McIlwain chaired a panel on innovations in biotech, “Killing Disease and Living Longer” on November 11, 2021:
Matt Mcilwain (Moderator) — Managing Director, Madrona Venture Group
Stephen C. Meyer — Director, Center for Science and Culture
Jim Tour — T.t. and W.f. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Rice University
Matthew Scholz — CEO, Oisin Biotechnologies
Yesterday at COSM 2021, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, synthetic organic chemist James Tour, and biotech entrepreneur Matthew Scholz looked at how nanotechnology (working directly with very small things, like molecules) will advance biology and medicine.
“Oscar Wilde said nature imitates art,” Meyer opened by saying. And today we’re going to see that “technology is now able to imitate and even in some ways, improve upon nature.”
He noted that since the 1960s we’ve been learning that living cells function because of the actions performed by molecular machines—those molecular machines are built using information…
Last up was Matthew Scholz, a biotech entrepreneur and CEO of Oisin Biotechnologies, also the founder of Immusoft. Scholz explained that, for him, the “north star” is that “the essence of life is information.” A computer scientist by training, he wondered if our immune systems could be programmed with the right information to fight diseases like HIV or cancer.
Scholz pointed out that it has taken 30 million deaths from HIV and AIDs to find a small number of people who have natural immunity. But, he asked, “Could we leverage the computational power of the planet to fight this battle instead?” “Can we use silicon instead of souls?”
So how do you reprogram an immune cell? Scholz points out that cells don’t have USB ports, but we could extract B cell lymphocytes and then change the cell’s genetics to make the antibodies needed to fight specific diseases. Again, information is the key: We’re importing information into biological systems so that they can do what we need them to do.
The panel followed tech pioneer and prophet Ray Kurzweil’s livestreamed address in which he predicted that we will merge with our computers by 2045 — The Singularity: “Our intelligence will then be a combination of our biological and non-biological intelligence,” he explained. We will be apps of our smart computers.
Or will we? And if that happened, would it be progress? Already, we freak out when we can’t find our phones, or our computers crash, or the internet is down. Or the power goes off. Yet Isaac Newton changed physics with a pen and paper. So did Albert Einstein. McIlwain suggests, look deeper.
Heady times ahead. Enjoy the interview.
You may also wish to read: Is Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity now nearer — or impossible? In response to Kurzweil’s talk at the COSM Technology Summit, panelists noted that AI achievements are revolutionary in size but limited by their nature in scope. George Montañez, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Harvey Mudd College, took issue with Kurzweil’s claim that AlphaGoZero needed no instructions to beat humans at the game of Go: “For a system like this to work, a human must define the incentive structure, also encoding the assumptions.” The sheer power of a computing system does not cause it to do anything at all.