SU Faculty Finds: What to Read in April

At SU, our faculty members are always discovering great content that sparks fascinating discussions among ourselves and with those of you who attend our programs. Here are a few of the items that were of particular interest to us this month.

The Engineering Of Living Organisms Could Soon Start Changing Everything

My hands-down top pick for this month is the most recent Technology Quarterly from The Economist. This series of articles (as well as this shorter Leader) dives deep into the technology, business, and ethics of the rational engineering of living things. From viruses and bacteria to humans and wooly mammoths, this sweeping view is critical to understanding digital biology. Here’s your chance to learn—from outside the SUniverse—about the future of life. Spoiler alert: things are going to be different. Very different.

Bill Gates: How We’ll Invent The Future

Interested in the future? Start with this essay in which Bill Gates reveals the thinking behind his picks for the 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2019. This entire issue of MIT Technology Review from February (yes, I’m behind on my reading) is worth every precious second of your attention. And while I heartily disagree with one entry in the magazine’s 10 Worst Technologies Of The Twentieth Century—the “CRISPR babies” are children, not a technological mishap—I salute the effort to question what we’re innovating for.

In Praise Of Crazy Ideas

Writing in The Scientist, author Safi Bahcall applies a biomedical lens to an issue that is both the foundation of his new book, Loonshots, as well as one of the hottest questions in Silicon Valley—and around the world. How do we balance risk with innovation? And what does innovation truly mean? I think Bahcall states it beautifully when he writes, “If we want great breakthroughs, we need to encourage crazy—even irrational—ideas, whose logic might defy our best current models. Doing so requires humility: the willingness to question our beliefs.”

Launch through a laptop

Bonus: Book reviews

I don’t have a lot of time to read these days, and so I often find myself relying on book reviews—rather than books themselves—to show me what’s important in the world. Here are two book reviews in Nature, one of the world’s premier science journals, that recently sparked my interest.

Globe To Gut: Inside Big Food

Felicity Lawrence considers three recent books on the mismatch between humanity’s food needs and the systems that we’ve built to meet those needs. Got time? Check out Food Routes: Growing Bananas In Iceland And Other Tales From The Logistics Of Eating, by Robyn S. Metcalfe; The Grand Food Bargain: And The Mindless Drive For More, by Kevin D. Walker; and Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Famers, And The Battle For the Future of Food, by Timothy A. Wise.

How Algorithms Could Bring Empathy Back To Medicine

Thomas Insel examines Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, by Eric Topol. I am especially interested in the vision of “what it means to be a doctor” that is discussed in these works.