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tv   Washington Ideas Forum Day 1 Afternoon Session  CSPAN  March 15, 2015 1:21am-1:40am EDT

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two giant countries when one does well and the other collapses. yeah, it is a very 20th century of experience that i have had. a part of me wishes i was working in a burger king in denmark and having a decent life instead of -- >> that is a good segue, because of the prospect of you working in a mcdonald's in denmark. what do you think the future of the novel is? philip roth a few years ago called the novel a dying animal, and he elaborated, saying a small group of people will be reading it. maybe more people will read them
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now than currently now read latin poetry, but in that range, and he elaborated because of screen time and distraction. i was googling around. i thought it was a great quote. then i found an interview that you did. you said, who knows, maybe literature will come back someday. so what is the future of the novel? >> you have to take everything that i say with a grain of salt, and in the industry they call me a sap. nothing to me was going to look up, but i think we are in the end of this. this is coming to an end. writing novels, i mean. and long-form texts in general. professors tell me, i have not read a book in a while because i do not have time. i read parts of books or texts on books, but it is hard to read an entire book. that is why i think that tv serial like "the sopranos" has caught on so much because it
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provides a narrative that we all need. we are wired for narratives that we watch instead of trying to absorb. reading a book, after into the consciousness of this guy, and he has to do the same with me, and that takes effort. it is almost over. >> do you agree? >> i am still trying to get into the whole entering gary's consciousness. come on. actually, i'm just going to stay. i think -- i do agree. i actually think it is a question of money. it is just not lucrative for anyone to read or to get people to read. the technology is overtaking that. everything, all human activity is so connected to profitability in a way that just was not the
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case in my childhood, for example, that it seems kind of strange, to be invalid about reading a novel or a lengthy text area is as if everything has to be reduced to bullet points. >> so was the novel just a contingent, time-permitted thing for early victorian era to 15 years ago? what is next? >> the novel is contingent with the enlightenment. and i think that now the end of the enlightenment misinformation does not depend upon the accuracy, but sellability to the market, and the great thing to offer is contract with reality and truth. that is not particularly a valuable commodity anymore.
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that is where we track in relation to enlightenment. >> the place where people majored in humanities every once in a while. that used to be a major part of this country. millions flocked to the universities we just have to set that reality. what could you do next? >> i like air-conditioning. hvac is huge. i have an 8-year-old. he's developed his love of refrigeration.
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>> i will join his company. >> pretty easy as it relates to the political question? famously end of reportedly at this point said that poetry makes nothing happen. the same could be said of the novel. does your writing entertain, enlighten the function of a novel and what function is to can it serve that breaking bad can't serve? >> its tough because breaking bad is really good.
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the way that these things are structured is chapters. it corresponds the characters. this is good stuff, but the novel, when you buy a book from one of us, you are entering us for a while, the inside for a while, and that is a different technology. to see that completely destroyed is sad. to see it play a minor role is ok. it will be nice. >> gary is right. it is an insight into subjectivity that we enter people's minds and tv cannot do that. even smartest television, there always comes a moment when you think that is just stupid. that is just stupid. they have to go, do something stupid, otherwise it is boring. a literary novels, there is no
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real payoff for being stupid or pressure for being stupid if you are penalized for it. it does not reward stupidity. you have all these moments where you just think. and then you come and pick it up. >> holding it. does it make you feel better? >> it does, and thanks for allowing me to do that. >> we want to make you feel -- [laughter] >> this is a good year 2014. >> people are always interested. so figure out how to of premises as succinctly as possibly. how do you get your ideas or novels, develop your characters? your writing process and there is kind of -- there are people
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who, many friends who work with "the atlantic" who write seven words a day, but they are all perfect. and then there are those who just spew out thousands of words and most of it is crap that has to be edited back. i am like a constipated worder which is the worst of all. how do you guys -- >> just whole thing is not my forte. you know, i actually think that idleness is what i do best and in fact, my life as a novelist, he spent a lot of time lying around, not even incidentally this stuff. that barely happens. so i just sit they're thinking. and i often go away to canada,
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usually, and right in first and get it done like that. >> there is an exciting incident that happened. there is a cabbie in moscow. he said, what is your immigration policy? you can go to canada. he said, i can only go to a superpower. >> thanks to both of you. thanks to all of you. thank you all for coming. >> "the atlantic" magazine and the aspen institute recently cohosted the washington ideas
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form bringing together political leaders, journalists, and science and technology experts. among those interviewed, a biochemist and geneticist. he is interviewed by robert crowe wich science correspondent for npr. this is about 20 minutes. >> we are in an unusual technical situation because craig is ill with something. let's see if i can -- craig, can you hear me? he is ill with something akin to mutinous. he is looking pretty good. can you hear me at all? you think you are scary looking?
