Bioconvergence: Progenitor of the Nanotechnology Age

March 8, 2001 by Charles Ostman

Advances in genetic engineering, advanced computational processes, nanobiology, and biological metaphors in computing are leading to a “bioconvergence” that will reshape the economies of the world and perhaps even the very definition of life itself.

Senior Fellow, Institute for Global Futures

Originally published March 8, 2001 on

Updates in molecular genetics, biomolecular and physiological modeling software, advanced genome cloning and synthesis technologies, and developments in synthetic tissue and organs, bioinformatics and related computing, IT resources, and an ever more diverse range of interrelated technologies are forging the progenitors of an ultimate example of convergence as a process, as a business and economic model, and as a socioeconomic paradigm of a transglobal, unparalleled, and absolutely irreversible transformative nature.

At stake, the biological engineering and bio-economy future of the entire planet.

As defined in Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, convergence is “1) the act, fact, or condition of converging, 2) in biology, the formation of similarities in unrelated organisms living in the same environment.”

Convergence, a word which has become ubiquitous throughout the telecommunications, electronic media, internet, and IT (Information Technology) industries, is perhaps one of the most frequently used, but perhaps, misdirected terms of the modern era.

Near-term Major Outcome “Marker Points”

Global economic indices of valuation, by which the major sovereign nation states and trading cartel entities–which have been correlated with primary commodity assets such as energy, telecommunications, IT (information technology) resources and infrastructure–are in a stage of transition, toward the next global standard of valuation.

Ultimately, entirely new classes of synthetically contrived organisms, which would not evolve under “natural” circumstances, can be conjured up as protein-sequence codes, mapped onto a chip, and cloned out on demand.

Enter the era of artificially enhanced evolution, synthetic organisms, genetically derived and targeted pharmacopia, cellular cybernetics, intracellular “corrective chemistry” systems, and bioengineering on demand, as a commodity resource.

Seminal Marker Points–An Evolutionary Eventstream

Now, at the edge of the next millennium, quasi-viral components do indeed exist, in the form of modified viral hybrid “entities” designed to precisely target cell types based on their external protein signature. This is an extraordinary technology, not the least of the applications being the potential ability to genetically target cells, such as cancer cells, in order to arrest their growth. Another application is to deliver proteomic compounds to cellular components within the nucleus of a living cell (such as ribosomes or mitochondria) as a method for treating, or rather, “correcting” the pathogenic affects of disease and biological exposure events or to kill the cell.

This technology exists today, as a patented process developed by Onyx pharmaceutical (Richmond, CA), and has been engaged in a development program with Lawrence Livermore Lab.

Onyx is not alone in such pursuits, however. Just over a year ago, at the Molecular Nanotechnology – Biological Applications and Novel Approaches (San Diego) conference, I met with Dr. Stephen Lee, the director of the nanobiological molecular systems group from Monsanto, who was chairing the conference. The Monsanto approach, to specifically target cell types via their external protein signature, is to utilize spherical “assemblies” of a type of pseudo-protein like molecular material, referred to as dendrimers, to facilitate this process.

Unlike the quasi-viral component approach, in which these “molecular devices” are self replicating, the Monsanto-developed dendrimer molecular devices are static, inert. Both approaches have their advantages and shortcomings, but the core concept is the same: target a specific cell type, and only that cell type, enter the cell via enzymic action, enter the cell nucleus, and instigate some form of molecular chemistry activity.

The Emergent Nanotechnology Age–Fundamental Considerations

Previous, recent “ages” of technology and economic development, with substantial and irreversible social and cultural influences, such as the “Computing Age” (subsequently evolving into the “Information Age,” driven by the combination of the internet, and ubiquitously distributed computing capacity), are only the minimal progenitors of what is about to emerge, “the Nanotechnology Age,” the first stage progenitor of which is the phenomenon of bioconvergence.

