New knowledge will save the world

I was listening to this wonderful podcast with MIT’s Eric Lander and realized that while the vaccine may be our generation’s greatest scientific breakthrough, it was relatively easy to design once we had new technologies for understanding our biology. The tools of genetic computing and big data, which are less than 4 years old, allowed scientists to basically “see” what was going wrong in an infected genome and then design a “messenger” to reprogram and inoculate a healthy person against the virus.

This is a further development of “software eating the world” in a way that is so visceral, so helpful, and a sign of how much profound change is yet to come.

Ultimately this is an advance in knowledge-discovery. Like... what is going to save the world from this awful pandemic isn’t some brute force military application, but an advance in how we learn things - in this case, how we learn about ourselves. The body is a complex system, and the problems in it ARE solvable with the right knowledge.

When you can’t SEE what’s wrong, threats seem impossible to overcome. But computing is allowing us to “see” what’s going on through the synthesis of data beyond our natural grasp and create solutions with surgical precision.

If all goes well, I am optimistic that the vaccine will wake people up more broadly to what is possible with science and the expansion of our knowledge.

Could we do the same for other complex systems, like climate change? Inequality?

December 12 2020