02 March 2007

Waiting for the Green Biotech Hackers

An interesting meditation on green biotech hacking, and why we're not quite there yet:

The bigger problem, though, is the turnaround time. No engineer or hacker wants to wait four weeks to see if a program works. Hit compile, wait for four weeks, no "Hello World." Start trying to debug the bug, with no debugging tools. No thanks. (I've actually had discussions with geneticists/molecular biologists who think even waiting a few days for a synthesis job isn't a big deal. But what can you say -- biology just hasn't been a hacker culture. And we are the poorer for it.)

I arrived here from the fine Open the Future blog, which had this very insightful comment in the same context:

Green biotech hacking is still in the punch-card era, and ... computer hacker culture really didn't take off until you got past punch-cards into time-sharing, where the cost in time and money was low enough that mistakes were something to learn from, not dread.

I think the latter phrase - "mistakes are something to learn from, not dread" - could well stand as an armourial motto for the entire open movement.

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