“CODE IS CODE”
Can we do this? Can we free technology to sense, diagnose and fix problems by itself, or even go as far as conceiving, designing, and building the next generation of technologies autonomously? Well, we are beginning to see technologies that enable us to discern life’s processes at their fundamental level. Also, our computers have reached the point where they are powerful enough to recreate many of these processes in-silico. We are starting to see how they work in inorganic settings.
Richard Dawkins once observed, “genetics today is pure information technology. This, precisely, is why an antifreeze gene can be copied from an arctic fish and pasted into a tomato”. Because life is fundamentally an information technology (in other words, something that operates on the basis of coded instructions) it can be translated into languages understandable to computers, which operate according to the same principles. Christopher Meyer and Stan Davies, who both work at the Centre For Business Innovation, coined the phrase “Code Is Code”, explaining:
“you can translate biology into information, and information into biology because both operate on the basis of coded instructions, and those codes are translatable. When you get down to it, code is simply code”.
OK, so we can do it, but why should we pursue what Kevin Kelly has called “out-of-controllness”? To understand why, it needs to be appreciated that potential building blocks do more than just make the next stage possible. They also drive the evolutionary process because of the changes they make, both directly and indirectly, to human life. James Burke put it like this:
“An invention acts rather like a trigger. Because, once it’s there it changes the way things are, and that change stimulates the production of another invention, which in turn causes more change and so on”.
So, technology that depended on a scientific understanding, and on the systematized use of natural phenomena, was both made possible and made necessary by the opportunities and challenges that previous generations of inventions helped bring about.