#45. I’m confused.[*] I did not think you needed need to be an bio-expert to know whether homemade glow-ghurt is likely to turn into an airborne superflu or something. That was part of my point.

    Nor do I think you need to be an expert to question whether it’s a good idea to discussing adults who apparently follow good protocol and responsible safety procedures through the lens of whether amateurs should be allowed to experiment with deadly viruses however they like. That was kind of also my point.

    I did not mean to call you paranoid for being concerned that worried about experimenting with deadly viruses. I agree that it would be a bad thing for ebola to be available for free in the back of comic books.

    But why do so many discussions about apparently responsible adults following apparently decent lab procedures turn into a discussions about how bad it would be to give ebola to kids for free? I don’t mean just the one here. When I’ve run into this story in other places, it seems that people repeatedly respond to folks that are doing one thing by going on about how much they mistrust the whole field, because of how irresponsible it would be for somebody else to do something completely different.

    These people are wrong, on the internet! This cannot stand. ;)

    [*] Yes, I’m aware of the thing where somebody quotes the ‘correct me if I’m wrong here’ sentence and use it to say “Thank you for admitting your fallability, which the rest of your post amply demonstrates.” Feel free to use it again with this post, if you like. I have provided you with a sentence to quote.

  27. Nick Mathewson says:

    Re me @#46: And apparently, my grammar is slipping. This usually means I am up too late for my own. My apologies in advance if my thinking has been as bad as my subject-verb agreement, and best wishes for a happy new year. :/

  28. Takuan says:

    we had this discussion about nano-tech safety awhile ago. I’ll point out again that people who are in favour of an emergent technology had better polish their PR, arguments and public education methods in a friendly forum like this – or get eaten alive in the larger world when the popular media gets a hold of it.

  29. WA says:

    @Zuzu(7): Laboratory automation is currently at such a rudimentary state that most researchers I know prefer to avoid using it if at all possible – pipetting things by hand, and doing everything manually, is faster, more reliable, and more accurate in all except the most extreme cases. I have a significant amount of automation equipment that I never use, lying around in unused areas of my house. It’s not that I dislike technology and new things: I love them, and I’ve been able to get commercial liquid handling systems to do things that few people thought feasible. But commercially available machines seem to be almost universally designed by the incompetent, and are too proprietary to improve much, while making one’s own machine would take resources that aren’t justifiable.

    In reality, the lack of laboratory automation probably helps amateurs. They don’t have the ability to waste their time and money buying and working on machines that can’t be made to work. And the amount of money spent is enormous: a skilled person can pipette at least 5 times faster than my $100,000 liquid handling robot, and far more accurately; a person won’t run into it’s own arm while carrying a 96 well plate, as my company’s $250,000 robotic arm often did; and this list can continue for quite a while.

  30. Anonymous says:

    What about the animals ?

    What kind of experiments will amateur scientist try on the cats and dogs of their neighborhood ?

  31. serpent says:

    Given enough eyeballs, all bugs look scary.

  32. Takuan says:

    hissss! good one.

  33. noen says:

    Is this really such a good idea?

  34. Richard Kirk says:

    Several issues are getting conflated here. Here is my attempt to separate them…

    * Home-made bioweapons?

    The possibility of generating deadly pathogens in the home is not a piece of science fiction. We passed that point over fifty years ago. You can selectively breed all sorts of horrors using the bottom of the local pond and some bleach and a few other household ingredients.

    * Garage science will kill us all?

    Probably any bunch of scientists are likely to make a mistake sooner or later. We are getting some complex, organic thing, and replacing working with with other working bits, and seeing what happens. We are probably due a bad mistake in bio-engineering sometime soon. It may come from someone tinkering in their garage. It make come from Monsanto and their pals, who seem to think its a good idea for all commercial food crops ought to be sterile so we all have to buy the seed from them again next year, and resistant to insecticides rather than insects, so they can sell the insecticide too. Personally, I am less worried about the person in the garage.

