Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Atheist will become A Theist

I am an agnostic- i believe in only the possibility of the existence of god- not a personal god you could pray to, nor the petty historical god. If we could ever prove, however, that some super-advanced culture lit the fuse on the big-bang, or seeded the planet with a bit of RNA then i'd consider myself a 'creationist'.
I doubt we'll ever know- but there is another way. We will know that god exists when we ouselves create life- and then we will be god! Why not? The creation of life is god's fundamental characteristic.
Craig Venter is (as we speak) stitching together half a million base pairs of a stripped-down mycoplasma genome with plans to stick it into an existing mycoplasma 'cell' to create a new bacteria. That's pretty cool- but it wouldn't pass my "god" test. For a start, he's using existing bacterial membrane structures, cytoplasmic enzymes, ribosomes etc. Yes, he's assembling a new genome from scratch but really he's just using it to hijack another bacteria. (New Scientist article)(BBC News article)

Others are actually trying to create self-replicating metabolic cycles in lipid bilayers- i.e. a "bottom-up" approach. There's some REALLY interesting stuff including videos here from a convention called "Synthetic Biology 3.0". (streaming/download and low/high quality video feed). Presumably this stuff will take several centuries before it bears 'fruit'.
I suppose even after a successful godlike creation event, we'd still only have "dumb" slimy life. Hacking biology to create life seems messy and entirely unnecessary. (Does a helicopter look/work like an "artificial bird"?) Anyway, we don't want "life" (though that would be enough to be godlike) - what we really want is synthetic intelligence. Even if this couldn't "self replicate" (in the absence of a human culture to tend to it) it would still probably do for me.
In an ironic twist, we could always programme the artificial intelligence using DNA computing- although as yet this is only powerful enough to code for tic-tac-toe. This way, the DNA could "code" for the mind directly without having to first build a body or brain.

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