Richard Satava
MD FACS, Professor of Surgery, Yale University

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Science After the Information Age: The Biointelligence Age

There is the perception that we are at the height of the Information Age revolution and that it is growing exponentially and will continue to do so. The Information Age is NOT the Future, the Information Age is the present. There is something else in the future. The Information Age is already a century old (telegraphy, telephony, radio transmission all began at the end of the 19th century). Actually the spreading of the Internet defines the culmination, and hence waning, of the Information Age. The biotechnology revolution is over 40-50 years old, and is still promising results in genetic engineering, drug delivery and decoding the secret script of life. A new era has been brewing, and for lack of another name, a placeholder of the Biointelligence Age has been given. This is the combination of the biologic, physical and information worlds - into single entities. One of the earliest and simplest device is the implanted programmable cardiac pacemaker, mimicking the biologic performance of a living pacemaker. Emerging technologies and fields in bio-sensors and bio-materials (bio+physical), biocomputation and bio-informatics (bio+information) and MEMS microsensors and distributed networking (physical + information) have redefined the direction of the future. Combining all three areas results in systems and devices which are tiny, adaptable, embedded and intelligent. These micro-systems will become ubiquitous, embedded in everything (from food, to appliances to our body) and communicate through massively distributed networks. They will be programmable, flexible and transparent to daily living. The result will be to change our world from dumb and unconnected to "smart" and networked. The implication for science is that our appliances, homes, food and the daily conduct of living is about to u ndergo yet another momentous change.

A number of the new technologies that are emerging will be a bellwether for things to come - things like smart materials (the smart tee-shirt), bio-mimetics (self assembling and self adjusting machines), tissue engineering (growing programmed stem cells on bioresorbable matrices for artificial organs) and smart, self-repairing information networks to guarantee high quality of service. As the technologies evolve further, totally independent microsystems (eg implantable diabetes system with a stem cell programmed as a glucose sensor, microprocess or to determine amount of drug delivery, and microfluidic systems to release proper amount of insulin - all embedded and autonomous) will take on aspects of non-cognitive artificial life - the systems will seem to have a life of their own. A system such as the diabetes system can help resolve some of our most difficult medical problems, such as realtime management of diabetes, and even more important - compliance. Within the home, the appliances will be embedded with micro sensors or be constructed of smart material and networked together. They may become self cleaning, and will be multifunctional. The home will be integrated with information science tools and be networked to the outside world, however this networking will be enabled by knowledge agents which will anticipate the needs of the person or be capable of finding precisely the piece of information needed. The advances in medicine such as robotics, genetic manipulation and tissue engineering will provide new therapeutic modalities, such as implantation of genetically engineered cells to replace damaged or resected organs, and new methods to slow the aging process while maintaining excellent health.

Even as the struggle continues to understand the vortex of change around us, there are words of caution. Ray Kurzweiler, in his Age of Spiritual Machines, and Eric Drexler, in his Engines of Creation, caution about the ability to control the new technologies which are unleashed. Bill Joy has raised the specter of a future where our creations, nanotechnology, intelligent robots and genetically designed foods or organisms, will take on a life of their own as described in "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us". Concerned scientists are beginning to seriously deliberate these questions, wondering if the new directions of research are a Faustian bargain. While it is extrapolated from current growth of computer science that by 2030 to 2040 AD computers will have the same computational power of a human brain, will such systems be intelligent, have emotions or even be controllable by humans? Unlike any time in history, scientists are proactively considering the long-term social consequences for mankind of their scientific inquiry. The success of cloning in animals has forced the world to address its implications for humans and put in place regulatory barriers; will such regulation be necessary for the technologies of the BioIntelligence Age?

In a world enamored by technology and exhilarated by the accelerated rate of change, how can we proceed prudently without slowing the rate of progress? Many of our national agencies already have exploratory programs in many of these interdisciplinary areas. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has initiated its BioInterfaces program, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has begun programs in Astrobiology and Bioastronautics, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has the Unconventional Innovations Program, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) is proceeding with the Nanotechnology initiative. It is therefore contingent upon the scientific community to squarely face these issues and participate in their evaluation and, if necessary, their regulation before external forces take the decisions out of the hands of scientists. Technology has provided an opportunity for a future that is bright, but we must walk into the BioIntelligence Age with our eyes wide open.


Science After the Information Age: The Biointelligence Age (Keynotes, Managing Software Projects)
Richard Satava, Yale University
Monday [17:00 - 18:00] Conference Hall

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