Brave New World
A talk about what life might be like in 2050 was held this week, bringing together experts from the 21st Century School, Wired and Intelligence². We are now in the last era of youth, by 2050, life expectancy is predicted to reach up to a Star Trek-like 250 years. We won’t have kids until we’re 80, resulting in ‘bean pole’ families where 5 or 6 generations live together. Longevity will become the new global inequality, overruling race and class. Whilst in the West we will expect to live to 150 years or more, people in developing countries will hope for 50. The social challenges facing us by 2050 will be not how to eliminate poverty, but how to give everyone the same long life.
‘Bioliberation’ versus ‘biothreat’ was the most controversial topic of the evening. An experiment where genes from a glowing jellyfish were used to create a fluorescent rabbit was described. The science behind this was transferred and used in developing a glow-in-the-dark human embryo. It was destroyed so that it couldn’t grow into a luminous baby.
This raises lots of ethical questions about the implications of harnessing genetic modification, taking qualities from nature and combining it with humans. For example, could we develop a way to see in the dark like a cat, or exploit the jellyfish genes and become a luminous race, helping to solve the energy crisis simultaneously – we would never need electric lights again. Today’s ‘frankensciences’ could be tomorrow’s sustainability solutions.
There was also a key discussion on the science of happiness. Scientists have discovered that happiness is linked to biology, rather than a person’s circumstance. With gene technology it might be possible breed happier, less greedy, more generous human beings.
Stephen Hawking also believes our survival depends on using GM to make us less aggressive. “I think the biggest challenge we face is from our aggressive instincts. In caveman days, these gave definite survival advantages and were imprinted in our genetic code by Darwinian natural selection,” he says. “But with nuclear weapons, they threaten our destruction. We don’t have time for Darwinian evolution to remove our aggression. We will have to use genetic engineering.”