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The Marshall W. Nirenberg Papers

Popular Comparison - Molecular Commentary of Cell as Man's Communication in the Future pdf (148,711 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Popular Comparison - Molecular Commentary of Cell as Man's Communication in the Future
In this typed draft of a speech, including handwritten corrections and additions, Nirenberg characterizes RNA as a "robot." The code is the "language of civilization"--man has grown to understand that language has built libraries with information, but has only just begun to translate the text. Nirenberg warns that the texts available contain precise instructions for construction of microscopic machines that are more advanced than the chemical and industrial technology of man, and therefore require a great deal more work before the meaning of it all will be revealed.
Number of Image Pages:
3 (148,711 Bytes)
1967-10-24 (October 24, 1967)
Nirenberg, Marshall W.
Reproduced with permission of Marshall W. Nirenberg.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Exhibit Category:
Translating the Code of Life and the Nobel Prize, 1962-1968
Box Number: 129
Folder Number: 18
Unique Identifier:
Accession Number:
Document Type:
Drafts (documents)
Physical Condition:
Series: Series VI: Professional Activities, 1951-2002
SubSeries: Lectures and Talks, [ca. 1957]-1985
Folder: "Popular Comparison - Molecular Commentary of Cell as Man's Communication [in the] Future" [includes draft], 1967 Oct
Belt #2
Man recently has begun to communicate with another world, a world with a very ancient and an extraordinarily organized civilization, quite different from the civilization that he is accustomed to. The customs, strategies, and basic principles of the society are, for the most part, largely unknown. This civilization is a very ancient one, probably one to three billion years old. It is a highly organized, complex civilization. Every individual uses essentially the same language. Man now understands this language; he has found libraries which contain a truly vast amount of information, and has begun, but only barely, to translate the text. Millions of texts are available which contain the precise instructions for the construction of very complicated and remarkably ingenious microscopic machines which are required to build a wide variety of materials which are used by each individual. Each text is rewritten in a slightly different form by a scribe and the new text then is taken by robots who follow each instruction blindly; and with the aid of ancillary machinery, fabricate machines which are needed to create the things that are needed by every individual. In short, the texts describe a chemistry and an associated industrial technology which is quite different and far more advanced than that of man's.
Man now understands the language of the civilization, has written quite elementary messages in the form that robots understand, and in such texts has communicated directly with the robots. The robots read and faithfully carry out the instructions.
Man has obtained many millions of texts from this civilization but, thus far, has translated only a handful of them. He understands and can use some of the machinery of the civilizations. He has not yet had time to inventory the immense libraries at his disposal, much less translate the texts. He understands the construction of only a few machines but has obtained hundreds of kinds of machines and can use, to some extent, many of the machines. For example, man can use a machine which rewrite the texts in the form that the robots understand. The major problem is sorting out the machinery, the texts, and, of course, learning how to use the machines. However, man is rapidly learning how to write texts with the relatively primitive tools which are at his disposal. He probably will be able to write meaningful texts within five years. It probably will be much easier to do this than to separate one text from another. It is difficult to separate one text from another in the libraries that are available because the instructions for millions of machines may be encoded on a single tape. Therefore, the problem of separating instructions for one machine or the other seems extremely difficult.
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