After 4 billion years of evolution by one set of rules, our species is about to begin evolving by another.
Overlapping and mutually reinforcing revolutions in genetics, information technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and other fields are providing the tools that will make it possible to genetically alter our future offspring should we choose to do so. For some very good reasons, we will.
Nearly everybody wants to have cancers cured and terrible diseases eliminated. Most of us want to live longer, healthier and more robust lives. Genetic technologies will make that possible. But the very tools we will use to achieve these goals will also open the door to the selection for and ultimately manipulation of non-disease-related genetic traits — and with them a new set of evolutionary possibilities.
As the genetic revolution plays out, it will raise fundamental questions about what it means to be human, unleash deep divisions within and between groups, and could even lead to destabilizing international conflict.
And the revolution has already begun.
Today’s genetic moment is not the stuff of science fiction. It’s not Jules Verne’s fanciful 1865 prediction of a moon landing a century before it occurred. It’s more equivalent to President Kennedy’s 1962 announcement that America would send men to the moon within a decade. All of the science was in place when Kennedy gave his Houston speech. The realization was inevitable; only the timing was at issue. Neil Armstrong climbed down the Apollo 11 ladder seven years later.
We have all the tools we need to alter the genetic makeup of our species. The science is here. The realization is inevitable. Timing is the only variable.