I finished reading the latest Technium entry about the Unabomber - of all things. As I was reading through the comments I came upon one comment that touched on the all too familiar question of what is natural - is a road that Man makes natural?
This in a very obtuse way triggered my mind to bring to consciousness a recurring personal idea which had laid dormant for a while. The idea is that life consists of "alien technology". This is certainly not a 100% original idea - but then what is? Think of the Arthur C. Clarke classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" for example.
I am not a proponent of the idea that life was imported from some alien civilization. If for no other reason than this doesn't at all solve the problem of the origin of life. That's not my point here at all. My point is that even today, we do not fully understand the technology that supports life. At the lowest and mechanical level we cannot create life from simple molecules. And at the highest and most abstract level we cannot create an artificial intelligence.
In this sense the technology of life is completely "alien" to us. If we view biological organisms as machines, we must admit that they are far beyond our current capability to fully comprehend - even the simplest one celled organism is amazingly complex.
Here is my scenario. Imagine a mechanical robot-like pseudo-human species that possesses our knowledge of technology except that it has never encountered earth-type biological organisms. Suddenly from the sky a spaceship descends and out comes an elephant. Assume for the moment that these pseudo-humans thought of this elephant as some sort of machine rather than a "living being". That elephant would represent a huge technological challenge for them to understand. It would be viewed by them as consisting of a technology that was totally "alien".
We are so conditioned to separate biology from the other sciences, that we under appreciate biology as a technology. I am not trying to trivialize the spiritual aspects of life by saying this. I find that the "miracle of life" when viewed from a purely technological viewpoint is no less "miraculous". It is every bit as awe inspiring and mysterious - but in a different way I suppose. To me the more I learn about biology, the more in awe I become.
These are systems that are far more complicated than the most complicated software systems that we have yet invented. The immense number of interactions that take place in a simple cell are astounding; to create a multi-cell organism is orders of magnitude more complex. Finally, the creation of organs and circulatory systems and nervous systems and endocrine systems absolutely boggles the mind. Add to this the ability to reproduce and I find myself reduced to a reverential state of wonder.
Will any human inspired technology ever be able to surpass the "alien" technology of life?