Michael Reinsborough <m.reinsborough@qub.ac.uk>

Alessandro Delfanti <a.delfanti@insiberia.net>


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
exploits, the remark that now days the State was more interested to
keep exploits hidden and activists are the one most interested in
making exploits public. Quite a reversal where the underdog (once
associated with the hackers hidden exploit) becomes the locksmith
calling for public discussion of security in the name of protecting
democracy partisans in the middle-east.

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.
At conferences like IGEM, kids are encouraged to think they are cool
hackers, while the biotech industry recruits them to live the rest of
their life imprisoned in a software programmers cubicle.

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). The ideology that everything
is a machine manipulated in the same way that you program your
computer (lego blocks of life, assemble or rearrange them yourself,
program your brain). The original hacker ethic was domain specific.
computers/phones/calculation and communication systems. But the
biohacker ethic seems to have leaked out of its vat like an escaped
microorganism now travelling (contaminating) the natural environment
away from its factory site starting point

Subject: [SynbioCritics] Fwd: SynBio Explained: Video Animation Explores Risks of Treating Life as a Machine

???For immediate release???
SynBio Explained
Video Animation Explores Risks of Treating Life as a Machine

MONTREAL, 29 Oct. 2014???On the eve of the largest annual gathering
of synthetic biologists in the world, ETC Group and the Bioeconomies
Media Project are launching a new animated explanation of the workings
of this emerging ???SynBio??? industry, often dubbed extreme genetic
engineering. Thousands of scientists, students and vendors will
converge at the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM)
Jamboree in Boston to share the latest advancements in what has become
a multi billion dollar industry based on the industrialization of life
at the molecular level.

Increasingly, scientists and civil society are sounding the alarm
about the risks posed by unregulated commercialization of SynBio???s
untested, experimental and unprecedented manipulation of life forms.
The new ten minute video, produced in collaboration with award-winning
Canadian animator Marie-Jos??e Saint-Pierre and narrated by ETC???s
Jim Thomas, is the first output from a new Bioeconomies Media Project.
Featuring work of researchers from Canadian universities and funded
by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the
video provides a succinct introduction to the science and emerging
industry of synthetic biology as well as some of the ethical,
biosafety and economic impacts that these “genetically engineered
machines” may have.

“The synthetic biology industry is already a multibillion dollar
enterprise involving some of the worlds largest food, chemical and
agribusiness companies,” said Jim Thomas, ETC’s Programme Director.
“The leaders of that industry are targeting markets supplied by small
farmers in the around the world; this is likely to have real negative
impacts on poorer communities in the global south.”

SynBio companies have commercialized several products already,
including a vanilla substitute grown by synthetically modified yeast,
a coconut oil replacement produced by engineered algae, and engineered
versions of patchouli and vetiver fragrances. Less than two weeks ago,
194 nations at the United Nations convention on Biological Diversity
unanimously urged governments to establish precautionary regulations
and to assess synthetic biology organisms, components and products.
Many countries had called for a complete global moratorium on the
release of synthetic biology organisms.

The video can be viewed at the following locations:




Hi Michael,

that’s quite an interesting take on biohacking.

People who have witnessed the emergence of DIYbio (the do-it-yourself
biology network that was started back in 2008 in the US) say that the
direct intervention of the FBI was key in shaping the movement. The FBI
attended DIYbio meetings, organized meetings of its own and flew
amateurs there from all over the world, etc.

Rather than a biosecurity concern, this was the FBI acknowledging they
couldn’t fuck up again after what they did to Steve Kurtz and the
Critical Art Ensemble (if you don’t remember the story: it happened in
NY during the antrax attacks, google it). Yet as a result of this, the
movement has taken the form of a very cautious, a-critical subject that
is going towards mostly educational or entrepreneurial paths. Sara
Tocchetti from LSE is writing a great piece on this but I don’t think
it’s out there yet.

Of course do-it-yourself biology’s current shape is also linked to other
genealogies, i.e. diybio was mostly born within scientific institutions
and with their paternal blessing and is currently being co-opted and
integrated at all institutional levels (museums, start-ups, scientific
crowdsourcing projects). Althought it might be scientifically poor,
biohacking is very important to the synbio industry, as it portraits it
as a friendly, fun, open, creative activity and also reverses the
spectrum of life privatisation through its copyleft ethos. It also
creates new hopes after decades of promises (remember the human genome?)
that have been only partially matched so far, to say the least.

In fact I see synthetic biology as a project for re-moralizing biotech,
and diybio is an integral part of it – which might help explain why
high-end biologists care about those kids playing with cell cultures.
Now the question is: will distributed creativity and
hyper-individualized markets appear in biology? Well, probably no bio
commercial breakthrough will come from a garage, but a new soul for the
biotech industry is created there, and those references to a hacker
ethos are a big part of it