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Andrew Hessel    

Genetic Futurist, Renowned Open-Source & Synthetic Biologist, Autodesk Distinguished Researcher

Andrew Hessel is a futurist and catalyst in biological technologies, helping industry, academics, and authorities better understand the changes ahead in life science. He is also the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world's first cooperative biotechnology company, which is aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer.

Trained in microbiology and genetics, Andrew has continually worked at the forefront of genomics, first to read and comprehend bacterial, human, and other genomes and, more recently, to write them. He believes the technology that makes this possible, called synthetic biology, is revolutionary and that it will eventually surpass information technology (IT) as an economic engine and driver of societal change. He speaks widely on topics that include cells as living computers, life science as an emerging IT industry, and biological safety and security.

Andrew is an advocate of open genetic engineering, believing that the field will increasingly resemble the software industry and give rise to open source, single purpose (app), and 'freemium' applications—and that it will be spearheaded by younger programmer-entrepreneurs. He is active in the iGEM and DIYBio (do-it-yourself) communities and frequently works with students and young entrepreneurs to help them be successful. From 2009 to 2012, Andrew was the co-chair of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at the Singularity University, located at the NASA Research Park in Mountain View, CA. There, he educated graduate students and executive participants on the disruptive shifts underway in life science and helped them become actively engaged in these changes. In November 2011, he was appointed a fellow at the University of Ottawa, Institute for Science, Society, and Policy, focusing on how next-generation technologies shape society's future.

Andrew has given dozens of invited talks related to synthetic biology, for groups including Autodesk Inc., the FBI, the United Nations Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit, TEDx, Intel Inc., the New America Foundation, Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative, Statoil and Chicago Ideas Week. His ideas have been featured in The New York Times, Futurist Magazine, H+ magazine, Wired News, and Atlantic Magazine.

Speech Topics

Synthetic Biology and Its Implications for Economy, Bio-security, and Global Health

Biotechnology has experienced previous booms that have proven unsustainable. In fact, as an industry, is a lot like the airline industry, crucial but not profitable as a whole. Few realize that biotechnology returned its first profit ever just in 2008. Since then, it has struggled along with other industries affected by the ongoing global economic challenges.

However, Andrew Hessel believes the biotechnological future is brighter than ever. Over the last decade, biotechnology has gone digital. It is on the cusp of delivering truly disruptive technological changes. And because biotechnology is central to all living things, this could bring societal shifts as well. Humanity entered 1900 largely as an agrarian society, without heavier-than-air flight, without computers, and with virtually no biological understanding of disease. We exited the century with nearly half of all people living in cities, exploring space, globally networked, and holding a draft of the human genome. What’s ahead? Noted futurist Ray Kurzweil says that compared to the last 100 years, we can expect 20,000 years of relative progress. If you’re not preparing for this change, you’re going to be swept away by it.

The Internet of Living Things

How can gene-manipulation make our future better? And can you say no to it? In this talk, Andrew Hessel explores the fascinating “internet of livings things” inside us, our genes, is very open to manipulation—and the question is not whether we want it, but rather how and when. Andrew shares with audiences the parallels between IT and biology and reasons that Synthetic Biology will be the next big IT industry.


Andrew Hessel's Autodesk Team Seeks Crowdsourced Cancer Cure
Here, Andrew Hessel and a team of designers, programmers, and scientists are working on what is perhaps Autodesk's most ambitious project: building software  ...

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