5. February 2016
Source: Scientific American
The gene-editing technology known as CRISPR has spawned an increasingly unseemly brawl over who will reap the rewards
A defining moment in modern biology occurred on July 24, 1978, when biotechnology pioneer Robert Swanson, who had recently co-founded Genentech, brought two young scientists to dinner with Thomas Perkins, the legendary venture capitalist. As they stood outside Perkins’s magnificent mansion in Marin County, with its swimming pool and garden and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Swanson turned to his two young colleagues and said, “This is what we’re all working for.”
That scene came to mind as I sorted through the tawdry verbal wreckage on social media and in print of the “debate” over CRISPR, the revolutionary new gene-editing technology. The current brouhaha, triggered by Eric Lander’s now-infamous essay in Cell called “The Heroes of CRISPR,” is the most entertaining food fight in science in years.
The stakes are exceedingly high. CRISPR is the most important new technology to hit biology since recombinant DNA, which launched Genentech, made Swanson, along with his colleagues and investors, rich and brought molecular biology, long the province of academia, into the realm of celebrity and big money. In this context, the Cell essay has huge patent and prize implications. Lander has been accused of writing an incomplete and inaccurate history of the CRISPR story, burnishing the patent claims of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., (he is its director) and minimizing the contributions of rival scientists. A blogger has referred to him as “an evil genius at the height of his craft.” And George Church, a colleague at the Broad Institute, likens Lander to a figure out of a Greek tragedy. “The only person that could hurt him was himself,” he says. “He was invulnerable to anybody else’s sword.” And you thought scientists couldn’t talk smack. Read the rest of this entry »
20. May 2015
Source: Scientific American
It’s a mystery why Gordon Moore’s “law,” which forecasts processor power will double every two years, still holds true a half century later
SAN FRANCISCO—Personal computers, cellphones, self-driving cars—Gordon Moore predicted the invention of all these technologies half a century ago in a 1965 article for Electronics magazine. The enabling force behind those inventions would be computing power, and Moore laid out how he thought computing power would evolve over the coming decade. Last week the tech world celebrated his prediction here because it has held true with uncanny accuracy—for the past 50 years.
It is now called Moore’s law, although Moore (who co-founded the chip maker Intel) doesn’t much like the name. “For the first 20 years I couldn’t utter the term Moore’s law. It was embarrassing,” the 86-year-old visionary said in an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman at the gala event, held at Exploratorium science museum. “Finally, I got accustomed to it where now I could say it with a straight face.” He and Friedman chatted in front of a rapt audience, with Moore cracking jokes the whole time and doling out advice, like how once you’ve made one successful prediction, you should avoid making another. In the background Intel’s latest gadgets whirred quietly: collision-avoidance drones, dancing spider robots, a braille printer—technologies all made possible via advances in processing power anticipated by Moore’s law. Read the rest of this entry »
5. March 2015
From autonomous drones to emergent AI to digital genomes, this year’s list from the World Economic Forum offers its latest glimpse of our fast-approaching technological future
Fuel-cell vehicles have long promised several major advantages over those powered by electricity or hydrocarbons.
SA Forum is an invited essay from experts on topical issues in science and technology.
Editor’s note: Today the World Economic Forum’s Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies, one of the organization’s networks of expert communities that form the Global Agenda Councils, released its Top 10 List of Emerging Technologies for 2015. Bernard Meyerson, chief innovation officer of IBM and author of the following essay, is chair of the Meta-Council. Scientific American editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina is serving as vice-chair.
Technology is perhaps the greatest agent of change in the modern world. Although never without risk, technological breakthroughs promise solutions to the most pressing global challenges of our time. From zero-emission cars fueled by hydrogen to computer chips modeled on the human brain, this year’s Top 10 Emerging Technologies list—an annual compilation from the World Economic Forum (WEF)—offers a vivid glimpse of the power of innovation to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard our planet. Read the rest of this entry »