Biology Is Technology | Oshiorenoya Agabi | TEDxVilnius


Translator: Enea Sagittario
Reviewer: Denise RQ Biology is technology. If you walk out with any view
in this room from my talk is that biology, again, is technology. Six thousand years ago,
the pyramids in Egypt– we perfected communicating
with clay tablets. It was their pinnacle. This was a substrate for
computation and communication. Six hundred years ago, on this continent, Johannes Gutenberg
invented the printing press. The printing press,
for the first time in human history, democratized knowledge. That had a profound cultural consequence. It means knowledge was not held
in the hands of the few. We could transport information from one side of the world
to the other side of the world. With the printing press. Sixty years ago, in Silicon Valley, Federico Faggin and his team
invented the transistor, the Intel 4004 chip, with 2800 transistors. To you, having
a powerful computer in your pocket, in an iPhone, that doesn’t mean much. You have more computational power in
your pocket than the Apollo rocket did. But I assure you, 60 years ago,
2800 transistors on a chip was a big deal. In 2008, we had another massive shift. Recently, some showed that they could have
10 billion transistors on a chip. However, if there’s
something we’ve noticed, our ability to pack more
and more transistors on a chip is becoming limited. You can see that
from the performance metrics. So, essentially,
the physics now limits us. How many devices can we pack in a device? That is the so-called Moore’s law, the fundamental physics preventing us
from packing more devices into computers. What does this mean for you? Well, your quality of life for instance,
that would be affected. What are we going to do about this? How are we going to power
the next 50 years? From autonomous vehicles? Being able to connect
everybody on the planet? Advanced medicine? Or robotics? We cannot continue the way we are. If we do, we are going to need resources
from at least four Earths to maintain our standard of living not to mention how many people
have been pulled out of poverty. The data deluge coming is massive. Now, everybody is aware of this. So? We have different means
to solve this problem. Do you want to go with
neuromorphic computer like IBM is doing? Qualcomm Snapdragon for instance? Or even quantum computing. All of these attempts are at maintaining that balance between quality of life
and consumption. And it affects you. And you know
the coolest thing about all of this? The solution lies literally in your heads. In this room, we’ve more
than 1,000 supercomputers. It’s in your head. Your brain is the most powerful
computer ever built. It’s capable of more than 40 pflops
or pulses in power. The entire ability of your brain
to hold information exceeds the entire
Library of Congress catalog. And it does all of this processing
in real time, without lag, with just 10 watts of energy. It is true, sometimes it doesn’t seem
that way, but it is true. Now, imagine if we could take
all that power, pack it onto a device. That would be amazing. The value proposition from this would far outstrip anything
our species has ever seen. To illustrate, this bee behind me has the sensitivity
of thousands of a part per trillion in being able to sense a chemical
several kilometers away. And it does this with the processing power that is not even up
to the size of your thumb. There’s no computer on this planet
that can do that. None. Now, how does it do this? Inside the brain
or the antenna of this bee is what we call an odorant receptor. This odorant receptor
is like a little machine, vibrating in space and time. It comes across an odorant, this odorant receptor lives on
the surface of a neuron, a brain cell. Once it comes across this odorant,
the brain cell fires what we call a spike. You can pick up this spike,
and you know that the chemical is there. What if we can highjack this
and put it on devices? That’s what we set out to do: take the processing power of a bee,
put in on a drone. That form factor alone
opens up new markets, new applications. And, most importantly,
it does so in a parsimonious way, in a simple way,
and in an energy-efficient way. Which means you don’t have
to sacrifice computation at the altar of consuming so much energy. So, we put this to test. You see a drone? This drone is being powered
by live biological neurons. It has a sweep stage, a seek stage, and it’s able to go to a chemical target using biological neurons. Now, what else can you do with this, apart from being able to detect materials? The dragonfly, with just 16 neurons, – 16 neurons! – achieves more freedom of flight than any plane ever built by man. If you combine
these two technologies together, you can do sensing on one side,
you can do control on the other hand, and that leads to computation, context-aware computation on devices, done with hardware that is
no more than the size of your thumb. The future of robotics
is going to depend on this, because it’s a particular application
that requires a small area, minimal consumption and cognition. So if you think you’ve seen
any dated deluge today, wait until ten years time. How are we going to power that
for everybody not for a selected few? Biology as technology
is the answer to that. Scientists are not stopping at this. With a single DNA strand
you can store several, several gigabytes of data. You can sequence the DNA
and code information into it. And the best part,
you can store it for thousands of years. In comparison to current systems,
which you have to change every five years, that is parsimonious consumption. That will last for thousands of years. This is not science fiction. George Church at Harvard
has already done this. Also, building with biology, in San Francisco today, people can build houses with mushrooms. That tells you not to smoke
in those houses. (Laughter) After you’re done with the house,
it decomposes on its own. There is no greater urgency than for us
to start building with biology. But we feel that the barrier to this is
that we don’t see biology as technology. To see that, every time
you see a biological system, imagine solving
that same problem with machines. Then, you’ll realize
how powerful biology is. I want all of you to walk out of here
with this mindset: efficient, powerful technology
without waste. Because I am fundamentally optimistic
about our future that we do not have to sacrifice
technological progress for the sake of the environment
or of consumption. It is possible to do sensible consumption. And biology being technology
is a core part of that. And that is where I feel you can help, to support this effort that more companies or more people begin to build
with biology from scratch. Thank you. (Applause)