Special Seminar: Hallam Stevens

Hallam Stevens, associate professor of history at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, will present, "DNA Dreams: The Software of Life in China’s City of Hardware."

Abstract: BGI (Huada jiyin) based in Shenzhen, China, is now one of the world's largest biological laboratories. It is one of the most important and visible players shaping China’s growing presence on the global scientific stage. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Shenzhen and Hong Kong between 2014 and 2019, this talk will introduce BGI not only as a biological laboratory, but also as a tech startup that aims to transform the lives of Chinese citizens through the harnessing of genomic, environmental, behavioral, and lifestyle information. BGI employs over three thousand bioinformaticians and many of the lab’s most important projects are centered on the acquisition, analysis, organization, and deployment of vast amounts of 'omic data. Through an examination of several of its projects, I argue that at BGI we see China's national and global ambitions transcribed into informatic problems. The dream of building a prosperous and healthy Chinese nation for the twenty-first century is, at BGI, a dream of information. Such an account shows how data practices are increasingly intertwined with the reconfiguration of our ethical, social, and economic lives, both in China and beyond. 

Bio: Hallam Stevens studies the history of information technologies, particularly their use in the life sciences. He is the author of Life Out of Sequence: A Data Driven History of Bioinformatics (Chicago, 2013), Biotechnology and Society: An Introduction (Chicago, 2016), and the co-editor of Postgenomics: Perspectives on Life After the Genome (Duke, 2015). His current book project examines the recent rise of biomedicine in China through the lens of one of the world's largest biology laboratories.