Biotechnologies. To recreate complicated natural processes in vitro, as well as self-generating buildings sensitive to the environment: the future really seems to hold some extraordinary events in store for us, along with plenty of questions with no easy answers.
If human beings can be decoded and reproduced, if buildings can feel and react to the environment, then it’s obvious that we are being faced with a reality that requires new means of interpretation. The extremely fast and profound changes that have taken place over recent years have led to an authentic “perception crisis” that can only be overcome by viewing the world in a new, more global and systemic way. The new interpretation paradigms must take all the variables at play into account, within a system where each element is related to and interacts with all the rest. The Net, then, is a metaphor for the world and, at the same time, a wonderful means of making progress. Information science influences and dictates life science. At the same time it develops along organic lines, as part of a dialectical process which represents the very essence of the age in which we live. Biotechnology and the Internet, genes and computers, all alter our way of living and communicating, with implications on a planetary scale. The articles in this issue reflect the rather uncertain climate within the scientific community, split between the neo-positivist optimism of Renato Dulbecco, Nobel Prize winner in 1975 for his research into DNA, and the more cautious attitude of Jeremy Rifkin, an economist and proponent of a “soft,” conscious approach. On the other hand, the futurologist André-Yves Portnoff emphasizes the need for a new culture in order to understand complex issues, abandoning the kind of apocalyptic thinking dictated by irrational fears, while steering clear of blind and uncontrolled faith in scientific and technological progress. Knowledge must have a conscience, as Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, points out. Human DNA is “a monumental encyclopaedia written by the Creator in just four letters,” according to a transcendent interpretation concerned about the dignity and integrity of the individual.
Echoes of an “organic” and holistic conception of reality can also be found in the technological architecture section. Here, the great architect John Johansen talks about animate artefacts as part of a curious vision of buildings as self-organizing entities, adapting to the environment until they turn into real growth processes controlled by artificial commands. Natural forms also emerge in the project for the new International Airport in Kuala Lumpur, which the architect Kisho Kurokawa sees as a huge self generating mandala. This city is also home to the Petronas Towers, where the idea of a Western skyscraper is transported to an Oriental city without jeopardizing its identity. And just as biotechnology and the Internet, genes and computers, all alter our way of living, communicating, and designing architecture with implications on a planetary scale, they are also changing the business operations of the Italcementi Group.
As reported in the News column, it has dedicated most of its annual seminar to new projects on the Internet, with the participation of the Nobel Prize winner for Physics Arno Penzias and Domenico Siniscalco, a Professor of Economics and expert in the new economy.