Living technology background

Living Technology (LT)[1] as we see it, is a central part of what the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the US Department of Commerce (DOC), and the European Commission (EC) have termed Convergent Technologies (CT), technologies which the US and EU believe will have a very large socio-economical impact in 20-30 years. Convergent Technologies are defined as the technological results of the emerging synergies from the nano-bio-info-cognitive (NBIC) knowledge production.

How to realize living technology? Initially through a deep understanding of life,  simply by making it from scratch. But it will take a while, maybe a generation, before living technology becomes an integrated part of our socio-technical fabric. However, in the meantime the basic science necessary to make living technology possible will vastly expand the envelope of predictive science of complex integrated computational, material, chemical, and biological systems. In the near future it will also be possible to make an artificial subcellular matrix based on computer controlled nano-fluidics and life-like chemistry. It will be a substrate with an integrated production and information processing capability. Such a substrate is the basis for all higher level functions of the modern biological cell.

Which applications of living technology could one imagine? At this point the possibilities mentioned below should just be thought of as stepping-stones for the imagination as they all at this point have the character of science fiction and not science fact:

  • Self-healing materials (space crafts, anti-corrosion of ships);
  • Medical diagnostics and treatment (living drug delivery, bio-mineralization);
  • Security (recognize and neutralize bio-agents, modify chemical composition of nuclear waste);
  • Environment (sequester CO2, metabolize toxins no current life can);
  • Energy (photosynthesis, produce H2).

The societal implications of living and smart technology are addressed in a variety of different contexts, see e.g. under the Initiative for Science, Society and Policy or at the European Center for Living Technology.

[1] The term “Living Technology” was coined by Mark Bedau, John McCaskill, Norman Packard and Steen Rasmussen, in New Mexico 2001.

[2] M. Gorman (2002) Combining the Social and the Nanotech: A Model for Converging Technologies, in M. Roco and W. Bainbridge (eds.) Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science, NSF/DOC-sponsored report, Arlington, pp. 325-330.

[3] M. Roco and R. Tomellini, eds. Nanotechnology: Revolutionary Opportunities and Social Implications (EU-EC/NSF Lecce Conference Report), Brussels: European Commission, 2002.

[4] Alfred Nordmann (rapporteur), Foresighting the New Technology Wave Converging Technologies - Shaping the Future of European Societies, EU Report, 2004.

[5] M. A. Bedau and E. C. Parke (eds.) The prospect of protocells: social and ethical implications of the recreation of life. Cambridge: MIT Press. Forthcoming.

[6] M. A. Bedau and E. C. Parke. 2009. Social and ethical issues concerning protocells. In S. Rasmussen, M. A. Bedau, L. Chen, D. Deamer, D. C. Krakauer, N. [7] H. Packard, P. F. Stadler (eds.), Protocells: bridging nonliving and living matter, Cambridge: MIT Press.