The scientific community has forever looked at nature for inspiration and as a treasure trove of solutions for vexing problems.Words like “bio-inspired”, biomimetics, biomimicry and bionics have been coined and used to describe this fascination. In the area of information security, the most obvious link is the parallels we draw between securing a system and the human immune system. In fact, Robert Helms Anderson et.al. states in the RAND monograph report “Securing the U.S. Defense Information Infrastructure“:
It turned out to be virtually impossible for us to find examples of information infrastructure protection that had no analog in biology.
Now, what happens if we turn the analogy on its side (I hold off saying “head”)? What if we start drawing inspiration from the way we counter attacks in the cyberspace and use that in the process of countering biological miscreants? This is the line that Ray Kurzweil is taking.
If we sat back and hoped no one put out a destructive software virus, the Internet wouldn’t last very long. We have a system between all the security protocols and the antivirus software and cybersecurity companies where we’re constantly scouting for new threats. When one’s found, it’s reverse engineered, partly with human intelligence and partly witih computer intelligence, an antidote is coded, and it’s distributed virally, getting the patches to the antiviral programs. The whole system gets more sophisticated in parallel with the predators, the viruses.
We need a system for biological viruses that can do the same thing. And we’re working on putting one into place.(…)
Today we have some techniques to deal with this like rapid sequencing. We can sequence a virus in a day, while HIV took us five years. We can create an RNA-interference medication or a antigen-based vaccine very quickly. It can be tested in-silico if the FDA accepts that sort of testing. There are these ideas that could go into a rapid response system. It would never be finished. The risks would get more and more sophisticated. But thats’ the approach.
Talk to anyone involved in virus research and they would be the first to admit that reactive solutions like signature based detection of viruses and malware will always be a cat and mouse game and the “bad guys” will always be one step ahead of the good ones. However, as Kurzweil states, they work, at least for now, and have been instrumental in leveling the battlefield.
It should also come as no surprise that Mr. Kurzweil is putting this out there. As a futurist, transhumanist and a believer in singularity, it would only be surprising if he did not come with technology-inspired ways to streamline biological processes.