Is the dodo due for a comeback?

In his timeless novel ‘Jurassic Park’, famed fictional author Michael Crichton warned us about the possibilities of humans playing God with genetic engineering. But what could go wrong with bringing back the infamous dodo?

In his timeless novel ‘Jurassic Park’, famed fictional author Michael Crichton warned us about the possibilities of humans playing God with genetic engineering. But what could go wrong with bringing back the infamous dodo?

US-based Colossal Biosciences, which has garnered the support of the investment community (all US$225 million of it to date), has formed a separate division to focus specifically on avian genetic technology.

Launched in 2021, the company has previously flirted with nature’s plans. Remember the news around resurrecting the woolly mammoth? That was Colossal (maybe it’s benched that one for the next ice age).

On 31st January 2023, the company announced that it had raised US$150 million to resurrect what has been largely considered the dumbest bird in all of known natural history. (Although some studies have indicated that the dodo is as smart as the average pigeon.)

“The dodo is a symbol of man-made extinction,” said Ben Lamm, Founder/CEO of the Colossal Biosciences. Considered an Artificial Intelligence (AI) legend, the serial entrepreneur also founded Hypergiant, an AI business that guides organisations like NASA and The US Air Force and Shell on how to use AI to achieve ‘intelligent transformation’.

Why is the dodo synonymous with ‘stupid’ anyway? “It had a catchy name, had a ridiculous appearance, was flightless, and because of its lack of fear toward humans, probably due to its isolated habitat, made easy prey: traits which easily could have been attributed to stupidity,” said palaeontologist Dr Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History.

And here’s another question: What’s the point of Colossal’s exercise?

Upfront it is simply to prove a point: that it can be done. And it is not intended to make money, at least in the short term. However, the tools and equipment that are developed to realise the goal could have other uses in human healthcare. Like developing an ‘artificial womb’.

“When you’re doing big things like this, who knows what you’re going to discover along the way.” said Thomas Tull, a tech investor who (surprise!) produced the movie ‘Jurassic World’ and whose United States Innovative Technology Fund led the latest round.

Whatever tech breakthroughs the project gives birth to, Colossal has gained the support of other highbrow investors such as In-Q-Tel, the US Central Intelligence Agency’s own venture capital firm, and Breyer Capital, another venture capital focused on catalysing high-impact entrepreneurs.

Amid concerns raised about the program gobbling up funds that could have been used to support the survival of currently endangered species, the question arises: Is it time for human intelligence to take a break and let artificial intelligence take over for a while?

Perhaps Dr Norell has the right words to answer that question: “Intelligence is a very hard quantity to measure.”

 

Sources:

 

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