    * Is this the right time to be doing this at home?

    The lab equipment seems to be available. There seems to be a high skill entry level. It’s not like your 12-year old is getting a box with flashing lights and has to be trusted not to press the ‘Giant Raptors’ button. The understanding to do something does not always come with the good sense to use it properly, but it must filter out most of the loonies, and that is the most we can ever hope for.

    I, for one, welcome our new luminous overlords, etc….

  35. zuzu says:

    @49 WA

    pipetting things by hand, and doing everything manually, is faster, more reliable, and more accurate in all except the most extreme cases.

    Having spent marathon sessions in tissue culture labs for months on end, I feel confident in saying this is not fast enough. I really really hate doing lab work, because it’s 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I want (nay, need) robots to do the latter. I need to be able to “waste transistors“.

    However, I totally agree with all your criticisms of current laboratory automation technology. It’s a clusterfuck. But I believe this is primarily due to the niche, well-heeled, and heavily proprietary culture of biotechnology currently. This is exactly why it needs DIY and to break free of the stifling constraints of the ivory tower.

    And I’ve seen all this happen before in computer science… the transition from batch computing to time-sharing… the rise of homebrew personal computing, GNU and EMACS and GCC and eventually Linux and Free Software. (i.e. tools for thought)

    Humans used to do arithmetic faster than behemoth computing machines too. Now we have supercomputers by comparison in our mobile phones for a few hundred dollars.

    I’m looking forward to having open-source programmable organic molecule synthesizers the size of household refrigerators available to anyone for $5000 or less.

    The principal components are “on the shelf” with PCR, bioreactors, and HPLC.

  36. wingbatwu says:

    I bet people are going to get tired of genegineered fluorescent stuff pretty quick anyway…

  37. Kieran O'Neill says:

    #31: Just to be clear, the best efforts can and have re-created the agent of the 1918 flux.

    For now, that’s very far out of reach for anyone with a home lab.

    But yes, the stuff nature throws at us makes our engineering attempts look silly. And by the time we understand anything especially nasty, e.g. Spanish influenza, our understanding of how to prevent/cure it will exceed our understanding of how to make it more virulent.

    #21: Noen, you’re not really giving people “root”. Our bodies have security systems that make computer security systems look silly, and which we still do not fully understand. Someone can certainly try hard to break things, but it’s far more likely that a “plague to end all plagues” will arise naturally, rather than by artifice.

    And the other thing: Anyone who really wants to set up a home lab will do so. Trying to police it is impossible without being highly invasive, and, as with anti-terror “security” measures, will result in the persecution of a lot of innocents for not very much improvement in safety.

    Oh, and lastly I think Zuzu touched on another thing in #7: Molecular/cell biology laboratory work can be very, very tedious, with a very high rate of failure on an experiment-to-experiment basis. You have to have pretty strong motivation to do it, and people who have that kind of motivation aren’t the kind of people who want to destroy the world.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Speaking as a person highly trained in biochemistry, enzymology, and molecular biology, fnd ll f th tlk bt bhckng t b bth dtc nd ffnsv. There are scores of PhD scientists doing very exciting an innovative work right out of their own garages–however, the setup costs for a workable home laboratory would start at around the $25,000 mark (as another commenter noted above) and run easily up to $100,000 or more–for a very simple project. The fact that people are, in fact, spending that much of their own money to do science should be very interesting and exciting. Instead, the focus is on some so-called amateur wh dsn’t knw wht sh s dng.

