Scientific Sense Podcast

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Coding errors

A recent publication in Nature Communications (1) seems to confirm that DNA damage due to ionizing radiation is a cause of cancer in humans. The coding engine in humans has been fragile, prone to mistakes even in the absence of such exogenous effects. As humans attempt interplanetary travel, their biggest challenge is going to be keeping their biological machinery, error free. Perhaps what humans need is an error correction mechanism that implicitly assumes that errors are going to be a way of life. Rather than attempting to avoid it, they have to correct it optimally.

Error detection and correction have been important aspects of electronic communication. Humans do have some experience with it, albeit in crude electronic systems. The human system appears to be a haphazard combination of mistakes made over a few million years. They have been selected for horrible and debilitating diseases and every time they step out into the sunlight, their hardware appears to be at risk. It is an ironic outcome for homosapiens who spent most of their history naked under the tropical sun. Now ionized radiation from beyond the heavens render them paralyzed and ephemeral.

Perhaps it is time we have taken a mechanistic and computing view of humans. The clever arrangement of $26 worth of chemicals seem to last a very short period of time, stricken down by powerful bugs or her own immune system. Now that bugs have been kept at a safe distance, it is really about whether the system can code and replicate optimally. The immediate challenge is error detection and correction at a molecular level. If some of the top minds, engaged in such pointless activities as investing, death curing and artificial intelligence, could focus on more practical matters, humans can certainly come out ahead.


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