[Why they chose to upgrade E. Coli, no idea. But that does strike me as the kind of weird detail you tend to find in authentic science. When they're not observing the effects of too much coffee on laboratory mice - good coffee, probably*, wasted - most scientists do tend towards developing weapons-grade tummy bugs and rogue bacteria. In the films I watch, anyway. And they always eventually leave the window open - or find a way to rip their pressurised suits just at the wrong moment.]
If you're a scientist, the good news about A, C, G, T, X, Y is that we can now (or rather, eventually) make new proteins. And these can (again, eventually) be used to treat diseases in ways that they're not being treated already. But if you're at the blue-sky end of human thought-processing, this works out as a really good excuse to panic. We've spent so much time and money, fact and fiction, obsessing over whether we might build a machine that comes alive and starts killing us (insert my usual set of references here) - and now these spoilsports have just gone and re-routed life into (semi) artificial things. No need to create it after all; they've just diverted it.
In a potentially terrifying way, at least. The scary thing about artificial intelligence is not that a hyped-up calculator might generate so much heat that it develops consciousness and decides that we're a threat, but that it's networked. Even this laptop is spying on me through its camera, after all. I wrote once here about sex robots (second paragraph, and don't miss the footnote). Imagine the attention you'd give to getting the privacy settings right on one of those. All too easily, AI shares your secrets with its peer group.
Little robots like Pepper, or any one of those table-top gadgets that talk back at you, or that sex robot of yours, they're all networked back to something (not necessarily somebody) outside your control. I remember a presentation about Pepper: you'd tell your device at home that you needed something, and when you got to the bank, the robot there would recognise you and tell you why you can't have it - sorry, would give it to you. The bank's robot would continue the conversation where your Pepper left off, anyway, because the two of them have been talking about you.
Scientists have added artificiality to life, so in effect we can say that they've added life to artificiality. The whole singularity thing, all the work of everybody who's ever taught a machine to play a board game, is deleted in an instant. If life now flows into machines, like a river into a new course, we might as well dump the word "networked" and replace it with "telepathic". Imagine living things, like us, who are networked to each other and to the internet of everything around them. How primitive we will seem to them.
We're all doomed. Again.
*Was it the whole internet, or just social media, that some scientist developed just to check on the coffee machine on the floor below? I forget the story. We could digress into the space program and non-stick saucepans at this point. Packing to go into space must be a bit like ticking off an old-fashioned wedding list.
I don't think "hipster" is anything I need to worry about, and confronting one's own -isms requires rather more self-knowledge than any of us can be confident of possessing, but this did get me thinking. In culture, politics, just about anything else, it seems to me that an assumption of virtue settles around one side of any divide, while an assumption of courage settles around the other. Too often, the virtuous end, or the courageous end, justifies the means. I don't want to give examples, but people convinced that they're working for a good cause can be as harmful to the rest of us as people convinced that they're facing up to reality.
If you're the good guy, you get to kill the bad guy and go home afterwards. I remember thinking as a child: but surely, the bad guys think they're the good guys? If we want a metaphor, maybe we should think more about breaking eggs gently when we're making omelettes.
*26th November 2017. Article by Arwa Madhawi, "There's nothing funny about 'hipster racism', no matter how you dress it up'.