The first time I ever heard about the idea of a positive virus, I had to double-take. It was a computer reference, and the idea was that someone could theoretically create a self-replicating piece of code that would do something good for you. This seemed ridiculous until you consider the possible applications of this sort of technology. A computer virus could be written that moves within a company’s network to do things like fixing a security hole in an application or setting. If it was written properly, there would be no threat to the company and for some issues, it might present a cleaner and less frustrating fix process than asking users to install a newer version of software. And that’s just one example.
Of course, in the medical sphere we always think of viruses as bad news, but this is probably untrue as well. We know, for example, that the human genome contains things like the bornavirus, and presumably there are, were, and could be viruses that live in symbiosis with humans. Add to that the importance of viruses in genetic engineering and you have a potentially wonderful tool. And of course, we can’t forget the potential that some viruses might keep us safe from others, a novel idea that I hadn’t considered prior to reading Douglas Coupland‘s book All Families Are Psychotic, but that seems to me to be a sensible theory.
New research, however, is going a bunch of steps further. I hadn’t heard of this before reading Virus-Powered Rechargeable Clothing Could be Coming to a Store Near You on Discover Magazine’s Science Not Fiction blog. I’ll let you read the article rather than trying to summarize, but I would like to say it’s pretty fascinating stuff.
Me, I enjoy the idea of a helpful virus. It’s like a little contagious piece of altruism.