Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue #150                                                 October 7, 2003
                 A Publication of The Nature Institute
           Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (

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Quotes and Provocations
   Adrift in the Genome Without Instructions
   DNA and Voting Machines
   Perfecting the Dance, Forgetting the Dancer
   The Internet Society: Reflections on Our Present Discontents


Announcements and Resources
   The New Atlantis

About this newsletter


                         QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS

Adrift in the Genome Without Instructions

Genomic researcher Mark Boguski is participating in a new, $100 million
project to bring human genome data to bear upon brain research.  This, he
tells us, will be difficult.  The Human Genome Project was "like opening a
box filled with parts to build two tables and there are 30,000 parts
[genes] and no instructions".

Well, that's the new story, now widely trumpeted.  The old story -- the
one justifying and glorifying the most expensive scientific venture in
history -- was that the 30,000 genes were themselves the instructions.
They were the code that directed the manufacturing of the human organism,
and we were the decoders.

So we've gone from "Finally, the instructions!" to "Sorry, no instructions
at all.  That'll be three billion dollars please".  If a president were to
lead us down such a path of duplicity or ignorance, there would be a
political uproar and congressional investigation.  For scientists,
apparently, it's okay.

One does nevertheless hope that a few open-minded researchers here and
there will be led to ask, "What is it in our scientific view of things
that led us to such wildly misjudged expectations?"  Error, after all, is
eminently forgiveable if one is willing to acknowledge one's mistakes and
learn from them.  But if a dialogue of acknowledgment and learning is
going on, the public has yet to be let in on it.  Maybe the scientists are
too busy ransacking their box of genomic parts, looking for the
instructions.  ("Drat it all!  They've gotta be in here somewhere!")

DNA and Voting Machines

You may have heard about the efforts to build a kind of computer out of
DNA and various other ingredients.  According to one report,

   Recently the first game-playing biomolecular device was revealed -- an
   enzyme-powered tic-tac-toe ma