“BASE CODE: How convergent technologies are transforming the future of sustainable materials, and the challenges and opportunities they in turn present”
At the turn of the nineteenth century, scientists were just beginning to unravel how the precise arrangements of atoms in molecules and materials profoundly affects their behavior. A hundred years later, we are becoming increasingly adept at manipulating the most basic building blocks of the natural world; the atomic and molecular arrangements that give materials and machines their particular properties and capabilities, and the base-pair sequences and molecular overlays that determine the functionality of DNA. In doing so, we are on the cusp of vastly exceeding what nature, over billions of years, has achieved. And all of this is being made possible through our mastery of yet another set of basic building blocks: the ones and zeroes of cyberspace.
Atoms and molecules, the constituents and modifiers of DNA, and the bits and bytes of cyber-technologies, form the “base code” of our reality. These are the underlying “codes” that determine how materials (and the devices they are a part of) behave; how biological systems function; how complex interactions between materials and ecosystems play out; and how our increasingly digitized world operates. And we are becoming increasingly adept at programming separately in each of these codes. But it’s where we are learning how to cross-code between them that our capabilities are becoming truly transformative. By weaving together the base codes of biology, materials, and cyber-systems, we are opening the door to possibilities that, until recently, were near-unimaginable; especially in the area of sustainable materials. Yet our emerging abilities here also raise deep questions around the consequences of getting things wrong, including introducing unintended glitches and bugs into the base code of the world around us.
In this talk, Andrew Maynard will draw on emerging thinking around technological convergence, the fourth industrial revolution, and the concept of “base codes”, to explore how our growing mastery of materials, biology, and cyber-systems, is transforming our ability to imagine and design novel materials; and the opportunities and challenges this comes with.