October 2021
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You do (not) know

SPIEGEL: The genome project hasn’t just raised hopes — but also worries. Do you understand those concerns?

Venter: Yes. There are two groups of people. People either want to know the information or they prefer to live like an ostrich with their head in the sand, not knowing anything. The fear is based on the ill-founded belief that those who know the DNA sequence also know every aspect of life. This nonsense has been spread by the same geneticists who were afraid of the commercialization of this stuff. From the time of the first few discoveries of gene defects — Huntington’s disease, for example, everybody thought that if you knew your genome, you would know when you would die and what you would die from. That is nonsense.

SPIEGEL: So the significance of the genome isn’t so great after all?

Venter: Not at all. I can tell you from my own experience. I put my own genome on the Internet. People had the notion this was the scariest thing out there. But what happened? Nothing.

这次是想介绍一个对 Craig Venter 的采访,关于生物领域的,我并不知道这个人,不过从访谈中可以猜出来应该是一个很牛的人,而且在解读人类基因方面做出了重大贡献。实际上,这是一篇非常有意思的访谈,而且也有许多值得思考的地方,我会介绍一些,不过还是推荐直接去看原文 We Have Learned Nothing from the Genome



访谈里提到 The genome project has been called the Manhattan Project or Moon Landing of its era. It has also been said that knowledge of the genes will change the future of humanity and become a “main driver of the world economy.” 我想这样类似的宣传语在 AI 刚出来的时候应该也是会有的吧。当然提这些口号的人自有他们自己的目的。另一方面,那些每天都在担心自己打喷嚏会不会让天给塌下来了的人,也是有的,AI 所受到的道德方面的质疑应该不比基因工程这个领域少吧?反正机器人和克隆人都是科幻里面已经被用滥掉了的元素了。结果呢?做基因工程的人站出来说了,基因工程现在什么都不是!而 AI 则更是:我前几天在学校 BBS 的 AI 版上发了一个关于 AI 的帖子,结果大家都鄙视那个东西,还有回帖说这个是“扯蛋工程系扯蛋技术专业非线性扯蛋研究方向” 当然我不是想调侃某个人,只是想描述一个现状,现在所谓 AI 领域的人都不做 AI ,生怕和 AI 扯上了什么关系,显得自己无知愚昧。

那是不是说 AI 或者基因工程 fail 了?其实真正做研究的人大概不关心这个,因为明明就是那些雄心壮志满怀期待以及那些每天担惊受怕想尽办法阻挠反对的人,才会觉得这些科学家们整日做的事情就是琢磨怎么做一个活生生的克隆人或者机器人出来。我们目前还处在一个相当很原始的阶段,但是我们也有进展。比如人类基因解码完成就是一个重大的突破,其他的例子……好吧,我不懂生物还是不胡乱举了,那么再说 AI ,虽然说现在没有智能机器人,但是目前机器学习和计算机视觉等领域里的各种进展也已经在我们生活中无处不在了。当然也许有人说 Machine Learning 还有 Computer Vision 这些才不是 AI 呢,AI 那种无聊的东西早没人做了。不过我想真正做研究的人,不会去争论这样的问题。到头来你才发现,市井里小孩讨论的东西、报纸上写的东西还有科学家们真正在做的东西,压根互相没有什么干系。当然,现在大概还要加上“论坛里争论的东西”。


SPIEGEL: And what about the fears about the abuse of gene data through insurers or employers, for example? Do you see that as sheer hysteria?

Venter: Abuse is not a question of whether the data is available. It is an issue of laws. You can’t do anything to change the availability of genetic data. Look at this bottle that you have touched — that’s all I need to obtain your entire genetic information.

看到这里我就想笑了,似乎都能看到那个场景:记者正要伸手去拿那个瓶子,听到对方这么一说,吓得一下子把手缩了回来。总的来说人们——或者说媒体目前已经把解读基因的效果吹得很悬了,让大众也可以想像:DNA 就是那样子的双螺旋,上面有很多基因,这个对应你是双眼皮,那个对应你长不高,然后还有一些基因对应你得什么病,要想治好的话,想想也许家里剪刀把那个坏掉的基因给剪喽,俺自己也能治病了……

SPIEGEL: There are hundreds of hereditary diseases that can be traced to defects in individual genes. You can determine a lot more than just probabilities through them. But that still hasn’t led to a flood of new treatments.

Venter: There were false expectations. Take Ataxia telangiectasia, for example, a horrible disease. The nervous system degenerates, and people who have it often die in their early teens. The cause is a defect in a single gene, but it is a developmental gene. If your body is built in the wrong way, then you can’t just take a magic pill to rebuild it. If your brain is wired wrong, then it is wired wrong.

不过很遗憾啊,如果你的脑袋搭错弦了,那么它就是搭错弦了。 :p 更科幻的是创造基因啦,或者简单点,把已有的基因拿过来“搭积木”,于是我可以搭一个又“长得高”,又“双眼皮”的人出来,或者搞一个什么“卡通基因”,做一个如本文开头那幅图一样的卡通人出来。想想觉得很好玩,但是目前这个状况,就连程序设计这么个东西试图做成搭积木的形式都一直如此不尽人意,基因积木恐怕就算是作为科幻也显得太 yy 了点吧?对了,听说科幻也有“硬科幻”和“软科幻”之分,前者是有一定科学道理的,后者通常是纯 yy 。我其实基本上没有看过科幻,所以我这里就有些好奇,一方面纯 yy 的东西看着估计会有些无趣吧?另一方面如果是“有科学道理”,那是不是应该叫科学而不是科幻了?

SPIEGEL: You stored a code in the genome of this cell. Has anyone decoded it?

Venter: Yes, it is the first genome in the world to include an e-mail address. So far, 50 scientists have cracked the code and answered us.

看看生物 geek 们都干些什么。唉,要是当时我在旁边,肯定会让它再在里面加上 “Hello World”!

SPIEGEL: Many fear what might happen if humans craft new life forms. They repeatedly say that you are playing God …

Venter: Yes, and I find them frightening. I can read your genome, you know? Nobody’s been able to do that in history before. But that is not about God-like powers, it’s about scientific power. The real problem is that the understanding of science in our society is so shallow. In the future, if we want to have enough water, enough food and enough energy without totally destroying our planet, then we will have to be dependent on good science.

如其所说:The real problem is that the understanding of science in our society is so shallow ,然而这也是目前我们最大的问题,不只是关于 science 的 understanding ,人们正在变得越来越“无知”和“愚昧”,当然,这通常是针对人自己专业领域之外的事情,其实人并没有变得比以前更笨,只是现在人们接触的东西变多了,然而能用来辨析真伪的精力却仍旧是那么一点,所以,悲剧发生了。大家每天在网络上看到各种文章、消息、真相、秘诀、法宝、大全……然后再不停地分享出去,顺便再吼上两句,附上自己的观点。正如我这个 blog 的副标题:We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge 。这样的混乱,到什么时候才能缓和一些呢?

ps:本文的标题模仿的是 EVA 新剧场版的副标题【You are (not) alone 和 You can (not) advance】的形式,就是说我们目前的科学,其实知道的东西还非常少啦!然而这并不能作为拿来 challenge 科学的一个理由。

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