[LINK] Bugs came from the biological world, and they're going back

Roger Clarke Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Sun Sep 15 18:10:53 AEST 2019

When Biology Becomes Software
Bruce Schneier
September 15, 2019

[Wet chem labs are curiosities now, with compututational models far less 
messy, faster, and above all cheaper.

[Australia's own Greg Egan played with some of this is in his 
'autoverse', in Permutation City (1994).

[But that was sci-fi, right?]

 >As synthetic biology "programming" reaches the complexity of 
traditional computer programming, the risks of computer systems will 
transfer to biological systems. The difference is that biological 
systems have the potential to cause much greater, and far more lasting, 
damage than computer systems.
 >Programmers write software through trial and error. Because computer 
systems are so complex and there is no real theory of software, 
programmers repeatedly test the code they write until it works properly.
 >Unfortunately, the software solution of making lots of mistakes and 
fixing them as you go doesn't work in biology.
 >Inadvertent or intentional release of these newly coded "programs" may 
result in pathogens of expanded host range (just think swine flu) or 
organisms that wreck delicate ecological balances.
 >Unlike computer software, there's no way so far to "patch" biological 
systems once released to the wild, although researchers are trying to 
develop one. Nor are there ways to "patch" the humans (or animals or 
crops) susceptible to such agents. Stringent biocontainment helps, but 
no containment system provides zero risk.
 >Opportunities for mischief and malfeasance often occur when expertise 
is siloed, fields intersect only at the margins, and when the gathered 
knowledge of small, expert groups doesn't make its way into the larger 
body of practitioners who have important contributions to make.

Roger Clarke                            mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
T: +61 2 6288 6916   http://www.xamax.com.au  http://www.rogerclarke.com

Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd      78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA 

Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Law            University of N.S.W.
Visiting Professor in Computer Science    Australian National University

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