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Biotech Sci-Fi Science

Artificial Life May Be Possible Within Ten Years 249

Posted by Zonk
from the want-me-my-own-ninja-squirrel dept.
CapedOpossum writes "According to an article from a few weeks back on CNN, researchers in the field of genetics and biology think that we may be able to artificially create life within the next decade. From the article: 'Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they're getting closer. Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of 'wet artificial life. "It's going to be a big deal and everybody's going to know about it," said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. Bedau said there are legitimate worries about creating life that could run amok, but there are ways of addressing it, and it will be a very long time before that is a problem.'"
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Artificial Life May Be Possible Within Ten Years

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  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:22PM (#20415977) Homepage Journal

    Bedau said there are legitimate worries about creating life that could run amok
    I, for one, welcome our new artificially-created overlords!

    Amok, amok, amok!

  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by rrohbeck (944847) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:23PM (#20415981)
    we're going to *grow* flying cars?
    • by peragrin (659227)
      well birds already know how to life so it will just be pointing them in the right direction and keeping them fed. on the plus side they will lower CO2 emmissions quite a bit, and food is easier to get than gas, at least today. I just hope they don't bring back a carnivore flying animal.
      • by ch-chuck (9622)
        I just hope they don't bring back a carnivore flying animal.

        Gryphons would be a lot of fun.

      • Re:So... (Score:5, Funny)

        by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @05:20PM (#20416831) Journal

        Suddenly seeing a Sci-Fi commercial for Eureka. Something along the lines of "Remember, if you're creating a new pet, don't make it a carnivore. When adding a new member to the family, you shouldn't risk the old ones."

        Live smart, Slashdot.

    • by zCyl (14362)
      And they will be fusion powered.
  • by fm6 (162816) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:23PM (#20415985) Homepage Journal
    Since artificial life is the only kind they're every going to get!
    • Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they're getting closer
      Slashdotters are well practiced at creating life from scratch. I even believe the word "handful" applies somehow, not to mention the phase of "getting closer." ;)
  • Seriously (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Crowhead (577505) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:28PM (#20416045)
    How hard could it be to create ugly bags of mostly water?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:31PM (#20416095)
      Apparently not too hard; you only took 9 months of development.
      • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @05:02PM (#20416547)

        Apparently not too hard; you only took 9 months of development.
        And was brought onto the market underdeveloped and incapable of self-support, puking and shitting on the people taking care of him, keeping them up at night. Wow, by this standard, Microsoft Vista must be alive!
      • Re:Seriously (Score:5, Insightful)

        by asolipsist (106599) * on Thursday August 30, 2007 @05:48PM (#20417245)
        Apparently not too hard; you only took 9 months of development.

        That's only 9 months of manufacturing, it took over a billion years of R&D to flesh out the design.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by esme (17526)
          ...and nearly twelve billion years to setup the runtime environment.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Plutonite (999141)

          That's only 9 months of manufacturing, it took over a billion years of R&D to flesh out the design.
          Is this supposed to make me feel less or more confident in seeing Duke Nukem Forever in my lifetime?
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:28PM (#20416055)
    "We hold life to be sacred, but we also know the foundation of life consists in a stream of codes not so different from the successive frames of a watchvid. Why then cannot we cut one code short here, and start another there? Is life so fragile that it can withstand no tampering? Does the sacred brook no improvement?"
    - Chairman Sheng-ji Yang (The Human Hive), Dynamics of Mind
  • Woo Hoo! (Score:5, Funny)

    by n6kuy (172098) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:28PM (#20416057)
    Artificial Intelligent Design!
  • by ChrisMounce (1096567) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:30PM (#20416085)
    So, when will we start seeing legislation for warnings on food? If this takes off, I can see companies making stuff like pseudo-cows and pseudo-chickens that are cheaper to breed in the long term.

