Beyond grey goo

Roly Allen in the New Statesman:

Genesis Machines Martyn Amos holds the rare distinction of having been awarded the world's first PhD in his chosen field, DNA computing, and Genesis Machines is his eye-opening presentation of this young science to the lay reader. Attacking our preconceptions, Amos briskly surveys the history of computing from Descartes to Turing and beyond, demonstrating that the concept of “the computer” is a question to which our ugly silicon, plastic and metal boxes are not the only answers.

True, the pace of their development has been jaw-dropping, but it pales into insignificance next to the implications of our recent understanding of the molecules of DNA and the enzymes which act upon it. Indeed, if the book has a hero, it is DNA, whose four bases (A, G, C and T) have powerful properties – notably their tendency to bond to each other in predictable and manipulable ways.

And if you need a human hero, then it may be Len Adleman, the American polymath who was among the first to realise the resemblance between the DNA chain and Turing's theoretical information strings – a foundation of modern computing. (This was in 1983, shortly after he invented the cryptography that secures your internet shopping, and around the same time as he coined the phrase “computer virus” – quite a chap, this Adleman, it seems.)

It is hard not to share Amos's excitement as the computational possibilities of the DNA revolution become clear.

More here. [The book has recently been published in the U.S. and I highly recommend it.]