    Why s bngbng pshng ths “bhckng” thng? It is being reported as if it is similar to computer hacking–that you can, without any formal education, simply take the “code” and manipulate it however you want, for fun and profit. The truth is that the genetic code is not analogous to computer code. There is a great deal of biology underlying the function of the code, and it takes experience and education (and a bit of luck) to make even a simple transformation work. Moore’s law does not apply to molecular biology. It is never going to be possible to do genetic engineering with common household items, grocery store chemicals, or hand-made equipment. The purity of reagents and accuracy of measurements are too crucial. Having looked at Meredith Patterson’s work, I find it to be a complete joke and doomed to failure. She and her collaborators harbor a great many misunderstandings about the biology of the systems they are trying to work with, and her ideas for meaningful projects are ill-conceived–all of which could be corrected by a couple of good undergraduate biochemistry courses, which she completely disdains, along with advice from real molecular biologists. Flks, ths s-clld “mvmnt” s nt nws nlss nd ntl sm f ths crckpts prdc rl rslts (whch thy wn’t). I could announce that I am going to build a space shuttle in my basement out of stuff I can buy at Lowe’s and with no aerospace engineering background at all–that doesn’t mean I will succeed or deserve to be lauded on the front page of the newspaper as a genius.

    There’s no conspiracy to prevent people from learning the techniques of molecular biology and doing the science. Thr’s n stry thr. The knowledge and training is available for anyone who wants it, and most academic scientists are thrilled to have slaves, er, students to train. What is being argued here is that the learning and knowledge are not necessary, and that all you need is a salad spinner, a bottle of shampoo, and access to Google to become a “biohacker,” and it’s just not true.

    • Antinous says:

      I could announce that I am going to build a space shuttle in my basement out of stuff I can buy at Lowe’s and with no aerospace engineering background at all–that doesn’t mean I will succeed

      Hmm. My cousin built an electric eye when he was around eight years old, out of odd ends that he found in his kitchen drawers. It’s all fun and games until somebody calculates the mass of the Higgs boson.

  39. Gwyllm says:

    This will end up in tears, or much, much worse.

  40. noen says:

    “amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels”

    Of course they will. Just like TV or the Internet or any other technology has only worked out for the benefit of everyone. Riiiiiight. Let’s give everyone their own bio-engineering lab.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  41. WA says:

    Most of this is just pointless nonsense. Both sides of the supposed debate here are overreacting: people in this sort of lab with such little experience are highly unlikely to do any significant work, and are also highly unlikely to make anything particularly dangerous. Doing anything in biotech is much harder than it seems.

    That said, the statement “so far, no major gene-splicing discoveries have come out anybody’s kitchen or garage” is arguably untrue, though not in the way supporters of this movement would prefer. There are a number of people who have started major biotech work in such labs, but they tend to be experienced researchers who happen to be doing work on their own. In my family, for example, we do have such a lab, but we’re all academically qualified to do the work we do, and the most recent project I did in our small lab had a $25,000 budget, and was part of a collaboration with a university lab that wanted to make use of the family’s particular expertise in a certain area.

  42. zuzu says:

    Wow, that was fast. I was just watching this on today’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

    The problem with biotechnology currently has been that the tools suck… using hand pipetters, centrifuges, and incubators, is like hand setting moveable type, when really what we want are laser printers to print anything that can be coded with PostScript. Some improvement is being made with laboratory automation, but keeping with the analogy is still more like a Linotype machine that only publishers can afford, as opposed to laser printers that anyone can publish with.

    (Computer science has a similar problem of plateaued coding tools and imperative programming generally. There I use the analogy of trying to use saws and hammers to build skyscrapers. But eventually multi-core will force programmers to migrate to an Actor model / asynchronous message-passing concurrency / declarative programming style — not unlike TCP/IP and the emergence of the Internet, actually.)

    For an example of where regulations leave a DIY field floundering, look no further than amateur radio. It’s really cool, but never achieves critical mass the way the Internet and Free Software has because of the requirement to be licensed by the FCC — as opposed to an open spectrum. (And with cognitive radio and software defined radio, the FCC is wholly obsolete. Ironically, this is a catch-22 for amateur radio where tools such as GNUradio are developed.)

    Synthetic biology is cool, but biobricks less so. It and bioseparations are much like the computer printer in that analogy.

