chapter  6
15 Pages

Autonomic computing, genomic data and human agency: the case for embodiment


Slavoj Zizek remarked that ‘[w]ith biogenetics, the Nietzschean program of the emphatic and ecstatic assertion of the body is thus over. Far from serving as the ultimate reference, the body loses its mysterious impenetrable density and turns into something technologically manageable, something that we can generate and transform through intervening into its genetic formula – in short, something the “truth” of which is this abstract formula’ (Zizek 2004: 25). Arguably, the privileged relationship between life and body has effectively been suspended since the ability to cultivate life in silico starting at the beginning of last century (Landecker 2007, Rheinberger 1997). But the loss of bodily density has been most acutely expressed in the so-called postgenomic era, which is marked by an intrinsic co-production of scientific artefacts and research questions with computational techniques and instruments within the biological metaphor of life as information or network (Haraway 1997, Kay 2000).1 The notion of life as a ‘pure information in computer networks, as robots, and as genetically engineered organisms’ has been epitomised in computer simulations of digital artificial life as coded programs (Helmreich 2001: 125). The recognition of the dominant trope of information in postgenomics ought not be understood as falling into genetic reductionism, which equates genes to one-directional codes programming for biological life conceived as information processing machines. On the contrary, the availability of new technological tools has radically destabilised the concept of gene as a dominating epistemic framework of biological research in the twentieth century (Beurton et al. 2000, Moss 2003), making genetic data and information within the broader framework of life sciences and their social meaning even more important and valuable, precisely because their functions and importance are recognised to be much more complex than it has been assumed before the completion of the human genome sequencing in 2003.