While Nakamoto was completing the finishing touches of his historic paper, Jason Bobe and Mackenzie Cowell launched an organization called DIYbio, standing for do it yourself biology.
The idea appears preposterous, do science yourself? It is precisely what the biohacking movement stands for, this idea that medicine doesn’t have to be the privilege of Ivory Towers, but accessible to all. Josiah Zayner, one of the more well known biohackers, says:
“One of my big problems with academic and medical science is you read lots of these papers. Lots of stuff, we cured X or we did X, but it won’t be available to the general public for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. To me, that seems ridiculous. How do you expect this technology go forward if they aren’t testing, playing around it?
What is too early and what is too late? I don’t know if there’s an answer. I don’t know if I’m the correct one to ask that question. But maybe activists putting this knowledge out there, letting people know how easy and accessible it is, can spur people to push this stuff. Develop it more. Develop it faster. Develop it quicker. Maybe just completely because they’re afraid biohackers will beat them too it. Maybe because they’re afraid biohackers will do something stupid.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher, with one of them meeting the ultimate: death. 28 year old Aaron Traywick, who was one of the more well known biohacker, was found dead on April 29th in a float pod in what Wikipedia calls “under unexplained circumstances.”
Two months earlier, during February 2018, he injected himself on stage with an untested herpes treatment. Many within the biohacking community were outraged. One of them says:
“These stunts make old-school biohackers/self-experimenters (like me) look like ignorant fools.”
The treatment did not work. Nor has anything actually come out from this movement so far, as far as we can see. Science happens to be hard.
Yet while clearly there are risks, it does make one feel slightly safer to know that there are these rebels who are trying to keep giant pharmaceutical companies in check.
They may well find nothing in the end, no cure the corporations haven’t found, or a cheaper version of it, but they may make something utterly boring, somewhat cooler.
When the 16 year old Ananya Chadha, for example, showcased the use of ethereum’s blockchain to increase data privacy when genes are sent to companies like 23andme, she may have not been self-experimenting, nor might she call herself a biohacker, but she showed how the two worlds can meet. She says:
“I was working really hard recently, and (after a ton of failing) managed to *control a remote control car with my brain*!
I used focus to go and stop, and since jaw clenching generates a lot of noise on the EEGs, I used it to turn the bot.”
Code, or the hacking culture, connects all these movements through a thread of sorts to give a bigger narrative of a new class that sees what is and sees what they can build better.
Made wealthy by the digital revolution, made numerous by the ever increasing highly educated university students, networked and connected by the internet, the children of the baby boomers are revolting against what they see as a consumer culture, bland high streets, gilds knowledge, a monopolistic or oligopolistic structural economy set-up, and an ever increasing concentration of privilege.
Do it yourself is not quite affordable by everyone, but advances in digital manufacturing through 3D printing has made it more affordable than perhaps it has ever been.
The maker movement gives expression to our innate curiosity which often leads us to break up our toys then probably fail to put them up back together.
It’s art, it’s fun, it can be beautiful, it can lead to a decent business for some, and it can be quite innovative.
Its biggest showcase is of course the Burning Man, that ancient festival in modern form that celebrates the sun’s highest point by burning something as if to reflect its strength.
All sorts of big gadgets are there on display, with the new wealthy of Silicon Valley bankrolling much of it as a modern day new form of patroning art.
While we here speak of open source software, they speak of open source hardware. How the two meet is easy to see.
IoT is one industry that should benefit from the tinkers, with the famous Slockit DAO itself being a maker attempt of sorts in their then ambitions to create an ethereum computer.
Like the first airplanes that barely flew before crashing, or the first computers that still sometimes need to turn it off and on again, new industries often face set-backs.
Yet even in failures much is learned, even in mistakes one does advance, for like children after tripping new industries too can pick up themselves and then maybe even run as if nothing happened.
For the story here is that of civilization. As knowledge is gained, and societies become wealthier, more are afforded the luxury of playing with science or with art, which itself creates more wealth, and thus more of their class.
Sometime the newly wealthy become stale old gilds, put up barriers to the rest, until their own children start tearing down monopolies. In some cases no one cares, in some others wit is required.
For revolutions can be glorious as in Britain or reigns of terror as in France, liberating as in America or utterly suffocating as in Soviet Russia. AIs can serve us, or we can become the bots.
In that thin twine we must walk where such matters as biology are concerned, but the field can be a lot bigger for us to roam where makers’ open source hardware is concerned, and where just code plays as in this space, then we should be lucky to enjoy all the fun.