SXSW Day 4. Randomness Meets Substance
Vivek Wadhwa you know who you are), that Silicon Valley (and startups in general) are focused on ephemeral, superficial things, Craig Venter just completely shattered my notions of what can be done today in genomics. As I entered, Craig was discussing their goal: to make a living, self-replicating bacteria cell, driven by artificially generated DNA. Craig’s construct: to discuss this in terms of hardware (virus, bacteria, yeast) and software (DNA). Several minutes were spent explaining how DNA strands were spliced together to form strands more than 100,000 “letters” long. Fascinating process of experimentation, followed by investing in discovering an automatable process that a robot can perform. Literally. (Not just automated in the BPM sense of the word, by software). Eventually they achieved a one-step, in vitro assembly that worked at 50’C, which could be automated. More examples could be pursued, larger pieces, more automation, more robotics. A study in 2007 showed that just by changing the DNA in a cell, they could convert one species into another. And still have a fully functional organism. Paraphrasing a quote: “We think that the software recognized the DNA of the original species as foreign and ‘ate it up.’ All the characteristics of the original species are gone.” He reminded us how often DNA is replaced – 20% an hour, or something to that effect (I might have missed the exact timing/numbers…) and asked, imagine if you had to change 20% of your car parts every hour to keep your car running. It is amazing stuff that goes on inside our bodies. To be sure that they had the real, unique organism, they encoded messages within the genetic code – an “easter egg” in the genome – quotes from James Joyce and others. So now they’re focused on the software for designing new cells and organisms – there aren’t enough scientists to understand all the possibilities, so software will do much of the combinatorics and analysis. But why bother? what’s the point?Day 4 started off right, and got better from there. Parking was quick, and coffee in hand I strolled into Ballroom D just as Craig Venter was starting to talk about synthetic life. I whipped out my iPad2 and started taking notes. Yes, I was feeling pretty good about my new charger-free existence (I really do love the long battery life). Lest you think SXSW is all about frivolous social media and twittering away late into the night (literally and figuratively), Sunday’s sessions brought a random substantiveness to my SXSW experience, and had me thinking about things outside my usual domain. And lest you buy into the hype by some (
- World population of nearly 7 billion has demands our earth and tech cannot supply without continued technological change. 3 people alive today for every 1 alive when Venter was born. Genomics can help address the food requirements of such a population.
- Additionally, flu vaccines, and eventually an HIV vaccine, may be formulated. HIV presents a challenge due to its rapid genetic code changes, so we need new approaches. A flu vaccine using their rig takes 24 hours to produce, rather than the 3-6 months required by today’s techniques.
- Energy demand is increasing even faster than population growth. The Keeling curve shows increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So bio-engineered micro-algae can do a great job synthesizing sunlight and CO2 into combustible fuels. The questions is can we scale this to get billions of gallons of fuel in 10 years?
- Mary and Sue are sisters
- Mary and Sue are mothers
- We are not very good at deliberate thought, but we seem to get a lot of mileage from the little deliberate thought we engage in.
- Machines are good at deliberate thought, but not very good at the non-deliberate thoughts that humans do quite naturally.
- If you have a good understanding of intelligence, by definition you have super human intelligence, whether you have an AI or not.
- If we understood ourselves as well as we understood societies, we’d already be creating people.
- Society does things – it does not decide to do things. Society isn’t intentional.
- We tell good stories about caring about things – but looking at our actions you would not conclude that we DO care about these things.
- When we say “value based pricing” – is “value” defined as the value the customer accrues from a successful project? Or is it the value the customer sets as the amount they’re willing to spend to get the project implemented.
- If we take value as customer-accrued value , then we have two values – customer-accrued and customer-willing-to-pay. The question is, what is a spread between those values that works? ie, if the project has $10MM in value to a customer, what should that customer be willing to pay to get the the help they want?