Full Disclosure: Although I don't know Amy Webb, I know Andrew Hessel from his days at Autodesk. Autodesk customers design and make places, things, and experiences. Some of those things are related to biology. For example, detergents are often made from long molecules called surfactants that contain a head and tail. The head of the surfactant is attracted to water, and the tail is attracted to grease and dirt. As a result, surfactants break up stains and disperse dirt that otherwise would not dissolve in water. Autodesk researched making software specifically to design and make things at such a small scale. We even had an Autodesk Gallery exhibit that explored the topic of scale. That research was ahead of its time, but not for long.
Speaking of being ahead of time, I am on the Strategic Foresight team at Autodesk. We help identify and articulate long-term forces of change and their implications, shaping the future for Autodesk and our customers. Our team helps reveal insights across the entire company by working with Autodesk leaders to shape a preferable future (out of the many possible futures) that delivers value for our customers and our business. We explore a broad range of areas (e.g., society, technology, economy, environment, politics) with a long-term focal length (~10 years). The 10-year period is necessary because some technologies (like generative design or machine learning) have a long development runway before they are commercially available. Synthetic biology might be one of those technologies, so I wanted to learn more.
So given our team's forward-looking charter, I was happy to digest The Genesis Machine by Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel, first as an audiobook and then using a Kindle reader. Here are my Mural notes that capture my key takeaways:
Enlarge [download JPG and zoom in]
I enjoyed this book. It presents the topic in a balanced way — showing the benefits and potential pitfalls of the technology. It's not a question of "if the technologies in the book are going to happen," but "when are the technologies going to happen." In the design-and-make software business, timing is everything.
"If you're not actively workshopping some of these [The Genesis Machine] scenarios... you're not thinking far enough!"
— Jaclyn Suzuki, MADO Design Services, Customer Insights / Design Strategy / Strategic Foresight [LinkedIn post]
At Autodesk, we are inspired by the prospect of a better world designed and made for all. Our mission is to empower innovators with design and make technology so they can achieve the new possible. To do that, we deliver customers intuitive, powerful, and accessible technology that provides automation and insight for their design-and-make processes, enabling them to achieve better outcomes for their products, their businesses, and the world. Doing that requires preparing for a wide range of possible futures of which synthetic biology could be a plausible part.
"The Global Synthetic Biology Market is valued at $9.3 Billion in 2021, and it is anticipated to attain a value of $52.04 Billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 27.89% over the forecast period (2022 - 2028). [BusinessWIre]
Materials used to build things are constantly evolving. A thriving synthetic biology market will accelerate that evolution.
Pondering synthetic biology is alive in the lab.