Intelligent yoghurt by 2025

Yesterday’s edition of the Observer contained the bizarre claim that we’ll soon be able to enhance the intelligence of bacteria by using molecular electronics. This came in an interview with Ian Pearson, who is always described as the resident futurologist of the British telecoms company BT. The claim is so odd that I wondered whether it was a misunderstanding on the part of the journalist, but it seems clear enough in this direct quote from Pearson:

“Whether we should be allowed to modify bacteria to assemble electronic circuitry and make themselves smart is already being researched.

‘We can already use DNA, for example, to make electronic circuits so it’s possible to think of a smart yoghurt some time after 2020 or 2025, where the yoghurt has got a whole stack of electronics in every single bacterium. You could have a conversation with your strawberry yogurt before you eat it.’ “

This is the kind of thing that puts satirists out of business.

7 thoughts on “Intelligent yoghurt by 2025”

  1. And the quote “You could have a conversation with your strawberry yogurt before you eat it” obviates any need to defend the author of said quote. Hell, if you could have a serious conversation with your yogurt, doesn’t that mean it’s a sentient being whose intelligence requires that you not eat it. Pearson is worse than a nut, he practices yogurticide. 😉

    This is a joke.

  2. A fair point, Christine, but to be honest the question of the timescale on which this development is claimed to be likely to unfold is the least of my worries. Firstly, to put it mildly, I can see one or two barriers in the way of achieving this goal, not least because the inside of a bacterium in a yoghurt is rather wetter than the ideal environment for molecular electronics. And secondly, why would anyone want to do this? I don’t really see the consumer advantage of having a sentient dessert. It seems to me that Ian Pearson’s penchant for providing journalists with catchy headlines has rather overrun his better judgement. And to be honest, I think it is very unfortunate that it has. Given that there is no realistic prospect that technology is going to be able to enhance the intelligence of bacteria it seems, to be frank, rather irresponsible for someone who is presented as an expert in a quality national newspaper to suggest that this is an actively pursued research goal.

    Thank you for signalling your joke so clearly, Howard! I wish I could be confident that Pearson was joking too.

  3. This proposition is very spooky. I wonder in the first place the kind of things that one would like to talk to his
    flavored yoghurt..Would I like to say ‘dear yoghurt, please don’t hesitate to jump inside the mouth of Julie, my daughter even if she hates the way you taste because you are good for her health?’

    This is crazy.

    Armand Rousso

  4. Perhaps the word “we” “we’ll” should not be taken literally. What if the “we” meant the molecules of our stomach…? Aren’t our individual
    molecules part of the “we?” Once the yogurt had been ingested, the
    yogurt molecules and our own stomach molecules, could easily have a
    conversation…resulting in the best digestion for each individual, ever.
    Best metabolism ever, etc.

    There has been much talk of nano drug delivery, being customized to each
    patient in the future of pharmaceuticals.

    Try “Googling” the newly created nano Buckyballs and you’ll see what I’m
    talking about.

    I really like this newsletter, Soft Machines and the people who respond to it.

    Where can I purchase the Feynman lecture, Room At The Bottom, for my

  5. Certainly there’s a lot that can be done and probably will be done in delivering heathgiving molecules in your yoghourt – but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Ian Pearson was talking about here. I don’t know if there’s a recording of the Feynman lecture; I’ve only seen a transcript.

  6. If radios can be the size of bacteria, then we should be flexible enough to
    consider that in the year 2025, amazing amazing things will have taken
    place, that we haven’t even been able to imagine in 2005. Intelligent
    yogurt is the least of it.

    Take a look below at this interesting piece from UPI:

    Nano radios for microchips

    Radios the size of bacteria employing nano-magnets could help microchips wirelessly communicate with one another, experts told UPI’s Nano World.

    “Wireless connections between microchips could offer possible benefits in terms of reduced system complexity and easier and less costly manufacturing requirements,” said researcher Fred Mancoff, a magnetoelectronics-device scientist at chipmaker Freescale Semiconductor in Chandler, Ariz.

    “One known problem that is out there is the speed bottleneck due to wired interconnects in semiconductor electronics. These devices that we are studying could be a valid solution for nano-sized transmitters and receivers for wireless communication between chips in a computer or even within a chip itself,” said researcher Shehzu Kaka, a physicist formerly at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., and now at Seagate Technology in Scotts Valley, Calif. “Chipmakers like Intel are pursuing wireless optical communications between chips, and our technology could be an inexpensive and perhaps more effective alternative.”

    Two research teams, one led by NIST, the other at Freescale, experimented with magnets each 50 to 80 nanometers wide. Applying electrical current to such magnets causes their poles to rotate. These oscillations then can be employed for radio signals.

    The scientists wanted to synchronize the nano-magnet oscillations, making sure they all swung together in step. When the oscillations are synchronized, their combined output can be much greater than the sum of their parts.

    Both research teams independently found when the magnets sit about 200 nanometers to 500 nanometers apart, they synchronize naturally, much as two pendulums will come into synchrony if they both are attached to the same support.

    The result: The synchronized magnets generate a single signal with twice the intensity of an unsynchronized pair of magnets. The scientists report their findings in the Sept. 15 issue of the journal Nature.

    “These devices are fully compatible with standard semiconductor manufacturing technology,” Mancoff said.

    In principle, this synchronization and the resulting amplification in output power should work not just with two nano-magnets, but also with series of them. Arrays of 10 nano-magnets could produce and receive microwatt signals, enough to serve in transmitters and receivers in cell phones, radar and microchips.

    “Larger arrays, and higher powers are the clear next step for applications,” said researcher Matthew Pufall, a NIST physicist. However, “from a basic research point of view, we need to understand the nature of the interaction between oscillators.”

    “A more practical issue involves the engineering of such a device into a working chip, which will be anything but trivial. But then, the researchers are from Freescale and NIST. They definitely have the resources and the know-how,” said physicist Raj Mohanty of Boston University.

    Copyright 2005 by United Press International

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