    I suppose they'll start out with plant-like forms of life for simplicity. Strangely, eating artificial plants wouldn't bother me as much as artificial animals.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Farmer Tim (530755)
      If this takes off, I can see companies making stuff like pseudo-cows and pseudo-chickens that are cheaper to breed in the long term.

      I suspect we're there already: if a McNugget isn't pseudo-chicken, what exactly is it?

      Strangely, eating artificial plants wouldn't bother me as much as artificial animals.

      Blurring the line would be interesting. I'm looking forward to growing a steak vine.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:31PM (#20416093)
    Of killing & eating each other. That's life on earth.

    Any artificial life without that pedigree is going to be ... disadvantaged.

     
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Paulrothrock (685079)

      Any artificial life without that pedigree is going to be ... disadvantaged.

      I think you mean "breakfast."

      • by timeOday (582209)
        Definitely. Most bioengineering to date was done through breeding, and most of it was done to make big-breasted chickens, husky cattle, uber-lactating cows, and so on.

        I'll be thrilled when we can simply grow muscle (aka meat) without consuming vast ranges of land and megatons of grain.

        • I won't be satisfied till they create a flat, boneless, tender, delicious animal that can live and breed entirely on my garden lawn, mowing it to the ideal height, until it is big and juicy enough to eat, whereby it comes into my house, skins and seasons itself, slicing out any remaining inedible or non-delicious vital organs and cutting of it's own head as it's last act before it's final plunge into the frying pan, 10 mins before dinner time. It should also put the potatoes on 10 mins earlier.
  • It still won't suck as much as real life.
  • Uh. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Wilson_6500 (896824) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:32PM (#20416107)
    "We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened," Szostak said.

    Between that and the guy who wants to extend the genetic code to twelve bases, it seems a little avant-garde to just trust everything to evolution (although, in a sense, I suppose that's the point of being a forerunner). It seems that would be more useful to trust evolution for advancement only in the intermediate phases of getting organisms that do what we want, rather than letting them evolve and evolve until we have the final designs for proto-organisms that do what we want. Upon reflection, I don't really expect them to try the latter method since it would lead to all kinds of dead ends, but I do sorta wonder how many other people out there will jump to that conclusion like I did. Of course, dead ends in genetics maybe don't matter if you're breeding billions of proto-organisms and have a reliable method for killing the ones you know you don't want. Then again, unless you remove the ability of the organisms to breed (which, if we're designing them from scratch, may not be too hard), evolution will just continue on even after you have what you think is your final design.

    I guess all this thinking is a little preliminary. People will begin to take these issues perhaps a little more seriously when the time comes to start breeding little proto-organisms.
    • Re:Uh. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dachannien (617929) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:49PM (#20416341)
      You don't need a reliable method of killing off the ones you don't want. All you need is a little bit of selection pressure. In fact, too much pressure can be detrimental to evolution, as it can strip the population of diversity. A good method would probably be to vary the strength of selection pressures over time, to allow the population to diverge and then occasionally cull the low performers.
      • I meant "don't want" as in "have undesirable traits that we very much don't want spread." That was intended as more of a typical knee-jerk reaction to genetics rather than a commentary on maximizing the effectiveness of the organisms.
        • Ahh, okay. I guess I was speaking from my perspective as a researcher in genetic algorithms. Just two orthogonal viewpoints passing in the night ;)

  • Self destruction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101 ... m ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:32PM (#20416113) Homepage Journal

    One of the answers to the Fermi Paradox [wikipedia.org] that is often thrown around is the idea that intelligent life tends to destroy itself after a short amount of time. Normally, people think this means huge wars, but I actually have pondered a different theory. As technology advances, more and more power is put into the hands of relatively small groups, and then ultimately to individuals.

    I've wondered if perhaps there was some sort of energy-conversion technology that we don't know about yet (such as an easy way to create antimatter), but once discovered, it puts too much power available too easily. Basically, a single nutcase then creates a doomsday bomb, and that's it. If that were possible, and assuming it was relatively undetectable, it would be inevitable that life would be destroyed. You simply can't stop determined crazy people.

