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Re: <nettime> Hackers 2.0 IGEM produces 'hacker ethic' for biology
Michael Reinsborough on Sat, 1 Nov 2014 19:08:14 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Hackers 2.0 IGEM produces 'hacker ethic' for biology

hi Cathal,

apologies if I have written polemically.  but I do think hacker-as-rebel-against-the-system is overwrought and if some diybio individuals identify as this then perhaps some sense of sarcasm at this will encourage reflective thought.  I don't agree with sarcasm but it does get people's attention.  I'm not in a position to say how the diybio movement sees itself, that's something for your community to debate.  My point is that the establishment is putting resources into the diybio community and expects to profit from the innocent enthusiasm that the diybio movement generates for playing with life and commodifying it at the level of cellular mechanism.

  re democratising the means of production.  Access to the means of doing biotech (starting your own company for example) is not the same as setting the standards of the industry democratically or otherwise.  Capital is organized by market-pricing structures at the level of an industry (not by individual businesses).  Imagine the concerned citizens who start up a health food store collective (or maybe a little biotech chemicals-from-yeast paint shop corner store) and wants to do things right (we'll sell high quality stuff, pay our workers well, and if we can sell to consumers cheaply) but then discover that pricing and other standards are set at the industrial level where the big retailers have economies of scale to underprice the well meaning collective.  Synthetic biotechnology is about Agribusiness and Chemicals industry giants who hope to benefit if it is made acceptable to reengineer and trade life under the laws of the capitalist marketplace. the shape or direction of the indus
 try like pricing and Environmental/Health/Labour/&Safety standards will largely be set by the economies of scale at giant agribusiness & chemicals firms.  Democratising the means of production is more than access to being able to produce and sell in the market- its about public and worker decisions about standards of production, including what parts of life should or shouldn't be commodified, what risks we are we willing to take and who should bear those risks.  If the diybio movement can help democratise biotech then that's great.  you sound like you are thinking about these issues.  The glowing plants people however are being used (perhaps willingly) to undermine democratic input into regulation of this field.  http://www.etcgroup.org/synthetic_biology_explained

  re is it a maker's movement- I stand to be corrected on this but I was under the impression that the toolsets were limited and key expertise was hard to come by- more tools provided for some areas than others (getting teenagers to work on food science, but not letting them play with diseases like ebola or smallpox).  limits to the distribution of key expertise was cited in the "Synthetic biology and bioterrorism: How scared should we be?" report commissioned by UK research council.  http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/sshm/research/Research-Labs/CSynBI {AT} KCL-PDFs/Jefferson-et-al-(2014)-Synthetic-Biology-and-Biosecurity.pdf

  re hacking life (into pieces).  This is just a play on words but it does link my two points. the first of which is really for nettime:  the hacking culture of the internet (widely considered to be played out in a virtual world) has now arrived in a place where it affects life at the cellular/genetic level.  the second point is- are computing calculating and engineering the appropriate interspecies ethic to think about and negotiate relations with other forms of life or indeed the cellular level of ourselves?  certainly humans and other species are always involved in changing shaping bits of the world around themselves, wearing leather shoes and growing crops.  we're part of nature.  A skyscraper is no less natural than a termite mound.  I would instead make the distinction life-cancer rather than nature-culture.  culture is a part of life made by humans and nature is the story within culture about life.  cancer is anything that repeats itself endlessly (whether that is a cell in th
 e body or the fetishization of exchange value).  http://www.jaunimieciai.lt/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/the-cancer-stage-of-capitalism.pdf my concern is that breaking into the building blocks of life with commercial intentions is an extension of a type of capitalism/cancer with negative implications for life.

re PR fakeness of diybio.  I did not mean to imply that the diybio community is fake or inadequately self organized.  Nor am I adequately familiar with the community as a whole so any and all apologies if this is how I came across.  If biotech industry is using diybio as PR for their ideas this might be something for you to consider.  

re Get off your horse, you're trampling on our commons.  I entirely agree that it is not for me to be riding horses.   re commons, commons belong to everyone.  Capitalism expands by taking parts of life that were previously common and absorbing them into markets where they can be traded, where they are the property of some and not of others.  I don't want the mechanisms of cellular reproduction, which have existed as a commons for millions of years (you and I both share them with plants, animals, and microorganisms), to be made commercially subject to market forces.  The commons belong to all of us.  http://venturebeat.com/2014/10/29/cambrian-genomics-ceo-were-going-to-design-every-human-on-a-computer-and-make-your-poop-smell-like-bananas/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Venturebeat+(VentureBeat)