What is about to transpire is the rapid evolution into an era where health care, the very definition of “medicine,” or for that matter, even life itself as it is currently understood to be, is in a state of transition. This phenomenon is directly in parallel with extraordinary changes in agricultural processes, bio-resource management, and ultimately, the de facto equivalent of bioengineering entire ecosystems.

The stakes are enormous. The actual scale of economic implications rivals any “industrial revolution” of previous eras and the outcome is likely to affect virtually every sovereign nation state, geographical region, and their associated population bases, whether or not they are direct participants in this transitional process.

The closest analogy, in terms of geopolitical and economic systems influence, might be appropriately compared to the conceptual model of “petrodollars,” as in the global petroleum resource base functioning as an implied currency reference.

It may become the case, at some point in the not too distant future, that “biotech-dollars,” as a metaphorical reference of valuation, will begin to drive the major economies of the world, and influence geopolitical and social policy imperatives.

Randy Scott, founder of Incyte Inc., proclaimed at the recent “Seizing Opportunities in Emerging BioChips Technologies” conference (March 19 – 20, 1998, San Francisco) that “protein is software.” This was no idle statement, though the significance of what was implied may have only been apparent to the select audience in attendance at that time.

Barely a year later, by every standard of measure that may be effectively used to analyze such phenomena, an inescapable truth is indeed emerging: an extraordinary revolution is at hand, driven by the urge of necessity, and spectacular economic opportunity potential.

The “history of the future” is already unfolding and the primary elements of this evolutionary eventstream that are poised to reshape the economies of the world, and perhaps even the very definition of life itself, are currently at hand.

Five Primary Vectors of Bioconvergence

1) Human Genome Mapping: Genopharmacopia, Recombinant Proteomics

2) Nanobiology as an Applied Technology

3) Bioengineering of Crops, Livestock, and Ecological Systems

4) Cross Convergence of Microscale Fabrication Technologies, and Biological Materials, Advanced Computing Processes (IT, bioinfomatics, AI, Alife), and telecommunications infrastructure

5) Emergent Economic Ecology of Process-Based Intellectual Property Resource Development and Deployment: Virtual Commodity Asset Valuation

Particularly in the arenas of immunoassay, DNA diagnostics and genetic sequencing applications, the ability to automate high throughput laboratory procedures, which previously were extremely time consuming, labor intensive, and less accurate, has immediate, extraordinarily lucrative implications in a host of pharmaceutical and biomedical applications.

Healthcare is shifting toward an arena of applied “human genetic mapping,” providing preventive medical strategies, patient-specific therapies, the genetic targeting of disease and pathologies.

Agriculture is shifting ever more toward an arena of bioengineered plants, animals, and entire multi-functional “contained ecologies.” These key phenomena are already taking place, and the world’s major economic systems practitioners, industry analysts, and political policy makers are beginning to orient themselves to the emergent “biotechnology epicenter” driven global economy.

The Emergent Convergence Syndrome

My primary focus has been (and continues to be) on providing access to realms of technology development and emergent economic phenomena, which are evolving into an “operational ecology” from which are being spawned a series of societal and cultural transformations, incomparable in scale, complexity, and velocity, to any previous eras of known human history.

Knowledge itself is even being compressed into shorter useful lifetime cycle windows. Knowledge velocity, complexity, and scale are surpassing human decision rendering capacity, particularly under duress in ever diminishing timescales. We are entering into a realm where mission-critical decision rendering exceeds human decision-rendering capacity in this operational ecology.

Virtual Commodity Assets

There is currently an emergent “virtual commodity asset” based economic ecology, in which the primary indices of valuation are transitioning toward the brokering of processes, and the inception of ubiquitous computing and telecommunication infrastructures, as an emergent “operational ecology,” populated with artificial life, genetic and evolutionary algorithms, hierarchical autonomous agent “colonies” and societal systems.

Biological and non-biological nanotechnology, and its myriad variant applications already in advanced stages of development in many cases, are the material artifacts of this operational ecology.