    On the other hand, things like this make me wonder about biological weapons. As this technology matures, it will get easier and easier, and be available cheaper and cheaper to create artificial lifeforms. You see it on the Internet... script kiddies have an immense amount of power to destroy property. Once biolife is cheap and easy, and you get a human-hating nut who *wants* to destroy humanity, how can you stop it?

    It won't be war that kills everyone, it'll be the lone Unibomber type.

    • Re:Self destruction (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:39PM (#20416215)
      > On the other hand, things like this make me wonder about biological weapons. As this technology matures, it will get easier and easier, and be available cheaper and cheaper to create artificial lifeforms. You see it on the Internet... script kiddies have an immense amount of power to destroy property. Once biolife is cheap and easy, and you get a human-hating nut who *wants* to destroy humanity, how can you stop it?
      >
      > It won't be war that kills everyone, it'll be the lone Unibomber type.

      Greg Egan's The Moral Virologist [eidolon.net] indirectly addresses your point, and is one of the most fascinating short stories you'll ever read.

      • by Elemenope (905108)

        An interesting story, though the very end I thought stretched the bounds of credibility (not the end twist, but rather the protagonist's reaction to the twist).

        Every time I hear or read Kurtweil and other Technocrats wax on about biology becoming a pure information science, with biological entities becoming computable structures, I can't help thinking "boy, are we fucked". And I am not pessimistic by nature.

        • by imbaczek (690596)
          Yeah, most of us should be happy that we won't live long enough to witness that. Hopefully.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kjella (173770)
      Once biolife is cheap and easy, and you get a human-hating nut who *wants* to destroy humanity, how can you stop it?

      Biolife and bioweapons is sorta like saying "I got a cow, now how do I make a bioweapon out of it". If you were the serious nutty kind, go into hazardous disease research until you get your hands on a nasty strain of ebola, mix it up with some airborn virus (this is not extremely hard, and doesn't require artifical life it's more like a transplant), produce a decent quantity then show up early
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Xonstantine (947614)

        In short, those sane enough to be capable aren't insane enough to actually want to kill *everyone*.
        Not really. Sanity is relative and evolving cultural standard, after all.

        All you really need is a motivated, talented, sociopathic personality that believes a doomsday device is to his or her benefit or furthers his goals.
        • All you really need is a motivated, talented, sociopathic personality that believes a doomsday device is to his or her benefit or furthers his goals.

          Specifically, all you need is one eco-terrorist who believes that mankind is doing so much damage to the environment that humanity must be wiped out to preserve all the other life on the planet. Fortunately there are none of those in existence...

      • If you were the serious nutty kind, go into hazardous disease research until you get your hands on a nasty strain of ebola, mix it up with some airborn virus (this is not extremely hard, and doesn't require artifical life it's more like a transplant), produce a decent quantity then show up early for your flight and sit at the int'l airport infecting everyone passing by for some hours.

        You're still assuming current technology, where one has to "go into hazardous disease research". What if there were easil

    • One of the answers to the Fermi Paradox [wikipedia.org] that is often thrown around is the idea that intelligent life tends to destroy itself after a short amount of time.
      This is not an answer to the paradox, because all it takes is *1* example of intelligent life that does NOT kill itself to spread throughout the galaxy (assuming that is possible).
      • This is not an answer to the paradox, because all it takes is *1* example of intelligent life that does NOT kill itself to spread throughout the galaxy (assuming that is possible).

        I actually believe that intelligent life is very improbable and that we're alone in the galaxy, but the doomsday argument is an interesting idea -- that it's inevitable that the technology to wipe out the race outstrips the ability to control it.

        • I actually believe that intelligent life is very improbable and that we're alone in the galaxy

          I agree, but not on any religious grounds. Or, more to the point, I don't necessarily agree, but if there is intelligent, technological life out there, we are outside of the light cone at present time.

          but the doomsday argument is an interesting idea -- that it's inevitable that the technology to wipe out the race outstrips the ability to control it.

