Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue # 173            May 22, 2008
A Publication of The Nature Institute
Editor: Stephen L. Talbott (

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Editor's Note
The Embryo's Eloquent Form Stephen L. Talbott)
      The developing embryo puts on an astonishing performance
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Back in NetFuture #170 I wrote an article entitled "Ghosts in the Evolutionary Machinery: The Strange, Disembodied Life of Digital Organisms". The piece, which was subsequently published in the fall 2007 issue of The New Atlantis, particularly addressed some research on digital organisms reported in Nature magazine in its May 2003 issue. Now one of the co-authors of that Nature article, Christoph Adami, has written a vigorous response to my essay. Adami, as a physicist at the California Institute of Technology (where he headed up the Digital Life Laboratory), helped to develop the software used in the digital organism research.

Both Adami's critique and my response are contained in the winter 2008 issue of The New Atlantis, available at


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Stephen L. Talbott

Given the importance to us of questions about our own origins and destiny, and given all the conflicting views about our place in the cosmos, it's odd how rarely anyone thinks to look at our human origins and try to answer the questions directly. Where do we see the nascent human being coming from and going to? Can we not allow the new arrival to speak for itself?

Giving and Receiving

In the fall of 2007 I sat in a workshop as Jaap van der Wal projected onto a screen a series of images showing how a human embryo grows its arms, starting from the point where each arm appears to be nothing but a primitive precursor of the hand growing directly out of the "shoulder". As the arms grow, the hands reach forward, around,