Gosper glider gun from Conway’s Game of Life / "I think when I find the code that generates our world, it will be about six lines." ~ Stephen Wolfram


What is Generative Genomics?

I think when I find the code that generates the universe, it will be about six lines. 
~ Stephen Wolfram

In common usage, genomics refers to biological genetics, DNA, but a broader usage is emerging. We are coming to understand genomics as processes in which initial condition and a sets of simple rules can generate complex outcomes.

Mathematics, physics, and engineering are means of understanding, manipulating and controlling the world. They are currently based on the notion that nature is at its core mathematical, and that our equations can produce accurate and useful models of what things in the world (such as planetary orbits, buildings, and automobile engines) will do.

While this approach has been a huge success, producing modern science and the modern world, there are things that cannot be modeled this way. Think of a cloud. It is not a sphere, or even an approximation of a sphere. Indeed, we now use fractals to model clouds, and fractals are a form of generative genomics.

Generative genomics is the notion that nature follows simple rules to build complex structures. The best example of this is biological genetics. DNA is made up of an alphabet of four letters and two rules. Add a few more steps and rules, and nature builds all of life.

As we move into new technological areas, particularly the next generations of computer chips and nanotechnology, we will be using this principle of generative genomics to both to understand the world (as new forms of science and as a form of engineering) and to manipulate the world, (as new forms of fabrication).

For example, we are approaching physical limits to Moore’s Law with current chip making techniques. One of the possible paths forward is chips with circuits made of carbon nanotubes, but this will require processes of genomic generation. We cannot make carbon nanotube circuits photographically the way we make silicon chips, and we cannot assemble them one at a time with tiny tweezers. We will do it by setting initial conditions, giving a collection of nanotubes coded instructions, and letting them assemble themselves.

But beyond biology and chips, we will be using generative genomics to assemble all kinds of things, from thin film solar panels to consumer products to building components. will keep you informed of these developments.

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