          It IS an interesting idea, I just don't think it's a probable solution to the Fermi paradox. I think the probable solution to the Fermi paradox is that the evolution of intelligent, technoligical life is exceptionally unlikely. Human intelligence is a classical example of an evolutionary arms race gone am

        • I actually believe that intelligent life is very improbable

          Hell, based on all the empirical evidence I think it safe to assume that intelligent life is impossible, deity or no deity.

    • by brkello (642429)
      You simply can't stop determined crazy people.

      Yes, particularly ones we elect President.
    • Once biolife is cheap and easy, and you get a human-hating nut who *wants* to destroy humanity, how can you stop it?

      I won't destroy all of humanity. The virus I will create will just destroy all males except me. Then it will be my responsibility to repopulate the planet. Snoo-snoo galore. Bwahahahahaha.

    • by Like2Byte (542992)

      Once biolife is cheap and easy, and you get a human-hating nut who *wants* to destroy humanity, how can you stop it?

      It won't be war that kills everyone, it'll be the lone Unibomber type.

      If anybody wants me, I'll be in the basement.

      Oh, wait.

    • If you're separated by a few million or billion miles of vacuum in a sealed biosphere/spaceship, biological warfare has a little less impact on you.

      That says nothing about nanotech, however. Ultimately, the only way for diverse life to survive is to spread as far as technology allows it.
    • by aldheorte (162967)
      This is a tired sophism. The technological sophistication of the overall population increases in lockstep with that of the individual. In truth, given the long dependency chains for any technology (what you are reading this on now is the product of hundreds of entities and thousands of people working together through procurement and resale chains), if anything, the relative capability of the individual is declining.

      People using your line of reasoning have appeared at every time in the past when faced with t
      • In truth, given the long dependency chains for any technology (what you are reading this on now is the product of hundreds of entities and thousands of people working together through procurement and resale chains), if anything, the relative capability of the individual is declining.

        What? Are you kidding? Think how much computing power you're typing on compared to the past. No one is controlling that. Think about CNC mills. I can sit in my basement and manufacture just about anything -- by myself. I can

  • by zeromorph (1009305) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:35PM (#20416143)

    [...] we may be able to artificially create life within the next decade. [...], and it will be a very long time before that is a problem.

    Let me venture a guess... 10 years?

  • by Taimat (944976) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:35PM (#20416163)
    Humans have become so technically evolved that they can now make a living, breathing person.

    A summit of scientists believed that because they now had the power to create life, God was no longer needed. So they all decided that someone should go and tell God this. One man volunteered to go. One day he climbed a mountain and called upon God.

    "God! We humans now have the ability to bring people from the dead, we can create our own life, we don't need you anymore so you can leave us alone."

    God listened to the scientist and nodded his head. "Okay, I'll tell you what, if you can really create life, let's have a competition, if you can create a better person than me, I'll go, but we'll have to do it the way I did it in the old days."

    So the scientist agrees and begins to collect some dirt to make his person. God simply watches him and finally asks him what he's doing.

    "I'm using the dirt to make a person."

    God smiles, looks at the scientist and replies, "Go make your own dirt."
  • by javamann (410973) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @04:36PM (#20416175)
    So, if I created an artificial woman I'm betting she still wouldn't go out with me.
    • by Kjella (173770)
      You're not supposed to add artifical intelligence, just life.
      • by StikyPad (445176)
        Yeah, he said a woman.

        Thanks, I'll be here until the first woman reads that. (A long time, in other words). Ah, make it stop!
  • I find it's easier to take an existing program, and alter it a bit here and there, than to start writting completly from scratch. If they are successful though, I'm willing to bet they won't be in a 'sharing' mood. (more likely a 'patent' mood)
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      Doubt it. As you point out, making life from scratch isn't very useful. What it does is tell us how life can be made (ie how it probably was) and how hard it is (ie how likely it is to happen... wherever).

