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Out of Control

These nine principles underpin the awesome workings of prairies, flamingoes, cedar forests, eyeballs, natural selection in geological time, and the unfolding of a baby elephant from a tiny seed of elephant sperm and egg.

These same principles of bio-logic are now being implanted in computer chips, electronic communication networks, robot modules, pharmaceutical searches, software design, and corporate management, in order that these artificial systems may overcome their own complexity.

When the Technos is enlivened by Bios we get artifacts that can adapt, learn, and evolve. When our technology adapts, learns, and evolves then we will have a neo-biological civilization.

All complex things taken together form an unbroken continuum between the extremes of stark clockwork gears and ornate natural wilderness. The hallmark of the industrial age has been its exaltation of mechanical design. The hallmark of a neo-biological civilization is that it returns the designs of its creations toward the organic, again. But unlike earlier human societies that relied on found biological solutions -- herbal medicines, animal proteins, natural dyes, and the like -- neo-biological culture welds engineered technology and unrestrained nature until the two become indistinguishable, as unimaginable as that may first seem.

The intensely biological nature of the coming culture derives from five influences:

  • Despite the increasing technization of our world, organic life -- both wild and domesticated -- will continue to be the prime infrastructure of human experience on the global scale.

  • Machines will become more biological in character.

  • Technological networks will make human culture even more ecological and evolutionary.

  • Engineered biology and biotechnology will eclipse the importance of mechanical technology.

  • Biological ways will be revered as ideal ways.

In the coming neo-biological era, all that we both rely on and fear will be more born than made. We now have computer viruses, neural networks, Biosphere 2, gene therapy, and smart cards -- all humanly constructed artifacts that bind mechanical and biological processes. Future bionic hybrids will be more confusing, more pervasive, and more powerful. I imagine there might be a world of mutating buildings, living silicon polymers, software programs evolving offline, adaptable cars, rooms stuffed with coevolutionary furniture, gnatbots for cleaning, manufactured biological viruses that cure your illnesses, neural jacks, cyborgian body parts, designer food crops, simulated personalities, and a vast ecology of computing devices in constant flux.

The river of life -- at least its liquid logic -- flows through it all.

We should not be surprised that life, having subjugated the bulk of inert matter on Earth, would go on to subjugate technology, and bring it also under its reign of constant evolution, perpetual novelty, and an agenda out of our control. Even without the control we must surrender, a neo-biological technology is far more rewarding than a world of clocks, gears, and predictable simplicity.

As complex as things are today, everything will be more complex tomorrow. The scientists and projects reported here have been concerned with harnessing the laws of design so that order can emerge from chaos, so that organized complexity can be kept from unraveling into unorganized complications, and so that something can be made from nothing.