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Top Tech Trend #6: Evolution Trumps Design

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Uploaded on Jun 19, 2008

AO At the Churchill Club’s 10th Annual Top Ten Tech Trends debate, DFJ's Steve Jurvetson continues the debate with a second hot-button trend: directed evolution.



Steve Jurvetson's Trend #2: Evolution trumps design. Many interesting unsolved problems in computer science, nanotechnology, and synthetic biology require the construction of complex systems. Evolutionary algorithms are a powerful alternative to traditional design, blossoming first in neural networks, now in microbial re-engineering, and eventually in AI.

For the next couple years, I would be willing to defend the idea that directed evolution will be an important component of the most successful and robust microbial engineering projects. A current engineering challenge is how to blend and integrate the benefits of what have, so far, been largely diverging methods for building complex systems.

But this trend is not just a niche topic for the bio-geeks. The really powerful applications are in IT, but over a longer term. I think it is a broad and important long-term trend, with some near-term niche applications. In the long term, the evolutionary approaches are more likely to tackle the big hairy “super-human” problems, where pure purposeful design will likely fail.

Can we transcend human intelligence with an evolutionary algorithm yet maintain an element of control, or even a bias toward friendliness? The next step in the evolutionary hierarchy of abstractions will accelerate the evolution of evolvability itself.

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