      If we can make life from scratch then chances are the universe is full of it.
  • I will send my robotic man servant to take the flying car and pick up my new pet blob.
  • They came as little artificial pellets, but once you put them in water -- look out -- LIFE!
    • by Phroggy (441)

      They came as little artificial pellets, but once you put them in water -- look out -- LIFE!
      Those weren't artificial pellets, those were actual living brine shrimp in cryptobiosis [wikipedia.org].
  • With every new scientific enhancement comes the man-made horrors that Hollywood is more than willing to capitalize upon...
  • "When these things are created, they're going to be so weak, it'll be a huge achievement if you can keep them alive for an hour in the lab," he said. "But them getting out and taking over, never in our imagination could this happen."

    Not to be an alarmist or anything.

    But it's not like they'll face stiff resistance taking over. [youtube.com].

  • Tyrell: What can he do for you?
    Roy: Can the maker repair what he makes?
    Tyrell: Would you like to be modified?
    Roy: I had in mind something a little more radical.
    Tyrell: What seems to be the problem?
    Roy: Death.
    Tyrell: Death. Well, I'm afraid that's a little out of my jurisdiction, you...
    Roy: I want more life, fucker.
    Tyrell: The facts of life: To make an alteration in the evolvement of an organic life system is fatal. A coding sequence cannot be revised once its been established.
    Roy: Why not?
    Tyrell:
  • by wintermute42 (710554) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @05:37PM (#20417067) Homepage

    I've been to Venice, Italy once for six days. I still dream of going back. Venice is one of the great jewels of humanity, a place like no other. Assuming that the Italian government and regulations didn't drive me crazy, I'd love to love in Venice.

    This train of through seems to have been the logic behind ProtoLife. The company has been founded and run by a group of Americans without any particular experience in molecular biology or any other kind of biology. The closest they seem to get is an organic chemist. The whole motivo esistere (reason to exist) seems to be "lets do something that sounds cool in the coolest city in the world". Given their backgrounds, I think that there are serious questions about whether some of the people involved have any real understanding of experimental method (and instrumenting a roulette wheel doesn't count), much less the "wet lab" work of biology.

    In short, this is not a serious company and they don't deserve to have any claims they make taken seriously. If artificial life is created in ten years it seems very unlikely that this will have been done at ProtoLife.

    In theory this is a start-up company that is supposed to have some prospect of making money. Artificial life, which really amounts to assembling pieces (enzymes and organelles from cells, along with selected genes). This doesn't mean that the assembled organism is of any use from a commercial stand point. This just reinforced the idea that this company is nothing more than a hobby.

  • Oppositely handed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kanweg (771128)
    Let's hope they create life from oppositely handed aminoacids (OK, they may use glycine ;-) ) and oppositely winding DNA. That should keep us and the environment fairly safe.

    Bert
  • by JFMulder (59706) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @06:39PM (#20417863)
    Artificial life impossible for the next 9 years.
  • I'm sure there is artificial life at the bottom of any true Geek's shower curtain. .
  • "You can't create life from non-life!"

    That one will be unuseable. Either that or they'll insist that what was created isn't life.
  • One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had
    come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one
    scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

    The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we
    no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and
    do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost."

    God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the
    scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about
  • This is just what we need.

    Today it's 2007 and we have MS stuffing ballots to get OOXML declared a standard .. we have psychopathic astronauts running amok whilst wearing nappies .. and now just when things couldn't possibly get any worse, we have scientists threatening to unleash a plague of flying spiders from their labs out into the wider world.

    Giant foot long flying spiders for god's sake !!

    Im locking the door and going back to bed.
  • I'm pretty sure that this has been ten years away for the last twenty years. Every few years a new headline saying it's only ten years away...

Every nonzero finite dimensional inner product space has an orthonormal basis. It makes sense, when you don't think about it.

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