Genesis Machines - The New Science of Biocomputing
by Martyn Amos
Atlantic Books, HK$165
As the first person to win a PhD in biocomputing, it is perhaps incumbent on Martyn Amos to maintain interest in his so-far failed attempts to create 'truly programmable matter', despite a decade of disentangling DNA. Genesis Machines is a fascinating and pacey account of scientific efforts to harness the computational potential of our own biology to, well, do things. There seems to be no real objective here beyond the pure excitement of science. Perhaps that's as it should be. He first takes the reader through brief histories of computing, mathematics, molecular biology and aspects of physics. It's not nearly as complicated as one might think. Then we move on to the big stuff. The storage capacity of a single cell - and we each have about 100 trillion - is 6GB of data. The trick is to harness all that computational power. So far, the best that has been managed is some test tubes of DNA to solve simple mathematical puzzles. Philosophical questions aren't the subject of Genesis Machines, despite the big hint at what any breakthrough may mean, although Amos does urge rational political discussion and supervision of this frontier science. Who knows where it will lead?