Craig Venter blows mind

The Long Now foundation blows my mind yet again, this time with a long talk by Craig Venter that shows me several things:

1. It *is* possible to do something very productive while sailing around the world. I can’t quite tell to what (undoubtedly large) degree the sailing ship was just a vanity project — by which I mean, he just did it because he loves sailing — and to what degree the mode of transportation actually helped with the science. Obviously it’s easier to get pristine water samples if you aren’t emitting exhaust, etc., but there would be many other easier ways to do the sampling he did. As a publicity stunt it must be fairly effective, however.

2. Craig shares my belief that the global environmental problem has reached such a point that only radical technological change will get us out of it. This radical change will also, inevitably, result in radical social change — a complete re-making of everything, including ourselves. I would normally write off his apparent optimism about the final result of such re-making as stupidity, but he’s clearly so far ahead in his technological achievements that I think I have to take his perspective as being considerably more likely to be the right one than, say, mine.  In a way, this gives me a huge surge of optimism — technology such as he is aiming for would actually be able to solve a lot of our global environmental problems.  Just to see a potential technological solution is already a huge step forward.  It almost makes me feel that it’s okay to buy new things again, to take airplanes, to stop worrying so much.

3. But, how not to be left behind? Craig has one of the best seats in the house for watching global change, since he’s pushing a lot of it forward. I envy him hugely — never have I felt the lurking irrelevance of the profession of architect and educator more than while watching his talk. I used to get this feeling when talking to my friends in software, but the technological gap Venter is opening seems to be much larger. To actually be there at the blistering edge of the technological shockwave must be incredibly thrilling and empowering. Meanwhile, those of us in the design professions (well, and almost everybody else) are left to clean up, constantly adjusting our thinking to the technological changes raining down from on high.

This makes me feel very low. I think I need to find the right large project to devote myself to, and I”m afraid even the broadest reach of architecture does not engage with such projects.  But I’m very impressionable at the moment.

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