Edward O. Wilson Explores the Potential of Ultimate Biology
Biologist Edward O. Wilson speaks to the impact of synthetic biology and other advances that will reframe how human beings perceive life.
Biologist Edward O. Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize recipient and the author of The Meaning of Human Existence, sees the future of biology rooted in what he calls "ultimate biology." There are several domains in which ultimate biology will emerge in the coming decades. The first and most notable, says Wilson, is the creation of artificial life. This is also called synthetic biology and it's already happening as you read this today:
"Scientists have just very recently put together from chemicals off the shelf a genome that is of the entire DNA of a bacterium, inserted it into a bacterial shell and created a functioning reproducing bacterium that way; chemicals off the shelf; a very simple organism."
This is momentous for many reasons. For example, Wilson explains that advancements in synthetic biology open the door to eventually being able to produce multicellular organisms. This means the opportunity to create food plants and boost our global food supply. It also means a boatload of questions, consequences, and opportunities that'll have to be ironed out by ethicists and other experts.
Wilson also notes that the topic of synthetic biology almost necessarily segues into talk of artificial intelligence and the advancement of humanoid robotics. To Wilson, these innovations go hand in hand. Will we someday be able to digitally duplicate the human brain? Will smarter-than-human robots be able to think as we do? Where are the merging points between artificial life and artificial intelligence? These could end up being the landmark questions of the 21st century.
One thing's for sure, at least in Wilson's mind. We shouldn't worry ourselves too much at the prospect of being annihilated by our robot creations. Naturally, it's ultimate biology that'll save our skin:
"What's running through your mind, if you're listening to me or seeing me now is, 'Uh-oh, if we keep on going, can the robots with their artificial organisms around them and their intelligence and ability to make decisions then replace us?' No way. That's great for Hollywood, but since we're going to be approaching robot capacity and genome modification of other organisms, and then even ourselves, we can change our own genomes in some respects; we're going to see the risk of giving control to any other intelligent agent and make sure that it's just not going to happen."
For more on this topic, be sure to watch the full interview embedded below.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Do you have a magnetic compass in your head?
Turns out pushups are more telling than treadmill tests when it comes to cardiovascular health.
- Men who can perform 40 pushups in one minute are 96 percent less likely to have cardiovascular disease than those who do less than 10.
- The Harvard study focused on over 1,100 firefighters with a median age of 39.
- The exact results might not be applicable to men of other age groups or to women, researchers warn.
On Thursday, New Zealand moved to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms components following a mass shooting that killed 50 people.
- Gun control supporters are pointing to the ban as an example of swift, decisive action that the U.S. desperately needs.
- Others note the inherent differences between the two nations, arguing that it is a good thing that it is relatively hard to pass such legislation in such a short timeframe.
- The ban will surely shape future conversations about gun control in the U.S.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.