Self Policing Synthetic Biologists

Concerned that “biohackers” would wreck havoc, researchers are looking for ways to police the bio engineering field.

Concerned that “biohackers” would wreck havoc, researchers are looking for ways to police the bio engineering field. The idea quoted in this MSNBC article entitled “Researchers creating life from scratch” by Paul Elias(AP) is to have the industry police itself.

One solution could be to require the few companies that sell genetic material to register with some official entity and report biologists who order DNA strains with weapons potential.

Now I am all in favor of the government staying out of many industries. I believe the government’s presence in many industries is so pervasive that it warps competition. Well, this is one industry where I would rather see a heavy hand then a light one. You can screw up in the accounting industry and not wipe out the human race. Mess up here and you don’t get a second chance.

For those of you interested in digging deeper, I would start with the Biohacker web site. This is really a fascinating field – I’m just concerned that we are counting on everyone involved being a fully functioning human being with a solid understanding of the consequences of his or her own actions. Derya and Vineet indicate

By mid-90s we realized that the biological systems were following an exponential advance similar to computer systems, which double in power approximately every 18 months termed the Moore’s law. It was then not difficult to extrapolated the exponential pace of biological technologies to near future where whole genomes could be sequenced or synthesized in single days, hours and eventually in seconds. This amazing technological advance meant that future biohackers could manipulate the biocode as hackers today write, decode and tinker with computer code.

A most fascinating subject but very troubling.

SOX Cynics

Business leaders use Sarbanes-Oxley to provide political coverage to implement what would otherwise be very unpopular decisions. This is bad for business, bad for the act and bad for the leaders.

Companies, mine included, use Sarbanes-Oxley to provide political coverage to implement what would otherwise be very unpopular decisions. Ultimately, it is cynical for companies to attach decisions to the Sarbanes-Oxley act which are not driven by the act. It undermines the (albeit small number of) positive benefits associated with the act. Ironically, the intention of the act is to hold companies to a higher standard then was evident at Enron. If change is required then the decision should stand on its own merits. The responsibility of leadership is to lead in a principled manner. Contriving a relationship between unpopular decisions and the Sarbanes-Oxley act of 2002 diminishes the act’s strength.

Recently, Computerworld published a very short article entitled “Sarbanes-Oxley Trumps IM at Some Firms”. In that article, Thomas Hoffman discusses companies which have removed Instant Messaging due to Sarbanes-Oxley concerns. Section 302 of the act is referenced as the cause for this change.

Section 302 of Sarbanes-Oxley requires CEOs and chief financial officers to certify that their companies have established internal controls and are regularly evaluating the effectiveness of the control measures.

Mr. Hoffman’s perspective is evident in the article: this is an overreaction to the act. In large part I agree with the author. There are though some nuances which should be considered.

The argument that IM is equivalent to a phone conversation ignores how the legal system works.

“You can’t control a phone call, so I don’t see what the difference is between IM and a phone call,” said Diana McKenzie, chairwoman of the IT group at Chicago-based law firm Neal Gerber Eisenberg LLP. “To me, it’s not logical.”

The transcript of an IM session would have a great deal more relevance than an individual’s recollection of a phone conversation. Imagine yourself in a scenario where each of your phone conversations was transcribed real time. Now imagine that transcribed conversation is illicitly sent to the public. It’s not pretty.

My company only supports IM within the firewall. The tool is available for use between associates but not as a tool with customers. That’s a pity but probably not a show stopper for a B2B. I don’t know how much longer you can avoid it if you are serving consumers. Many consumers expect this form of customer support. This is clearly one case where government regulations are hampering company’s ability to provide customer service.