"Radar Podcast" entries
The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Tim Gardner on the synthetic biology landscape, lab automation, and the problem of reproducibility.
Editor’s note: this podcast is part of our investigation into synthetic biology and bioengineering. For more on these topics, download a free copy of the new edition of BioCoder, our quarterly publication covering the biological revolution. Free downloads for all past editions are also available.
Tim Gardner, founder of Riffyn, has recently been working with the Synthetic Biology Working Group of the European Commission Scientific Committees to define synthetic biology, assess the risk assessment methodologies, and then describe research areas. I caught up with Gardner for this Radar Podcast episode to talk about the synthetic biology landscape and issues in research and experimentation that he’s addressing at Riffyn.
Defining synthetic biology
Among the areas of investigation discussed at the EU’s Synthetic Biology Working Group was defining synthetic biology. The official definition reads: “SynBio is the application of science, technology and engineering to facilitate and accelerate the design, manufacture and/or modification of genetic materials in living organisms.” Gardner talked about the significance of the definition:
“The operative part there is the ‘design, manufacture, modification of genetic materials in living organisms.’ Biotechnologies that don’t involve genetic manipulation would not be considered synthetic biology, and more or less anything else that is manipulating genetic materials in living organisms is included. That’s important because it gets rid of this semantic debate of, ‘this is synthetic biology, that’s synthetic biology, this isn’t, that’s not,’ that often crops up when you have, say, a protein engineer talking to someone else who is working on gene circuits, and someone will claim the protein engineer is not a synthetic biologist because they’re not working with parts libraries or modularity or whatnot, and the boundaries between the two are almost indistinguishable from a practical standpoint. We’ve wrapped it all together and said, ‘It basically advances in the capabilities of genetic engineering. That’s what synthetic biology is.'”
In this O'Reilly Radar Podcast: David Rose on fairy tale inspiration, and Simon King on designing for future context.
In this podcast episode, David Rose, an instructor at MIT’s Media Lab and CEO at Ditto Labs, sits down with Mary Treseler, O’Reilly’s director of strategic content for our design space. In the interview, Rose defines his mission: “to make technology more elegant, more embedded, and hopefully, more humane.” Technology itself isn’t what drives Rose — he’s looking for inspiration in places that have captured and fueled our imaginations for centuries:
“I’m trying to be very, sort of, fairy-tale driven rather than tech driven. In the book [Enchanted Objects], I go back to some of the patterns that are revealed through Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm or other pop culture, like spy culture or Harry Potter or Frodo, and I try to think about what those technologies are or how those services are transferable from one person to another.
“Super powers like Superman’s ability to fly don’t count because he can’t give that to anyone else, but if it’s boots that allow you to walk many miles that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to walk or a purse that replenishes or a magic carpet that could transport anybody, those qualify because those are objects that can be used by many people. I have gone back, studied these crystal balls and other objects of enchantment and magic, and think about how those could be used as a way to inspire the inventors of The Internet of Things today.”
In this O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Dr. Gilad Rosner talks about data privacy, and Alasdair Allan chats about the broken IoT.
In this podcast episode, I catch up with Dr. Gilad Rosner, a visiting researcher at the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute in England. Rosner focuses on privacy, digital identity, and public policy, and is launching an Internet of Things Privacy Forum. We talk about personal data privacy in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), privacy as a social characteristic, an emerging design ethos for technologists, and whether or not we actually own our personal data. Rosner characterizes personal data privacy as a social construct and addresses the notion that privacy is dead:
“Firstly, it’s important to recognize the idea that privacy is not a regime to control information. Privacy is a much larger concept than that. Regimes to control information are ways that we as a society preserve privacy, but privacy itself emerges from social needs and from individual human needs. The idea that privacy is dead comes from the vulnerability that people are feeling because they can see that it’s very difficult to maintain walls between their informational spheres, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t countercurrents to that, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways, as we go forward, to improve privacy preservation in the electronic spaces that we continue to move into.”
As we move more and more into these electronic spaces and the Internet of Things becomes democratized, our notions of privacy are shifting on a cultural level beyond anything we’ve experienced as a society before. Read more…
Nate Oostendorp on manufacturing and the industrial Internet, and Tim O'Reilly and Rod Smith discuss emerging tech.
The Industrial Revolution had a profound effect on manufacturing — will the industrial Internet’s effect be as significant? In this podcast episode, Nate Oostendorp, co-founder and CTO of Sight Machine, says yes — where mechanization ruled the Industrial Revolution, data-driven automation will rule this next revolution:
“I think that when you think about manufacturing 20 years from now, the computer and the network is going to be much more fundamental. Your factories are going to look a lot more like data centers do, where there’s a much greater degree of automation that’s driven by the fact that you have good data feeds off of it. You have a lot of your administration of the factory that will be done remotely or in a back office. You don’t necessarily need to have engineers on a floor watching a machine in order to know what’s going on. I think fundamentally, the number of players in a factory will be much smaller. You’ll have much more technical expertise but a fewer number of people overall in a factory setting.”
