Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.
Please note that this blog does not accept comments. If you're reading this blog and want to respond then please use the contact form on the site, or comment on his Facebook page. You can also follow him on Twitter @mattwridley.
Sign up for his new newsletter to make sure you don't miss any upcoming content.
His new book How Innovation Works is now available in the UK as well as in the US and Canada.
My article for the Telegraph:Back in the early 1950s scientists were baffled by one aspect of life itself. Our cells were full of proteins whose properties depended on their precise shapes, and the key feature of life was the ability to copy itself, but how on earth do you copy three-dimensional shapes? The unexpected answer was that you don’t: you copy a one-dimensional, linear sequence in a recipe book called DNA, which automatically determines how each protein folds into its shape.
Surprisingly, until last week, working out how this folding worked was beyond even big computers: tiny shifts in angles could result in wildly different shapes, and forecasting what shape would result from what sequence was as hard as predicting the weather. Now, thanks to the brilliant London AI firm DeepMind (which sold itself to Google a few years back), a learning algorithm has cracked the problem and has predicted hundreds of thousands of shapes from sequences. It did so as an encore after defeating the world champion at the fiendishly complicated game of Go: in neither case was it taught by experts but learned from examples.
Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, who won the Nobel prize for figuring out the structure of the ribosome (the machine that translates DNA into proteins), told me last week that he thinks the DeepMind breakthrough is huge: “we probably have not yet grasped its impact and all the ways it will change the way we do biology.”
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
If you write about genetics and evolution, one of the commonest
questions you are likely to be asked at public events is whether
human evolution has stopped. It is a surprisingly hard question to
I'm tempted to give a flippant response, borrowed from the
biologist Richard Dawkins: Since any human trait that increases the
number of babies is likely to gain ground through natural
selection, we can say with some confidence that incompetence in the
use of contraceptives is probably on the rise (though only if those
unintended babies themselves thrive enough to breed in turn).
Receive all my latest posts straight to your inbox. simply subscribe below:
[*] denotes a required field