The Future of Open Source Biotechnology

In the not so distant future, biotechnology will come to look much like present day software development. This is somewhat inevitable, given the falling cost of computing power. While a great deal of the newest biotechnology is powered by advances in computational technology, ultimately everything bio will benefit. Most currently real world experimental techniques - rather than just a select few - will become cheaper to carry out in simulation. Why spend millions keeping racks of mice when you can spend hundreds of thousands on reliable, tested software to do the same job - software that will become cheaper by an order of magnitude with each passing decade. Before this transition is even mostly underway, we will see an unleashing of talent comparable to that in open source software development today. Just look at how far and fast software has come in the last ten years compared to the ten before that...

For my money, the most interesting part of this process is the enabling effects of cheap computing power - and the tools to take advantage of it - on people who are not professional researchers. To put it another way, the line between researcher and nonresearcher will become very blurred, just as the line between programmer and nonprogrammer is today. The present open source software development community contains diverse individuals, small teams, academic, non-academic, corporate and non-corporate groups producing solutions for specific problems that bother them or inspire them. In the future, equally diverse organizations will form and collaborate to produce solutions for health and longevity using open biotechnology yet to come.

The most important result of open information sharing and falling costs is the way in which it opens up the priesthood - be it of programmers or biotech researchers - and allows a much wider range of people to add their skills, time, desires and ideas to the mix. Just as open source software development has led to a melting pot of innovative designs, better software and a blurring of traditional lines, so too will the open biotech movement of the future.

Looking at the tremendous dynamism and energy of the current software development space, I think that this can only be a good thing.