    Systems biology is where it’s really at. It’s the actual computer modeling part in the computer / printer analogy.

    Also, Chris Seidel did a panel on biohacking at The Last HOPE.

  43. Takuan says:

    aw, all they are doing is speeding up nature. Evolution is good, right?

  44. Anonymous says:

    You know… as much as I hate to say it, biological work has been done for YEARS in homes across the US. For proof, just examine the contents of a neighbor’s fridge. I’m sure you’ll find something in there pretty moldy.

    Hell, with the outbreak of mold scares in homes, just entering a neighbor’s home puts you at risk of contracting a deadly strain. Or at least the insurance companies would have you believe this…

  45. zuzu says:

    Is this really such a good idea?

    Here comes Noen, the statist. :p

    Look, we’ll never have universal jurisdiction. There will always be rogue scientists. So, assuming that most people are good and that the open-source development model works (which I think has been proven in software), chances are that we need ad hoc open-source development of cures to bioterrorism more than we should worry about a vein attempt at security-through-obscurity to preempt bioterrorism.

    p.s. I love the series ReGenesis for tackling exactly these sorts of issues.

  46. Takuan says:

    cleary, what is desperately needed is a government security agency to oversee ever aspect of this. The BSA could have agents in every home and place of work, the potential for More Safety is too good to miss.

  47. zuzu says:

    Systems biology is where it’s really at. It’s the actual computer modeling part in the computer / printer analogy.

    Also, this is one example of why Doug Engelbart was correct about the need for cognitive augmentation to solve complex problems of the near-future.

    (Back when open-source was called open systems.)

    As was James Burke and his Knowledge Web Project.

  48. zuzu says:

    In my family, for example, we do have such a lab, but we’re all academically qualified to do the work we do

    To which I’ll quote Ted Nelson from Computer Lib / Dream Machines:

    It is imperative for many reasons that the appalling gap between public and computer insider be closed. As the saying goes, war is too important to be left to the generals. Guardianship of the computer can no longer be left to a priesthood. I see this as just one example of the creeping evil of Professionalism, the control of aspects of society by cliques of insiders. There may be some chance, though, that Professionalism can be turned around. Doctors, for example, are being told that they no longer own people’s bodies. And this book may suggest to some computer professionals that their position should not be as sacrosanct as they have thought, either.

    I see Professionalism as a spreading disease of the present-day world, a sort of poly-oligarchy by which various groups (subway conductors, social workers, bricklayers) can bring things to a halt if their particular demands are not met. (Meanwhile, the irrelevance of each profession increases, in proportion to its increasing rigidity.) Such lucky groups demand more in each go-round – but meantime, the number who are permanently unemployed grows and grows.

    “You can and must understand computers^W biotechnology NOW”

  49. hiroken says:

    Oh, shit.

    This isn’t far from PLASMIDS, brought to you by Ryan Industries!

    Just watch out for the Little Sisters.

  50. zuzu says:

    * morphological freedom
    * body modification
    * reprogenetics
    * cognitive liberty / neurolaw
    * human enhancement

    If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires, both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.

  51. Barry Foy says:

    I for one do not trust these random people, however well-meaning, to know what “the good of humanity” may actually be. Nor would I bank on their ability to discern when their work crosses the threshold from the banal to the diabolical. We’ve had ample occasion to learn that when it comes to the cult of science, such powers of discrimination don’t automatically come with the territory.

  52. UrinalPooper says:

    Let people have home chemistry sets? They could make bombs or meth! Let people have electronics gear? They could make illegal cable boxes or tap phone lines! Let people study model rockets? OMG Explosives!!1

    Let people study biology and a bunch of supposedly open minded folk start to sound like the rest of the herd.

    For shame.

    • Antinous says:

      Let people study biology and a bunch of supposedly open minded folk start to sound like the rest of the herd.

      You do understand that life is more unpredictable than simple chemistry?

