There has been much written about the new age we are entering, the new paradigms we are encountering. The ability to rapidly form adaptive networks permits us to find novel ways to approach and to solve a wide variety of difficult problems. Information wants to be free. But are these more that New Age parables and sloganeering?
Not in my opinion because I have lived them. I have seen the changes that new technologies have made on the study of life. They permit us to answer questions that were impossible just a few years ago. And, as science always does, each answer reveals ten more questions, requiring more investigations.
When I started as a graduate student, it took about 2 days to sequence a DNA fragment 10 bases long. Now we are approaching a time when one machine can sequence one million bases in a single day! Data from genomics and DNA sequencing is doubling every 6 months. Other technologies may generate 100 times more data and require 1000 times the computing power. While allowing us to do so much more today, these same technologies are creating some real difficulties.
Too much noise, not enough signal. We need new ways to attack this problem. The old ways are no longer sufficient. The groups that discover and foster novel approaches to these problems will be much more successful than those that use last century’s methods.
Some of these approaches are simply extensions of the way science has been increasingly done: transparency of information, openness in its dispersal, collaboration, peer review, reputation. The tools of the Information Age simply reduce the friction of these approaches, making it easier to generate data – producing a mountain of information but also providing us with tools that can extract knowledge from this mountain.
So, what will Living Code be about? Well, it will have a definite point of view. Science is so often portrayed as a set of dull principles, yet many of the scientists I know are anything but dull. They are excited, curious and open to novelty. In short, creative human beings. I want to make sure that those aspects come through.
Collaboration and openness create knowledge from information. I will look at ways that these principles help us gain a better understanding of the natural world. I will examine the knowledge that is being generated, and some of the questions that are raised. I will add my commentary and perspective, in a style that will, I hope, be thought-provoking.
Biotechnology – the problems it faces and the solutions it will create – serves as a surrogate for many other arenas that are rapidly changing. Several of the other weblogs at Corante address these areas. Understanding how biotechnology solves its difficulties, how it succeeds in dealing with the torrent of information, may help us understand how to solve problems in these other areas. I hope so. It is why I am writing.