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let's see -- we have a number of backup systems which i suppose we should employ. if worse comes to worse, i will tell you what i think he would have done if i can control him like a puppet. now maybe he is hearing me. can you hear me? >> i can. >> so what is wrong with you? >> i did not want to leave for washington, d.c. a number of things going on but it would have made montezuma proud. >> let me quickly ask you, because we do not have a whole lot of time, you have a whole list of things that you are
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doing, that the one that intrigues me the most is this notion of a minimal cell. can you explain what a minimal cell is? >> we have been trying to work on this since 1995 when we sequenced the first two genomes in history, trying to understand is there a minimal set of genes that can be responsible for complete self-replicating life. we have been working on this for a long time. we have had our first synthetic version in 2010, as you know. we have been working since then to try to design a cell from scratch that has just the minimal set of genes necessary for living and replication can at least in the laboratory environment. >> so we humans have 20,000 to 30,000 genes. you started with a little itty bitty thing. you tried to make it smaller.
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how low did you go? >> that is put in a way that only you can put it, robert. yes, so the smallest organism set of genes was sequenced in 1995, mycoplasma was a little over 500 genes. the goal is and the problem in this whole field is our fundamental knowledge of biology is so limited that we don't know what about 20% of the genes can do. so, it's trying to do a design when you don't know what 20% of the parts do. all that you know is they are absolutely necessary. i told you the story when i was in seattle on part of my book tour. my late uncle who was part of the boeing design team for the 767. he said, imagine if they didn't
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know what 20% of the parts did. what makes you think that we knew? >> this is kind an interesting idea. you take the genes that you've chosen. do you think these are the ones necessary for life? you shoot one of them and then you say, are they still alive? you shoot another one, is it still alive? you shoot another one, is it still alive? so where are you now in the gallery? >> i think, so the problem in that method -- and that is a pretty good description of what we've done -- it turns out that it's important for life and there's little pathways and dual systems that haven't yet been totally recognized by modern science. it's hard to get the funding to study these things. but you can knock out gene that when you knock it out of its own it doesn't kill the cell. but as you knock out the unknown counterpart, you can do that.
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if we use the airplane analogy and you are in a 777 aircraft, you can lose one engine and the airplane keeps flying, so you can say well maybe engines aren't really necessary, and so you lose the second one and find out that in fact they were very important. so it turns out people thought by knowing the structure of the genes that they knew what the functions, so we thought we could say we don't know that particular function, so we can knock it out, but the genes have multiple functions and their counterparts have functions that we want, so it's been more than just trial and error. of course, we did it and that didn't give us a living cell so we added back components. one is working on the shooting of one at a time and we had in the back we built these and five
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different cassettes when your test environment of all of the others that looks like it works because there was a counterpart. this is trying to get below 500 or so genes. >> i am so glad this is hard. i am so glad this is hard. this is a little bit like god. there is clay, god goes, and then there is adam. it should at least take you 10 years to figure out that part. >> exactly, maybe a while longer. you might remember stephen colbert asked me why i thought i could do better than god and i said, well, we have computers. [laughter] >> let me ask you this. i would assume that if you get a
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cell that you can boot up from a store-bought ingredients and you can create a life, it is a very simple life, why do we need one? >> we don't need one per say for that, it is a proof of principle. but if we actually want to do designs for building new organisms to make new vaccines new medicines, food sources, etc., we want to get down to where we can actually do the design on the first principle basis. so the other thing that we are doing rather than try to make the minimal genome, if you think of it as computer analogies, four billion years of evolutions get messy all over the place and there is no logic to it. there's a lot of randomness. but if we are trying to do the designs where we want to put in a cassette or genes for the sugar metabolism and the methane metabolism we like to do that as
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you plug in this cassette and have the energy production for the cell. so we are defragging, and that is more complicated than it might seem as well. but the point is to get to where we can start to do the design from the known components to start to build new things for. these are the early baby steps that allow us to start accelerating the design and building of new organisms for very specific manufacturing purposes. >> let me run through some of those purposes. you would think that pollution-eating bugs, fuel-producing bugs that urinate diesel or gasoline, toxin-eating bugs medicine-producing bugs, you would then put them in the air and the water and the land. the first question that comes to my mind is, how hungry are we about to be

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