Dirk Knemeyer

Hacking Synthetic Biology

Hacking Synthetic Biology, April 7, 2016

If you think about, in the physical world, the notion of a virus, we’re exposed to real viruses, and they materially change our bodies sometimes in rapid and horrific ways. Once we created the internet and once we created the virtual world, so to speak, now humans create viruses that attack that, similar to the Ukraine power issue that you mentioned earlier and destroy those things. This is sort of like the third level. We’re changing the world in a way that code can change our bodies, that code could, in theory, operate as a virus within us. The technology’s not there yet, yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s coming.

What does that look like, and how can it be controlled? We sure as hell don’t control viruses on the internet. We certainly don’t control viruses in the hardware and software that we have today. That’s relatively easy to fix. You wipe your computer. It’s a day or two of hassle, and then you’re back and ready to go. If people can start rewriting the code inside of us in malicious ways, that’s nasty. This is science fiction at this point, of course, but because I’m not very well educated on these areas of science and engineering, that’s certainly where I go, not from the standpoint of like, “Oh my God. I’m so scared about this. We can’t let it continue.” I kind of take for granted that it’s coming inevitably. Of all the things we talk about, this is probably the one that I think is, for me at least, most alarming in terms of the potential consequences.