Bootstrap Institute logo Doug Engelbart's
   Colloquium at Stanford
An In-Depth Look at "The Unfinished Revolution"
Session 1
State of biotechnology: Values and threats
Curtis Carlson
video clip. 1.*

The next century is going to be an extremely exciting time. It's going to be a period of great opportunity -- I think we all feel that -- as well as being a century with great issues and risks. Why do I say that? 2

Well, for the first time we're going to get a real convergence between information technology and biotechnology. By the year 2020, we should have on our desktop a computer that has the raw computing speed of the human brain. It's kind of the four-minute-mile for computing. And, after that, if Moore's Law continues, it'll keep going faster and faster until the year 2070, or so. We should have on our desktop a computer that goes faster than the entire computing power of the world's population. Obviously, when we have that kind of computer on our desktop, we have a different kind of relationship with our PC. 3

At the same time, developments in biotech are beginning to emerge that will have an important interaction with those developments. Today, we're decoding the human genome, but that's just the beginning. We're building silicon chips that allow us to take traditional biotech laboratories and shrink them down to a desktop computer. 4

But we're still in the very early days of biological computing. It's a little bit like the transition from slide rules to the first computers. They still are very limited in their capability. But by the year 2020, or so, we'll have biological chips that can do real computation and we'll begin to significantly be able to modify the genetic structure, of not only plants, but also of animals. And, the kind of distinctions that we think about between biological systems and silicon systems will begin to blur, and eventually, go away. We'll have modified plants and animals, but we'll also have the opportunity to integrate silicon-processing power into biological systems as well. 5

Clearly, there are reasons, good reasons, for wanting to do these sorts of things. They allow you to extend life, to enhance human capabilities, and to solve some of the major health problems around the world. And, it's interesting that in order to fully realize the potential of these kinds of capabilities, Doug's ideas of bootstrapping become even more important. In order to be able to fully pull together the different technologies -- biotech, materials, integrated circuit technology, chemistry - all to be able to make these opportunities happen, Doug's ideas of constant integration and bootstrapping become really essential; become, really, the paradigm of how to do R&D in the next century. 6

At the same time, there are obviously various risks that come out of these kinds of developments. One major risk is that of bio-warfare in all of its forms. These technologies turn out to be easier to do rather than harder as we get to understand them more, and as a result, the risks will become more ubiquitous and more pervasive. 7

Today, as you know, it takes over a decade to develop a new drug; and that's completely unacceptable in the next century. What we really need to do is to integrate these technologies together so that we can discover a new drug in forty-eight hours, from detection to deployment of the vaccine. And, again, the only way to do that kind of program is by the kind of aggressive bootstrapping that's been pioneered by Doug. 8

There'll be other risks. And, they have to do more with social and political realities than technical realities. I believe that the technological scenarios that we think about and talk about will pretty much come true. I think we will learn how to do these things. So, I see very little risk there of those developments happening. But, at the same time, these developments are going to happen very rapidly, on an unprecedented time scale. And they're going to interact very strongly with the way people think about the world, how they think about humanity, and, ultimately, how they touch core religious beliefs that people have around the world. And, if we don't treat that larger community seriously and interact with that in the same way that we will be interacting with the technology, and bootstrapping the collective consciousness, not only on the technological side, but also on the social and political side, then you can almost guarantee that there will be major disruptions as we go forward into the next century. So, I hope that we will develop the kind of communities that will enable us to make that happen. 9

[<] principal lecture]




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