A wetware hacker is one who experiments with biological materials to advance knowledge, and does so in a spirit of creative improvisation.
The word wetware refers to biological materials (by analogy with the computer-related words hardware, software, and firmware) and applies to psychoactive pharmaceuticals, bionic materials, or cyborg applications – any blending of biology and technology that creates an artificial hybrid.
The word hacker has its origins in the Tech Model Railroad Society at MIT in the 1960s, in which creative overhaul of the communal model railroad display was done by students called track hackers. (Hacksaws were often used to construct and modify the equipment, with a "clever hack" being one appreciated by all.) By analogy, gene hacking is the deliberate restructuring and recombining of DNA.
While the word hacker connotes hard-working dedication to ongoing improvement by improvisation, ideally to the benefit of the entire community, the Law of Unintended Consequences is frequently mentioned in discussions of wetware hacking, especially the nanotechnology gray goo problem (runaway nanobots).
Pioneer wetware hackers in the area of psychoactive drugs and their effect on the human mind include:
- Aldous Huxley (author of Doors of Perception, 1954)
- Timothy Leary (LSD experimenter)
- Phillip K. Dick (paranoid-schizophrenic science-fiction writer)
Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein (1818) about the social ramifications of man-made life, a theme also explored by H.G. Wells in his Island of Doctor Moreau (1896). Rudy Rucker wrote a science-fiction novel, Wetware (1997), that explored the notion of robots creating human life, rather than vice versa.
With the advent of cheap and readily available recombinant DNA and protein synthesis equipment, and the proliferation of biotechnology skills, wetware hacking is expected to be a growing activity in the 21st century.
- Synthetic biology website
- British tissue engineering website
- German tissue engineering website
- Senomyx commercial robotic taste receptors
- Drexler, Eric (1987). Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology. New York: Knopf Publishing. ISBN 9780385199735. 298 pp.
- Hope, Janet (2008). Biobazaar: The Open Source Revolution and Biotechnology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674026357. 448 pp.
- Kurzweil, Ray (2003). The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York: Penguin. ISBN 9780143037880. 672 pp.