Biotechnology & human modification


The challenge

Biotechnology is moving very quickly. In 2015, the first trials of genetic engineering on humans began in China. Meanwhile, companies are racing to develop pharmaceutical and robotic enhancements of the human body and mind, and while ‘designer babies’ don’t yet exist they will eventually become possible. At the same time, researchers around the world are working to slow and eventually reverse the ageing process.

What does this mean for our society? First there is a high risk of inequality, where the wealthy and well-connected give their children a tangible biological advantage over regular children. Second, the possibility of having new types of humans capable of vastly outperforming everyone else – or simply regular humans living extremely long lives – will likely destabilise our democracy and legal system. It will also be very difficult for people to ‘opt out’ and stay human while others enhance, in the same way that it is very difficult to live without an internet connection today when everyone else is online.

Finally, as genetic engineering tools like CRISPR become commonplace, the risk of a ‘superdisease’ being intentionally or accidentally released and causing a pandemic becomes more likely. ‘Engineered pandemics’ are arguably the greatest current threat to humanity along with climate change and nuclear war.

For a more in-depth look, the Future of Life Institute has put together a good summary. Michael Bess has also written an excellent book on the subject.

What is being done

  • Technical research: Organisations such as the Cambridge Working Group are researching ways to avert pandemics or to deal with them effectively
  • Policy development: A number of think tanks such as the Institute for the Ethics of Emerging Technologies are developing policies to govern the development of biotechnologies
  • Public awareness: Much has been publicly said in TED Talks, news articles and Op-Eds online, although more needs to be done.

What’s missing: public awareness, policy development and political action.

What we do

Our goal is to empower people with the knowledge and democratic tools they need to support effective political action. As such, we organise events where people can learn about the issues, and will soon be launching petitions and other advocacy campaigns to create political momentum.