Now, the good news about the 2011 biohack is that the people who did it didn't mean us any harm. They're virologists. They believed they were advancing science. The bad news is that technology does not freeze in place, and over the next few decades, their feat will become trivially easy. In fact, it's already way easier, because as we learned yesterday morning, just two years after they did their work, the CRISPR system was harnessed for genome editing. This was a radical breakthrough that makes gene editing massively easier - so easy that CRISPR is now taught in high schools. And this stuff is moving quicker than computing.
That slow, stodgy white line up there? That's Moore's law. That shows us how quickly computing is getting cheaper. That steep, crazy-fun green line, that shows us how quickly genetic sequencing is getting cheaper. Now, gene editing and synthesis and sequencing, they're different disciplines, but they're tightly related. And they're all moving in these headlong rates. And the keys to the kingdom are these tiny, tiny data files. That is an excerpt of H5N1's genome. The whole thing can fit on just a few pages. And yeah, don't worry, you can Google this as soon as you get home. It's all over the internet, right? And the part that made it contagious could well fit on a single Post-it note. And once a genius makes a data file, any idiot can copy it, distribute it worldwide or print it. And I don't just mean print it on this, but soon enough, on this.
So let's imagine a scenario. Let's say it's 2026, to pick an arbitrary year, and a brilliant virologist, hoping to advance science and better understand pandemics, designs a new bug. It's as contagious as chicken pox, it's as deadly as Ebola, and it incubates for months and months before causing an outbreak, so the whole world can be infected before the first sign of trouble. Then, her university gets hacked. And of course, this is not science fiction. In fact, just one recent US indictment documents the hacking of over 300 universities. So that file with the bug's genome on it spreads to the internet's dark corners. And once a file is out there, it never comes back -- just ask anybody who runs a movie studio or a music label. So now maybe in 2026, it would take a true genius like our virologist to make the actual living critter, but 15 years later, it may just take a DNA printer you can find at any high school. And if not? Give it a couple of decades.