Great advances both in AI and in genetics have opened up a wide scope of hybrid fields and applications, such as DNA data storage and the prospect of precision medicine. The age of information is no longer merely about digital information, but increasingly about two types of information: digital data and genetic data. As genetic data are increasingly valuable in the light of new technologies and applications, questions over privacy and ownership are arising.
Complex systems like our body and the biological sphere around us are full of data. Our own genome alone amounts to 100GB. Genetic data entails the entire history of life and is a very efficient way of storing data, while digital data storage has only proved to have a limited lifespan. That is why DNA data storage is receiving more attention and new technologies use the four base nucleotides of DNA as digital bits to encode data instead of binary zeroes and ones. Project Lunar Library aims to become the biggest collection of data written in synthetic DNA. Synthetic DNA can serve as very efficient data storage, a tiny liquid droplet (of synthetic DNA) could contain Amazon’s entire data center”.
With their users’ consent, companies such as 23andMe.com and MyHeritage are allowed to sell users’ genetic information. Without genetic privacy protections, individuals do not have ownership over their data anymore. As a counteraction, companies are building platforms based on blockchain technology to let individuals control and even profit from their genetic information. A Russian non-profit, Zenome.io, has launched a decentralized “genomic internet”, aiming to deal with the challenges of storage, privacy, and sharing data.
As the value of genetic information becomes more apparent in improving healthcare with precision medicine, among other things, countries are trying to complete nationalgenome projects in order to get access to the insights that come from sequencing genetic data. The list of countries with such initiatives include the U.K., Japan, China, Australia, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Estonia, France, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey.
Recently, the World Economic Forum published the top 10 emerging technologies of 2018. What marks most of these technologies is that they have resulted from advances in AI and biotechnology: with personalized medicine, it will be possible to analyze genetic data, AI-led molecular design will help identify and develop new medicines, implanted living cells can act like in-body drug factories, genetic engineering technology can permanently change the traits of a population, which is called “gene drive”, plasmonic materials are novel nanomaterials that will allow new applications in biology and medicine, lab-grown meat means that growing biological tissue in the lab is possible, and finally, electroceuticals are small devices in the body that can stimulate nerves.
In developed countries, farms producing greens will increasingly change into automated factories controlled by AI. In the first automated farm, Iron Ox, cloud-based AI monitors the whole farm and directs the robots. The next step is for algorithms to teach robots to identify crop diseases.