According to Oostendorp, we’re already seeing the early effects today in an increased focus on quality and efficiency. Read more…
Liza Kindred on the evolving role of data in fashion and the growing relationship between tech and fashion companies.
In this podcast episode, I talk with Liza Kindred, founder of Third Wave Fashion and author of the new free report “Fashioning Data: How fashion industry leaders innovate with data and what you can learn from what they know.” Kindred addresses the evolving role data and analytics are playing in the fashion industry, and the emerging connections between technology and fashion companies. “One of the things that fashion is doing better than maybe any other industry,” Kindred says, “is facilitating conversations with users.”
Gathering and analyzing user data creates opportunities for the fashion and tech industries alike. One example of this is the trend toward customization. Read more…
Putting ourselves in the shoes of the user is key to building better systems and services.
In this podcast episode, Tim O’Reilly talks about building systems and services for people, keeping a close eye on the end user’s experience to build better, more efficient systems that actually work for the people using them. Highlighting a quote from Jeff Sussna, O’Reilly makes a deeper connection between development and the ultimate purpose for building systems and services — user experience:
“[Jeff Sussna says in his blog post Empathy: The Essence of DevOps]: ‘It’s not about making developers and sysadmins report to the same VP. It’s not about automating all your configuration procedures. It’s not about tipping up a Jenkins server, or running your applications in the cloud, or releasing your code on Github. It’s not even about letting your developers deploy their code to a PaaS. The true essence of DevOps is empathy.’
“Understanding the other people that you work with and how you’re going to work together more effectively. That word ‘empathy’ struck me and it made me connect the world of DevOps with the world of user experience design.”
Mark Burgess chats about Promise Theory, and Geoffrey Moore discusses a modern approach to his Crossing the Chasm theory.
As systems become increasingly distributed and complex, it’s more important than ever to find ways to accurately describe and analyze those systems, and to formalize intent behind processes, workflows, and collaboration.
Tim O'Reilly and Carl Bass discuss the future of making things, and Astro Teller on Google X's approach to solving big problems.
I recently lamented the lag in innovation in relation to the speed of technological advancements — do we really need a connected toaster that will sell itself if neglected? Subsequently, I had a conversation with Josh Clark that made me rethink that position; Clark pointed out that play is an important aspect of innovation, and that such whimsical creations as drum pants could ultimately lead to more profound innovations.
In the first segment of this podcast episode, Tim O’Reilly and Autodesk CEO Carl Bass have a wide-ranging discussion about the future of making things. Bass notes that innovation tends to start by “looking at the rear window”:
“The first naïve response is to take a new technology and do the old thing with it. It takes a while until you can start reimagining things…the first thing that you need is this new tool set in software, hardware, and materials, but the more important thing — and the more difficult thing, obviously — is a new mind-set. How are you going to think about this problem differently? How are you going to reimagine what you can do? That’s the exciting part.”
In separate interviews, authors Hugh Howey and Ramez Naam discuss science fiction and their views of the future.
Science fiction long has fueled the imaginations of scientists and inspired (or foreshadowed) technological advancement. We have only to look back at the works of Isaac Asimov, or even Kurt Vonnegut, and episodes of “Star Trek” or movies like “Minority Report” for science fiction technologies that are (or nearly are) coming into existence today.
In this podcast episode, author, scientist, and futurist Ramez Naam explains to O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum that science fiction had a direct influence on his current interests in human enhancement and telepathy. Naam grew up reading science fiction (“like a lot of geeks,” he says) and once he started reading scientific journals and papers, he started seeing the connections. Naam says, “I found out that a lot of science fiction ideas were becoming actually possible — that scientists were implanting electrodes in the brains of animals and getting them to move robot arms by thought, to help people who were paralyzed.”
Josh Clark and Tim O’Reilly on designing beyond screens, and beyond a single device.
As the Internet is increasingly embedded into our physical world, it’s important to start designing for physical and intentional interactions with interfaces to supplement the passive, data-gathering interactions — designing smart devices that service us in the background, but upon which we also can exert our will.
In this episode, Josh Clark (in an interview) and Tim O’Reilly (in a keynote) both address the importance of designing for contextual awareness and physical interaction. Clark stresses that we’re not facing a challenge of technology, but a challenge of imagination. O’Reilly argues that we’re not paying enough attention to the aspects of people and time in designing the Internet of Things, and that the entire system in which we operate is the user interface — as we design this new world, we must think about user needs first.