What if man had a third skin?
I have already devoted a Day of the Thinker column to Joël de Rosnay last January (What if Internet Was Inside Us?). I had the privilege of spending a few hours with Joël de Rosnay during a preparatory meeting for the NetExplorateurs forum (of which TBWA is a partner) winning me a dedication of his new book (written in collaboration with Fabrice Papillon) titled And Man Created Life (“Et l’homme créa la vie” in French) which I strongly recommend.
Joël de Rosnay, born in 1937 on the Island of Mauritius is a French biologist who specialized in the origins of life and new technologies. A doctorate in Science, he spent three years reaching and teaching (biochemistry and computers) at M.I.T. A former director of research applications at the Pasteur Institute, he is also a counselor for Paris’ Cité des Sciences museum. Joël de Rosnay had showed his various perspectives through books such as Macroscope (1975), The Planetary Brain (1986), or The Symbiotic Man (1995), to name a few. He is one of the few who has been able to best predict the evolution of the Internet. He is also one of the best teachers that I know, with a remarkable intelligence and clarity of expression, in French as well as in English. He’s never better though, when he speaks on the meeting between biology and new technologies. This is the subject of his most recent book.
In And Man Created Life, Joël de Rosnay explains very simply and concretely, the incredible biological revolution created by synthetic biology: the capacity, from now on available to all biologists, called “biohackers” or “living science tinkerers”, to re-write the book of life with all the hopes that it could inspire (health, aging, the environment…) as well as all the risks, such as: bioterrorism, species contamination and the ‘robotization’ of men. His book aims to be an alert for us to better understand biotechnologies in order to “find the laws of construction for metabolic and cybernetic workings” and the ethic of what he refers to as the “planetary macro-organism”. After having explained to us in a very accessible way the revolution of Synthetic Biology and after having devoted a chapter to scientific discoveries and scientists. In a part titled “The era of Socerer’s Apprentices?” tries to show the stakes of e-synthetic biology that gives men a “third skin”. In addition to one’s natural skin (a living organ that protects us) and the second, artificial skin (clothing, homes, etc), man has a third skin that is at once natural, artificial and virtual. This poses, of course, ethical questions that the author calls “Synthbionic” to a new order called “bio-safety” and to the stakes of artificial life. One must not only master a racing machine, but also a system of control that is itself controlled internationally. Joël de Rosnay recommends in any event to not “darken the fabrication of permanent fears that inhibit action.” Accordingly, one must ensure that the debate is not hijacked by politicians and experts but rather that it stays in the public domain, all the while creating a High Council that would dialogue with citizens and media. At the time when our life in nature is becoming a “neo-life” outside of nature, where we go from a “collective conscience (‘we know’) to a collective co-conscious (“together, we know”) to create a reflected co-consciousness (‘together, we know that we know’) the responsibility of invention is in our hands. After reading this instructive book, we can no longer say that we don’t know.