“The Genesis Machine – Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology” is the title of the book that technology expert Amy Webb and microbiologist Andrew Hessel published in February this year. Webb’s professional career actually began as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. In 2006, she founded the Future Today Institute. She advises companies on technology issues with her team and publishes the renowned Tech Trend Report annually since 2007. She speaks at numerous conferences and has written several books. In 2019, its title was published: “The Big Nine: How We Can Tame the Tech Titans and Develop Artificial Intelligence for the Benefit of All.” But now she has turned her attention to synthetic biology. In an interview with MIT Technology Review, she explains the background.
For years, she has had her eye on companies shaping the future of artificial intelligence. But at the same time, these companies are also investing in synthetic biology. That piqued Webb’s interest. “I wanted to know why Microsoft was trying to turn DNA into hard drives that could store images and videos, and why Google was working so hard on protein folding,” she says. It seemed like a contradiction. “In strategic futures research, contradictions are valid,” says Webb, “but as a strong signal for important future fields.”
Especially now – in times of the corona pandemic – synthetic biology has an important task. According to Webb, the spread of SARS-Cov-2 acted as a catalyst for mRNA use cases. “Covid-19 may now have opened the floodgates to life-saving therapies.”
Biology could become an information security issue
There is also an aspect of public perception that has prompted Webb to now publish a book on synthetic biology. “The pandemic has shown how little the average person knows about biology – synthetic biology threatens to challenge our cherished ideas about life,” says expert Webb. Therefore, it is important that you become more familiar with biology now, before decisions have to be made under duress and then we can only talk about effects. The Web Looks to the Future: Should New Viruses Be Programmed to Fight Disease? What should the protection of genetic data look like? Who “owns” living organisms? How can modified cell companies make money? And how to close a synthetic organism in a laboratory?
Synthetic biology could become a key technology of the 21st century. It provides researchers with the tools to change and rewrite life’s code. The new edition is available from 19.5. in stores and from 18.5. easy to order in heise shop. Highlights from the magazine:
There are also concerns about abuse in everything. Webb, for example, sees DNA as a security risk: “A group of malicious actors could biologically expose a world leader and release his DNA and other biometric data for hackers to use,” she says. She sees the danger that biology could become a major information security problem in the era humanity is now entering.
Full interview with Amy Webb “DNA is a security risk” on heise+ and in the new 4/2022 issue of MIT Technology Review (now available to order from the heise store and available at train station bookstores).