Nanotechnology is not a singular niche technology or arena of potential commercial interest. It is a concept, a transformative threshold that the human species is about to encounter on a truly evolutionary scale. Incremental marker points of human development have been recorded throughout the span of recorded history, as reference coordinates by which the scale, complexity, and velocity of such evolutionary development can be measured.

Compression is now occurring, however, in both temporal and functional domains. The incremental partitioning of major transitional thresholds which may have at one point been measured in terms of millennia, then centuries, and more recently, in decades, is now compressing down time spans of a few years, and perhaps in the near term, increments of months and weeks.

Proportional with an acceleration of temporal compression is an acceleration of functional complexity, or what I refer to here as the “convergence syndrome.” As a process, events, technologies, belief systems, cultural and societal paradigms, even the very definitions of life itself, are becoming ever more interconnected and interdependent on a global scale. In this newly emerging domain, nothing is isolated or autonomous.

As vector coordinates on an enormous existence matrix, in which all forms of life “here” (as it is currently interpreted to be), and in parallel domains, any perturbations within this matrix cause a wave front to be propagated throughout this matrix, eventually affecting all of the other nodes embedded within.

All activities and process dynamics have effects and counter effects, just as can be witnessed in the most fundamental rules of physics in the observable universe, but these now being translated upon the populations of the planet, and indeed, the planet itself.

The interstitial graticule spacing of this existence matrix, or what might be referred to here as mesh granularity, is compressing as well, in direct proportion with the temporal compression and functional complexity factors. Indeed, this proportional increase in mesh granularity of the existence matrix can be visualized as an topological index of trend status and plotted as such, as an artifact of this process.

The acceleration vectors indicated by this composite of interacting dynamic factors in this existence matrix may be in a state of flux as to the precise rate of increase inherent in these indicators, but the trend topologies to be recognized in this matrix, and their associated rates of acceleration, do tend to suggest a culmination into a vertical vector, a singularity “convergence point” threshold boundary.

At this point, the critical mass of existence as it is currently understood will be extruded through a series of evolutionary “test” increments, each one of which representing an increase of amplitude in functional complexity, and a compression in temporal partitioning, greater than the increment preceding it.

The outcome of this rapid succession of test increments, threshold boundaries to be encountered and negotiated, will determine whether we continue to the next great increment of evolutionary process, as an experiment on this particular world at this particular moment in time, or simply go into failure mode, perhaps to re-evolve to some new life form entity countless millennia from now.

In terms of galactic, and indeed universal scale, this is not unusual at all, or even particularly significant. We are but a speck of life, very much like a bit of plankton adrift in the sea of the universe. Other worlds and their respective life forms and ecosystems have evolved to levels of incremental development far beyond what can be currently witnessed here, and many others have no doubt lapsed into complete failure mode in far more relatively primitive stages of development.

What is significant, however, is that from the perspective of being here on this world, at this moment, is that never before in the known history of this world and its current inhabitants have the threshold of transition by which the very future of this current world are about to be determined and measured within the reach of its current inhabitants.

Current processes by which the current life support capacity of the biosphere may be suppressed into eventual system level failure mode:

1) Predatory manufacturing and industrial processes

2) Acceleration in consumption of non-renewable resources

2) Irreversible alterations to ecosystems, soil, oceans, atmosphere

3) Increased dispensation of hazardous materials, pathogens, mutagens

4) Situational dysfunction of societies, socio-economic systems and substrates

5) Hard asset-based commodity systems decaying into irrecoverable debt vorticesResources and processes currently existing, or in various stages of development: 1) “Manufactured” synthetic life forms, pseudomorphs, quasi-organic entities. 2) Materialization of “virtual assets” via applied nanotechnology. 3) Cybernetic and genetic modification of the human body. 4) Synthetic sentience as a strategic resource. 5) Infinitely scalable computational resource

6) Mind/machine interface

7) Human/internet symbiosis

8) Dissolution of the geographically defined autonomous nation state

9) Virtual asset based commodity systems

10) Knowledge conveyance as an interactive experiential process

Computers are becoming functionality matrices, business entities cluster together and temporarily form into “strategic alliances,” physical systems are interconnected into ubiquitous function engines, product lifetime cycles are compressed into a continuum of “upgrade entities.”

