By extracting the logical principle of both life and machines, and applying each to the task of building extremely complex systems, technicians are conjuring up contraptions that are at once both made and alive.
Neo-biological civilizationWhat is clearly happening inside this glass capsule is happening less clearly at a great scale on earth in the closing years of this millennium.The realm of the born—all that is nature—and the realm of the made—all that is humanly constructed—are becoming one. Machines are becoming biological and the biological is becoming engineered.For the world of our own making has become so complicated that we must turn to the world of the born to understand how to manage it. That is, the more mechanical we make our fabricated environ-ment, the more biological it will eventually have to be if it is to work at all. our future is technological; but it will not be a world of gray steel. rather our technological future is headed toward a neo-biological civilization.
The triumph of the bio-logic: nature has all alone yielded her flesh to humansFirst, we took nature’s materials as food, fibers, and shelter. Then we learned to extract raw materials from her biosphere to create our own new synthetic materials. now Bios is yielding us her mind—we are taking her logic.so far, some of the traits of the living that have successfully been transported to mechanical systems are: self-replication, self-governance, limited self-repair, mild evolution, and partial learning. we have reason to believe yet more can be synthesized and made into something new. yet at the same time that the logic of Bios is being imported into machines, the logic of Technos is being imported into life.
The root of bioengineering is the desire to control the organic long enough to improve it. domesticated plants and animals are examples of technos-logic applied to life.The meanings of “mechanical” and “life” are both stretching until all complicated things can be perceived as machines, and all self-sustaining machines can be perceived as alive. yet beyond semantics, two concrete trends are happening: (1) Human-made things are behaving more lifelike, and (2) Life is becoming more engineered. The apparent veil between the organic and the manufactured has crumpled to reveal that the two really are, and have always been, of one being.The artificial vivisystems I survey are all complex and grand: planetary telephone systems, computer virus incubators, robot prototypes, virtual reality worlds, synthetic animated characters, diverse artificial ecologies, and computer models of the whole Earth.
Learning to surrender our creationsThe wholesale transfer of bio-logic into machines should fill us with awe.Yet as we unleash living forces into our created machines, we lose control of them. They acquire wildness and some of the surprises that the wild entails. This, then, is the dilemma all gods must accept: that they can no longer be completely sovereign over their finest creations.