  53. arkizzle says:

    “You can and must understand [..] biotechnology NOW

    ZuZu: Here is an excellent TED talk, by Juan Enriquez. You may know it already, but it is about that exactly.. The new game changer is awareness of Genomics/BioTech.

  54. Takuan says:

    someone needs to do a simple, honest presentation of the risks, and lack of risks. It is instinctive to fear plague. For reason. Allay the fear. I know I would not want the 13 year old next door doing hot pathogen experiments. (and may I point out I made a glove box when that age for bacterial culture.)

  55. zuzu says:

    Let people have home chemistry sets? They could make bombs or meth! Let people have electronics gear? They could make illegal cable boxes or tap phone lines! Let people study model rockets? OMG Explosives!!1

    Previously:

    * Chemistry student wrongly busted for meth and bombs

    * War on Terror’s war on chemistry sets

    Surprise surprise that we have an utter failure in cultivating a popular knowledge economy based on… chemsitry, biotechnology, engineering, etc. While Big Science has claimed the few remaining who were persistent enough and lucky enough to stick with it.

  56. noen says:

    Zuzu
    “Here comes Noen, the statist.”

    That’s your frame. I’m consistently in favor of balancing the advantages with the dangers. There is a dialectic between complete anarchy on the one hand and a fascist state on the other. I choose the middle path.

    And my comment was just light hearted snark anyway so chill.

    The problem as I see it is that with every technological advance the stakes get raised. Most people are good but it only takes one asshole to really mess things up. That’s fine in a world of sticks and stones where 90% of humanity lives even today. That’s changing.

    What technological advances do is to greatly increase to power of the individual. Usually that’s a good thing, just not always. Giving lots of people access to powerful computing resources is generally good. The down side is that it takes about 20 seconds for an unprotected PC to become infected. That’s fine. What do I care, it’s just a machine.

    But I do care a great deal when it comes to my biology. I don’t want to give everyone root. So obviously there needs to be rules and regulations, there need to be police, good police and not fascist dickheads.

    So my vote is for cautious optimism, not rah rah techno boosterism nor reactionary fear mongering.

  57. arkizzle says:

    Rah rah techno boosterism sounds like a lot more fun :)

  58. zuzu says:

    So obviously there needs to be rules and regulations, there need to be police, good police and not fascist dickheads.

    Where I disagree is this “obviousness”.

    I don’t think we need police so much as to make the tools more readily available. We need people to be able to test their dog food themselves for whether it contains melamine or not, rather than trusting police to ensure its safety for us. (And we need toilets that perform diagnostics on our urine.)

    An armed society is a polite society.
    -but-
    When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

  59. billstewart says:

    No surprise here – this is Meredith Patterson we’re talking about. She gave a presentation at Codecon 2005 on isolating DNA using common kitchen equipment. (That was one of several Codecons where Dan Kaminsky was doing appalling things to DNS…) She’s also done presentations on more traditional computer science applications, worked on computer security, etc. and is an all-around bright person.

  60. Daemon says:

    I seem to recall somebody getting arrested solely for having a biolab in his house already, a year or two back.

    You know, the typical police reaction to a lot of stuff recently: “you have stuff that is entirely legal but scares us, so we’ll act as though it’s illegal and lock you up until we can find something to charge you with, no matter how unrelated.”

  61. zuzu says:

    You do understand that life is more unpredictable than simple chemistry?

    All the more reason to rely on crowdsourcing / wisdom of the crowd.

    Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

  62. zuzu says:

    I seem to recall somebody getting arrested solely for having a biolab in his house already, a year or two back.

    Steve Kurtz

  63. arkizzle says:

    Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

    Linus ripped off “A problem shared is a problem halved” :)

  64. Red Zebra says:

    Hmmmm. I wonder why there was a moratorium on genetic recombination experiments in 1974 until the necessary lab safety requirements could be identified and implemented?

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