The diybio community may have an important role to play in the future.  I don't know enough to judge.  but good luck! you're surrounded by Monsanto, Dupont and the FBI!
       Cheers, michael
From: Cathal Garvey <cathalgarvey {AT} cathalgarvey.me>
Sent: 31 October 2014 15:03
To: diybio-eu {AT} diybio.eu; Michael Reinsborough
Subject: Re: [diybio-eu] Fwd: <nettime> Hackers 2.0 IGEM produces 'hacker ethic' for biology

It seems Michael has some misconceptions to match his misgivings. I'm
not equipped with time and motivation to address them all, but these two
stood out:

 > The biohacker movement gives a sort of grassroots chic to the biotech
 > industry but they aren't really a maker's movement, they don't hold
 > the means of production, only a few toys given to them by industry
 > (you can make a bacteria that smells like spearmint). Key parts of
 > the knowledge process needed for production of your own organisms
 > (and of course the capital necessary to do so) are not distributed.

Sorry Michael, but this means of production is already becoming
democratised and will become moreso in short order. DNA design is a
skill, but is an increasingly automated one (I've written software,
PySplicer, that assists in DNA design, for example).

DNA synthesis is becoming cheaper and I already know teenagers and
undergrads engaging in DNA synthesis via outsourcing. However, more
exciting still is the prospect of a DNA bioprinter which can be used
desk-top, and I know a company (Briefcase Biotec/Kilobaser) of Austrian
friends on this list who are planning just this.

Now, I don't expect you to like this, as I don't think you like
democratisation of technology. But don't pretend it's fake, or that "the
corporations" or "the government" are controlling the actions of young
biohackers, biomakers and biocoders.

Speaking of nomenclature..

 > but I don't think it is just the PR fakeness of the biohacker
 > ethic being sold to young computer savvy kids. It's not just that
 > corporate power controls all the cards and if you hack, you hack for
 > them. Something new is leaking out. I think there is a qualitative
 > difference between the ethic of hacking to learn about how your
 > computer system works and the ethic of treating life as if it were
 > a machine. Hacking life (into pieces).

If you think it's PR fakeness I challenge you to find the shill behind
my work in Cork, Ireland. I set up my lab personally for my own reasons,
thank-you-very-much, and I don't appreciate being called fake, or
compared to carefully crafted viral marketing, or whatnot.

Like it or not, life runs on a code, and that code has a syntax and an
information content that can be read, inferred, re-engineered and
rewritten. Using the language of programming is a natural thing for a
community and culture that is so accustomed to programming, so don't
bleat about it just because it doesn't fit your ethic. The reality is
that more people understand what a "CPU" is versus a "Ribosome", so we
analogise to help them grasp the field. When we later disabuse beginners
of their notions of seriality and determinism in favour of parallelism
and quantum-level fluctuations, they think more like a biotechnologist
than a programmer, but the analogies and languages remain.

Also, "Hacking Life Apart"? I hope you don't eat, or wear, or medicate
yourself with the products of human agriculture, because they're no more
"natural" than a coke-can. If you have some issue with humans
manipulating their environment, which is the activity and behaviour for
which we evolved, then go evolve into something else and leave the rest
of us alone, please.

If you lament that people are sometimes required to commercialise their
work, then offer and assist with an alternative system, because Academia
has largely failed to provide an outlet for the creativity of young
scientists. All that aside, commerce isn't necessarily evil; revoke
biopatents, regulate elegantly and sensibly, and educate people on the
importance of commons, and commerce becomes a way to mutually enrich us
all. Biocommerce need not be monopolised, and none of us truly benefit
when it is. But your attitude, this destructive
ban-it-all-these-damned-kids-and-my-begonias stuff, that's the reason
there are no smaller players in the field right now, why we have Dupont
and Monsanto monopolising the field.

Get off your horse, you're trampling on our commons.


On 31/10/14 14:46, Lucas Evers wrote:
> Begin forwarded message:
>> Resent-From: nettime {AT} kein.org
>> From: Michael Reinsborough <m.reinsborough {AT} qub.ac.uk>
>> Subject: <nettime> Hackers 2.0 IGEM produces 'hacker ethic' for biology
>> Date: October 31, 2014 2:01:51 PM GMT+01:00
>> Resent-To: Nettime <nettime-l {AT} kein.org>
>> To: "nettime-l {AT} mail.kein.org" <nettime-l {AT} mail.kein.org>
>> ??? http://www.etcgroup.org/synthetic_biology_explained
>> Certainly seems that the hipster grassroots bottom up ethic of the
>> hacker is being brought to new places. Nettime participants have for
>> some time been sceptical of the 'hacker ethic'; was it now being
>> colonised? I remember a while back on this list discussion of security

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