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Thread: First artificial life 'within months'

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    Celtkin's Avatar
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    First artificial life 'within months'

    Scientists could create the first new form of artificial life within months after a landmark breakthrough in which they turned one bacterium into another.

    Craig Venter likened the process to 'changing a Macintosh computer into a PC by inserting a new piece of software'

    In a development that has triggered unease and excitement in equal measure, scientists in the US took the whole genetic makeup - or genome - of a bacterial cell and transplanted it into a closely related species.
    This then began to grow and multiply in the lab, turning into the first species in the process.

    The team that carried out the first “species transplant” says it plans within months to do the same thing with a synthetic genome made from scratch in the laboratory.

    If that experiment worked, it would mark the creation of a synthetic lifeform.

    The scientists want to create new kinds of bacterium to make new types of bugs which can be used as green fuels to replace oil and coal, digest toxic waste or absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk
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    The whole "Can vs. Should" argument comes to mind when I read these things.
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    ckb2001's Avatar
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    The importance of this discovery shouldn't be underestimated though. Up till now, "bioengineering" really just took stuff that already existed and kind of reorganized it. True artificial life would mean we can design from the ground up the properties an organism will have. Of course, we're nowhere near that yet, but Venter and others competing with him will hopefully take us there.

    On a side note, Venter's been really pushing for allowing patents to be granted for artificial life forms (you can't patent whole life forms yet). This could be a multi-billion dollar industry not too far in the future if they succeed.
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    I find the semantics interesting. Is it really artificial life? Scientists will be creating a new species possibly. But they didn't start with something which was not alive and "create" life.

    I would say that the better term would be "custom", rather than "artificial".
    - "What do we mean by the defeat of the enemy? Simply the destruction of his forces, whether by death, injury, or any other means -- either completely or enough to make him stop fighting. . . . ."-Carl von Clausewitz-
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    ckb2001's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhinPhan1227 View Post
    I find the semantics interesting. Is it really artificial life? Scientists will be creating a new species possibly. But they didn't start with something which was not alive and "create" life.

    I would say that the better term would be "custom", rather than "artificial".
    "Artificial" is defined as "made by humans" so the label is appropriate:
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/artificial

    "a. Made by humans; produced rather than natural."
    ------------------------

    If you say anything made out of stuff that already exists in nature can't be considered "artificial", then nothing is artificial. Science uses the word "natural" thus in two different ways. Either everything that exists is nature (for a physicist usually) or just what isn't man-made. This is referring to the latter.
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    PhinPhan1227's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ckb2001 View Post
    "Artificial" is defined as "made by humans" so the label is appropriate:
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/artificial

    "a. Made by humans; produced rather than natural."
    ------------------------

    If you say anything made out of stuff that already exists in nature can't be considered "artificial", then nothing is artificial. Science uses the word "natural" thus in two different ways. Either everything that exists is nature (for a physicist usually) or just what isn't man-made. This is referring to the latter.
    Ok, you can keep artificial by that definition, but then you have to use a different term than "life". Because the life itself was not created by humans. It was customized, but not created. No human has yet created a living thing from a non-living thing.

    So if you want to keep "artificial", than you shoudl use "species", rather than "life", because that is what was created.
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    ckb2001's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhinPhan1227 View Post
    Ok, you can keep artificial by that definition, but then you have to use a different term than "life". Because the life itself was not created by humans. It was customized, but not created. No human has yet created a living thing from a non-living thing.

    So if you want to keep "artificial", than you shoudl use "species", rather than "life", because that is what was created.
    "Artificial life" refers to a life-form made by humans that wasn't present in nature. And that's exactly what these guys are attempting to do. Right now, they haven't done it, but once they create a genome from scratch - a synthetic genome - it WILL be artificial life. So, the term is the correct one.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ckb2001 View Post
    "Artificial life" refers to a life-form made by humans that wasn't present in nature. And that's exactly what these guys are attempting to do. Right now, they haven't done it, but once they create a genome from scratch - a synthetic genome - it WILL be artificial life. So, the term is the correct one.

    "life", and "life form" are two different things. A life form is a distinct entity, or type of entity. Life however encompases a different idea.

    Take for example a Liger. It doesn't exist in nature. It is a man-made cat. But would you refer to it as artificial life? It is an artificial life form, since that form doesn't exist in nature, but it is not artificial life. See the difference? Man has created different forms. This technology will create a totally different form. But it doesn't create the life itself.
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    Quote Originally Posted by PhinPhan1227 View Post
    "life", and "life form" are two different things. A life form is a distinct entity, or type of entity. Life however encompases a different idea.

    Take for example a Liger. It doesn't exist in nature. It is a man-made cat. But would you refer to it as artificial life? It is an artificial life form, since that form doesn't exist in nature, but it is not artificial life. See the difference? Man has created different forms. This technology will create a totally different form. But it doesn't create the life itself.
    One could argue as you do, but in practice it makes no sense to do so because that's not how we use the term artificial. We say a person as an "artificial limb" even though "limbs" are things that existed before man was on the Earth. We say "artificial intelligence" even though humans didn't invent "intelligence".

    So, taking what you said, one would have to argue we should say "artificial form of intelligence" or "artificial limb form", but that's just not how we use our language.

    So, in the end, this label is acceptable because that's just how we use terms like "artificial".

    Oh, and to your last sentence, one can really argue it DOES create the life itself. IF they can synthesize a genome from scratch, the rest of the cell is arguably not life until they put that genome in. Either way, the label is appropriate.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ckb2001 View Post
    One could argue as you do, but in practice it makes no sense to do so because that's not how we use the term artificial. We say a person as an "artificial limb" even though "limbs" are things that existed before man was on the Earth. We say "artificial intelligence" even though humans didn't invent "intelligence".

    So, taking what you said, one would have to argue we should say "artificial form of intelligence" or "artificial limb form", but that's just not how we use our language.

    So, in the end, this label is acceptable because that's just how we use terms like "artificial".

    Oh, and to your last sentence, one can really argue it DOES create the life itself. IF they can synthesize a genome from scratch, the rest of the cell is arguably not life until they put that genome in. Either way, the label is appropriate.

    Wrong. A limb, again, is a defined "thing". Further, the artificial limb is not organic, it was in fact created fully from "scratch", and nothing like it has ever existed in nature. Likewise we define artificial intelligence as intelligence which was created from non-organic parts, and nothing remotely like it has ever existed in nature. Artificial life would have to be life which doesn't exist in nature. A different kind of germ is still a germ. We didn't create the substance, we only rearranged it. The substance is perfectly natural, only the form is artificial. You were entirely correct that "artificial life form" is 100% correct. Artificial life however is not.
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