What Craig Venter and his team did was much more important than creating primitive life out of pure chemicals; they laid the groundwork for creating entirely new forms of life (greater than species) out of computer-generated DNA sequences. They have created the possibility of shifting the DNA of these new species into new forms and creating the possibility of completely new intended behaviors. Craig Venter and his team have made it possible to make fuel out of CO2, make good food out of algae, make medicines and vaccines to do specific things and without doubt much much more.
Each New Year I have chosen a Probaway Person of the Year. The guiding principle is to choose someone who will probably still be remembered in 500 years, for something they did in the previous year. Originally the Probaway Person of the Year post was intended as a riposte to TIME magazine’s Person of the Year articles. Their method appeared to me to be shortsighted because they were mostly interested in the newsworthy people of the previous year. Most of the choices were heads of state, which seemed like they were selecting the office for that particular year rather than something the person did which would be remembered in the future. When one looks at their previous 82 choices it becomes apparent that their person of the year vanishes from history, as an individual person, within a few years after leaving public office.
The Probaway choices for memorable persons of the year may seem strange, but these individuals have done something which will be remembered and used long after they have departed this year’s public awareness, as their accomplishments will keep bringing them back into prominence for a very long time.
The complete up-to-present list of – Probaway Person of the Year:
- 2017 – Albert Einstein for predicting black holes, their collisions creating gravity waves, and the laser for observing the gravity waves.
- 2016 – Xi Jinping for taking China from a backward economy to the most powerful one on Earth.
- 2015 – Peter Higgs and Alan Guth created theories that lead to proofs this year of mass and gravity sources.
- 2014 – Jennifer Doudna created a method for insertion of designed DNA precisely into existing DNA.
- 2013 – Plague Inc. is a computer game that explores the problems of creating a disease that will kill every last human being on Earth.
- 2012 – Zebrafish research-technique advances made it possible to observe drug interactions within living animals.
- 2011 – Craig Venter laid the groundwork for creating entirely new forms of life (greater than species) out of computer-generated DNA sequences.
- 2010 – Nadya Suleman (Octomom) and the society that created this travesty of good sense will be remembered into the distant future by many hungry people.
- 2009 – Jimmy Wales for Wikipedia, which will be still be used after our current computer operating systems are surpassed and forgotten.
- 2008 – Cesar Millan (the dog whisperer) because he shows people how to relate to dogs and people much better than anyone else. His videos and techniques will be remembered and used as long as there are people and dogs.
These may seem like strange choices but they are potentially long-term-memorable events which had a major tipping point the year before their selection.
These may seem like strange choices but they are potentially long-term-memorable events which happened the previous year.
Craig Venter has been considered right along for Probaway’s Person of the Year for various wonderful things like sequencing the human genome. That certainly would qualify, but these actions were done before Probaway Person of the Year choices were being made, and these selections are intended to commemorate a given person’s action for the year just ending. The just announced creation of the first cell with a synthetic genome will probably be unsurpassed. Even SETI discovering extraterrestrial life wouldn’t surpass Craig Venter’s remarkable achievement.
It will be the most memorable accomplishment this year and probably for the rest of human existence.
Mark Zuckerberg created a new nation of humans named Facebook. It’s larger in population than the United States and it’s growing faster than our presently moribund country in population and power. TIME chose the Person of the Year well by their own criterion. The moderator in the introduction to their video about their Person of the Year says the choice is based on, “… Celebrating the people, the group of people, the idea, the individual that most impacted our society, our world, for this year.”
Probaway’s criterion is slightly different, not based so much on what impacted the public’s consciousness this year, but what will be remembered in the distant future. Craig Venter did something this year, in creating a new life form, which will impact all the world, not just this year’s humanity, for as long as life exists on Earth. None of the other people on TIME’s list did anything last year which will have much chance of being remembered in 500 years; that’s my fixed point for thinking about the modern world. But Venter’s creating life from pure chemicals opens up a whole new world of life forms, each of which has vast evolutionary possibilities.
Craig Venter will be a contender for the person of the 21st Century.