This is only the beginning edge of an event horizon beyond which exists a realm populated with virtual asset-based commodity systems, work and life itself flourish in the virtual terraform, and manufacturing of physical goods is morphed into an engineered-materials singularity spawned from nanotechnology.

Seminal Marker Points of the Nanotechnology Evolutionary Evenstream

  • Virtual synthetic organisms flourishing within synthetic environments, which in turn reside within the dynamic fabric of a self-modifying, self-organizing dendritic connectivity macrostructure on a planetary scale, referred to at this time as “The internet.”
  • Molecular self-assembling subcomponents organizing as self-modifying organelle entities, which in turn become the functional pseudo-cellular components of self reassembling xenomorphic synthetic macro-organisms, become ubiquitous, and flourish on the physical terraform.
  • Self organizing molecular substructures which are the core components for synthetic brain entities, which in turn become the physical components for enabling synthetic sentience rendering as a process, enmeshed into a functionality matrix of contiguous consciousness
  • Molecular assembly as a programmable process yields the components for molecular computing components, which in turn are assembled into ultra-computing processor engines which are ubiquitously embedded into the global connectivity grid.
  • Synthetic brain engines which themselves are nano-manufactured synthetic organism components are inter-connectable to the ubiquitous computing grid, which in turn develops synthetic sentience as a global scale macro entity.
  • Tangible, hard asset-based commodity driven economic systems are supplanted by a virtual asset based economic ecology, in which valuation is measured not by ownership of things, but access to processes, of which synthetic sentience, and the intelligence stream for on-demand nano-assembly are the primary components.
  • Virtual work space, which resides on the virtual terraform of the globally contiguous Internet connectivity grid, which is in turn an organic macrosystem enmeshed into a global scale human/Internet symbiosis.
  • Virtual workspace evolves into virtual existence space as the dividing line between work and non-work merges into an artificially contrived existence continuum, the singular reward of participation which is access to the invocation of rapture as the ultimate “consumer” commodity.
  • The reality matrix of life for the human inhabitants within the symbiotic connectivity grid tissue substrate is driven by a mind-machine interface link in which the perception of the real and the virtual become ubiquitously interchangable.

Operational Process Dynamics of the Nanotechnology Development Matrix

The fabric of this matrix, which is being woven into a contiguous mesh of synergistic co-dependency, is evolving into a realm in which independent, autonomous technologies, business entities, and socio-economic systems are being compressed into a functionality matrix singularity–a convergence.

Furthermore, the convergence itself consists of a fractal geometry of sub-convergencies of development processes, business entities, physical systems, computing, media content creation, knowledge conveyance, manufacturing, products and services.

Computers are becoming bi-directional process transaction nodes embedded into a ubiquitous fabric, business entities cluster together and temporarily form into “strategic alliances,” epicenters of value are defined into newly formed sovereign knowledge, physical systems are interconnected into functionality matrices, product lifetime cycles are compressed into a continuum of near real-time “upgrade entities.”

This is only the beginning edge of an event horizon beyond which exists a realm populated with virtual asset-based commodity systems, work and life itself flourish as a de facto symbiosis within the operational ecology of the virtual terraform, and manufacturing of physical goods is morphed into a JIT (just in time) engineered materials singularity spawned from applied nanotechnology.

The culmination of nanotechnology, nanobiology, biological metaphors in computing (including GP and EC), the evolution of the human-Internet symbiosis, and eventual involuntary co-evolution with distributed artificial intelligences and collective “physiological organelle” component systems, leading to the spawning of synthetic sentience as an operational requirement for our collective evolution . . . this is an emergent, transformative phenomenon which has already become manifest.

Adapted from NanoIndustries newsletter, July 2000

Related Links

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Nanobiology – Where nanotechnology and biology come together. Welcome to the new frontier of nanobiology

Charles Ostman Web site