Buchanan is now the firm’s scientific software developer. He credits various Reed classes with helping him master lab methodology and philosophical techniques that aid in determining viable research avenues. With a background in computer science, Buchanan says Reed also provided him with the foundation for designing computer simulations and efficient algorithms. Buchanan earns his keep by working on nearly every aspect of ProtoLife that depends on computers, including the use of a specialized software program to analyze microscopic lab samples at a rate that would be impossible using human analysis alone. With Bedau and others, he is developing new artificial intelligence (AI) software for automated intelligent design of complex chemical systems.
At Reed, Parke took classes and worked on projects that prepared her for her current work at ProtoLife. Bedau supervised her senior thesis, which began as a general analysis of decision making and ended up concentrating on the precautionary principle. This, Parke writes, “is a policy standard based on the general premise of desire to reduce risks posed by potentially harmful activities or technologies, even in the face of scientific uncertainty regarding this potential harm.”
Now working as ProtoLife’s business manager, Parke conducts market research, with the goal
of turning the company’s discoveries into income-producing products, techniques, and formulae.
Plus, says Parke, ProtoLife’s work doesn’t pose any dangers, at least in the near-term. “One of the biggest concerns people have is that there’ll be some point of no return, that you’ll be messing with [artificial life] and all of a sudden you’ll be unleashing something on the world,” she says. “It’s very much like a slippery slope, not falling off a cliff. It’s happening slowly, with lots of chances to stop and evaluate and see where things are. And I think it’ll continue that way.”
Buchanan is most excited about what’s yet to come. “One thing that will clearly come from all this is that we’ll have a better understanding of evolution and life,” he says. “No matter what happens, we’ll gain that.”
—Rachel Fredericks ’04