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Medicine in the digital age
I think there is going to be an enormous convergence of information
technologies and biotechnologies. I can think of five or six different examples, but I will just give you one. Gene regulatory networks are the central processing machine of organisms for both developmental and physiological processes. They have the ability in a digital manner to integrate huge amounts of information very effectively. Once we learn the secrets to this digital integration of many different kinds of information, we can begin to think about designing computers that can handle digital information in much more sophisticated ways. I think there are great opportunities in biotechnology for companies that have integrated computation, biology, and medicine. And there are in medicine going to be enormous computational requirements—databases that can integrate all patient material, future, past, and present.

—Leroy Hood, President of the Institute for Systems Biology, from a lecture titled “The Future of University and Biotechnology Industry Interactions in the Twenty-First Century,” sponsored by the Woodruff Health Sciences Center on September 22, 2003

Machine-human hybrids

As machines become more life-like and people, through the use of such things as mechanical limbs, cochlear implants, and cortical implants, become more like machines, all sorts of moral questions arise. At what point, if ever, do artificial beings acquire consciousness, a human spirit, or a soul? Could humans ever become so machine-like that they lose their humanity? What’s the moral status of a hybrid human-machine being? Bionic technology aids not only the ill and the handicapped; increasingly, it will enhance strength, intelligence, beauty, and health. Should only the rich have access to these benefits? If not, then how do we select the recipients? . . . No matter what the intentions of those who make artificial beings, unintended outcomes may complicate the effects on humans. Still, intended uses matter. Most U.S. robotics research is funded by the Department of Defense. But in Japan, funding comes from corporations and governments for civilian uses—a difference in intention that raises issues.

—Sidney Perkowitz, Candler Professor of Physics, from “Machine Morality: The Good, the Bad, and the Artificial” speaking at a colloquium sponsored
by the Institute for Liberal Arts on November 4, 2003