In 1953, James D. Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. Since then, science has continued to flex its control over life’s building blocks by creating DNA forensics, sequencing the human genome and, yes, cloning a sheep.
Everyone knows that in The Future, we’ll test everyone at birth for genetic predispositions. Those who show aptitude for math and science will be put in the best schools on the fast track to developing the teleportation technology of The Future’s future. Those who show aptitude for athletics and strategy will run our intergalactic military. And those with genetic disorders will be killed at birth in what we’ll call an “Assessment” or some other neutral phrase. Oh, and there will also be some sort of futuristic gladiator matches as well, probably with some of those beefy military guys, maybe fighting against a genetically enhanced super-rhino with two heads. Pretty much your typical, ho-hum dystopia.
The social striations this Future advertises — citizens being evaluated on genetic test results for college admissions, job applications, romantic partner selection and everything in between — pose serious ethical concerns. Imagine trying to get medical insurance when your public test records indicate a life expectancy of 27 years.
“But,” you say as I write this column, “won’t the scientific advances that allow widespread complete genetic testing also lead to medical discoveries that cure many of these problems?” Good question, concerned citizen.
Yes, this science will bring about miraculous medical solutions. But how? The better we understand how genes work, the better we can work with them to find cures. Just like your dad with his childhood ham radio, scientists learn by tinkering. Only this time they’ll tinker with life itself.
Scientists have already created many hybrid animals, some for food (the beefalo), some for personality traits (the cama: part camel, part llama) and some out of pure curiosity (the liger, the largest cat in the world). But this hybridization doesn’t always work out so nicely. Two bee species were crossbred in the 50s to try to produce tamer bees for honey production and agriculture, but the resulting colony wasn’t quite what was expected. That new species is now called “killer bees.”
In The Future, we won’t stop just at combining species. We’ll pick and choose traits from different animals to create superorganisms, and we’ll blur the line between organisms and technology to create true cyborgs. We’ll have bioluminescent monkeys (by adding jellyfish DNA), computer chips will use living animal neurons instead of silicon, and we’ll use cartilage cells to grow replacement human body parts on the backs of rodents.
These new technologies will also allow us to keep simple animal brains alive outside of their host bodies, so that we can transplant real minds into our robots. The same principles will let us control insects via transmitters to chips in their brains. Eventually, implanted chips will control much larger animals like rats, birds and sharks, creating living robots with the elimination of free will.
Finally, in The Future, we will have the supreme power previously possessed only by Dr. Frankenstein — the power to create life. We will be able to write a DNA sequence with a computer, place it in a cell and invent our own completely new synthetic organism.
Take note, concerned citizen: these technologies aren’t products of The Future at all. Every single experiment listed in this article (growing human ears on the backs of mice, putting a lamprey brain inside a robot, controlling sharks via remote control and creating the first ever synthetic reproducing cellular organism) has already been successfully completed.
Of course, in The Future, remote-controlled rodents won’t just be in labs; they’ll be household pets! What could be better than having a moonwalking mouse? “But we’re taking away free will,” you say. “What’s to stop us from making remote-controlled humans?”
If you’re concerned about the ethics of it all, well … aren’t you due for an Assessment soon?