Scientists have developed a replicating synthetic organism. How wonderful for us! These men and women of science have used a computer to simulate a new life and then built it. Surely the benefit to mankind, through creating water, food, and more products for us to purchase will outweigh the harm, right? Don’t get me wrong, I want nothing more than to know we’ll never run out of the basic necessities. I even relish the thought of new Chuck Taylors that grew out of a petri dish, but boy, we better get this thing nailed down.
“This will essentially enable us to design new life forms at a computer screen. This will be a fabulous creative tool for creating inexpensive clean fuels and other breakthroughs for agriculture, health, and the environment. It’s also enabling for a bioterrorist, so we urgently need a rapid response system (like we do have for software viruses) that can protect us from new biological viruses and other life forms. The technologies to do this are in place — we can now sequence a biological virus in about a day, a bacterium in a few days (HIV took five years), and we have a range of tools to deactivate these pathogens (such as RNA interference or antigen based vaccines). I’ve advised the Army on how to set up such a system and I know that it is underway, but we need to substantially increase its priority.” – Ray Kurzweil Quoted from KurzweilAI.com
As Ray states in the quote above, there are already checks and balances in place, but the priority is not high enough. I feel better knowing that he is out there chatting up the Army about the need for such security measures, but business is business. Will the priority of humankind ever be high enough?
I’m no Luddite, but the advancements in genome research may continue to move us toward that moment when all of the world is scrambling to figure out how to stop those crazy self-replicating bio-engineered critters crunching across the landscape destroying everything in their wake. A cleansing of the earth. The most vile virus, a role we fill, eradicated. I am reassured as much as I am disquieted. The serious degradation in moral decision making based on the betterment of mankind via capitalism is scary. Money first, safety second. While J. Craig Venter may not be the capitalist, make no mistake, they are waiting in the wings.I guess we’ll see what happens.
Here is an interview with J. Craig Venter about his recent construction: