“First Species Whose Parent Is a Computer”—Synthetic Biology as Technoscience, Colonizing Futures, and the Problem of the Digital

  • Martin MüllerEmail author
Part of the Ethics of Science and Technology Assessment book series (ETHICSSCI, volume 45)


This chapter engages with (1) synthetic biology’s technoscientific specifica, (2) the role of promises, and (3) the problematic notion of ‘digital biology’. Synthetic biology dismisses the idea of an already given nature: ‘life itself’ is conceptualized as a field of potentialities, with adaptable materials and flexible structures that can be used for re-engineering to ‘perfect’ nature. Bioengineers claim to create new living organisms from scratch, using genetically standardized parts and computer-based design: ‘Living machines’ which do not exist in nature are supposed to serve human purposes. Beyond its actual (and limited) state of research, some voices of synthetic biology offer bold claims of socio-technical scenarios, imagined objects, and future biotechnical experiments, which take place in society rather than behind laboratory doors. With their visions, synthetic biologists are becoming engineers of future societies. Synthetic biology develops a ‘biotechnologization of collective futures’ and it is part of a technoscientific ‘promise-economy’ that aims to colonize the future. Crucial for synthetic biology’s promise of ‘digital biology’ are script-centered, bio-cybernetic, and even transhumanist figures of thought that fuel new visions of life and nature as a field of potentials and even limitless treasures that can be programmed and produced by computational procedures: ‘writing’ the code of life.


Synthetic biology Science and technoscience Design turn Culture of promise Life as code Digital biology Media theory 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Image Knowledge Gestaltung: An Interdisciplinary Laboratory, Cluster of ExcellenceHumboldt University of BerlinBerlinGermany

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