Tuesday, February 9, 2010

RR #1

Borges' “On Exactitude in Science,” alluded to by Beaudrillard, illustrates the apparent futility of striving for accuracy in its account of a map indistinguishable from the empire it depicted. Cartography is a field that, like other disciplines, has evolved throughout time, including in accuracy. Presently, the most comprehensive, representationally accurate map most of us have access to is Google Earth, which allows us to visualize the earth using photographic satellite images. Other options such as “map” and “terrain” inform us about the planet using their own systems of organizing information.

As we progress in our ability to produce accurate maps (maps that are representative of how we perceive the world) what we are doing is accumulating, arranging, and storing increasing amounts of information. In order to avoid containing outdated information, the map would be constantly changing at the rate of which information could be acquired and applied, a monumental task dependent upon the kind of interdisciplinary, interpersonal cooperation and sharing of ideas glorified by Bush in the aftermath of World War II. Ultimately, however, it would not just be enough to collect data; in order to reproduce changes in the map as quickly as possible, it would be necessary to somehow try to predict what changes would need to happen. Prediction is one of the uses we have for models. Paradoxically, then, is the most accurate map of the world is also the best at predicting its future, and thus the type of model accurate enough to ensure its own existence?

Another thing Bush comments on is how overwhelming it is to pore through the vast amounts of peer research available to scientists. At a certain point before it is even close to being done, the vast amount of data housed within the map itself would exceed the capacity of the human mind to gather and analyze it. We lack the cognitive ability, for instance, to both visually perceive large groups of objects and assign them a cardinal number without counting, a process which is at times unfeasible or impossible. This would appear reaffirm Borges' idea that pursuit of accuracy is useless. It is possible, however, that our capacity to process information is greater than we think, as is suggested in the cases of savants who far exceed normal mental processing power in certain areas such as numerosity and memory. The phenomenon is still a mystery that continues to be studied, including at the genetic level with the development of that field. DNA, the substance that comprises genes, is often alluded to as a sort of language, blue print, or code of life. If we can read DNA, the next reasonable step is to write with it. The field of synthetic biology deals with “programming” DNA, designing and creating new genetic and living material for specific purposes using the instructions and rules contained within them. Right now the field is incredibly new, and it is difficult to comment on the kind of role this new programming language could potentially play in the future of information archiving and retrieval, let alone all other areas of impact. It is interesting however to note that J. Craig Venter, who founded one of the earliest organizations devoted to research into synthetic biology and its applications, was interviewed at the Web 2.0 Summit in 2007. Perhaps this field truly will influence technology such as the internet; it is also possible that synthetic biology could look to the computer industry and the internet as models for development.

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