The genetic revolution now taking place in scientific and medical laboratories around the world will dramatically alter the future of the human race, according to an author and futurist who will speak next week at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater.
As the revolution progresses over the next few decades, it will make it possible for parents to select healthier and smarter children, but it will also open up the possibility of societal abuses including a world of genetic haves and have-nots, according to the speaker, Jamie Metzl.
We are rushing toward this vastly different world, but we aren’t prepared for it, Metzl believes. His views on the topic are laid out in detail his recent book, “Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity.”
His talk is part of the Rae Dorough Speaker Series. It is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, July 25.
Issues raised in the book, and explored in various interviews, range from the personal to the scientific, from the agonizing decision of parents who select one offspring and discard others, to the role of data science and artificial intelligence in advancing the field.
Geopolitical competition and ethics are prominent. Metzl notes that the U.S. today has a government that is turning its back on science just as China is making the world’s largest investment in the field of artificial intelligence.
How will this affect the quality of future choices that people are able to make? Metzl is careful to pose questions and raise issues rather than give hard and definitive answers.
He summarizes the fears of those who, like James Clapper, former head of U.S. national intelligence, have warned that gene editing could lead to weapons of mass destruction wielded by “countries with different regulatory or ethical standards than those of Western countries.”
Metzl himself has an extraordinarily diverse background. He is a senior fellow on the Atlantic Council who has served with the National Security Council, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the State Department.
He is the author of two books on the Cambodian genocide, one a history and the other an historical novel. He has written two genetics-oriented science fiction novels. He is an Ironman triathlon competitor and an ultra marathoner.
Early this year, he was appointed to a World Health Organization expert committee on developing standards for human genome editing.
In “Hacking Darwin,” Metzl surveys the history of our understanding of heredity, from the ancient practices of plant and animal breeding to 19th century giants Darwin and Mendel, and on through the discovery of DNA, sequencing of the human genome and learning to prevent and treat some genetic diseases.
He imagines future fertility clinics in 2035 and in 2045, where parents are attracted to the prospect of being able to choose a potentially superior child in the form of a fertile, genetically advantaged embryo.
Who would not choose a smarter child with reduced chances of genetic abnormalities if they could?
At the same time, the parents realize, they are facing the reality of making life and death decisions for their own offspring; they will need to discard those whose genomes are less promising.
This is only one of the many challenges that Metzl believes we must face in the immediate future.
His book, “Hacking Darwin,” is available at Towne Center books in Pleasanton as well as online.
Tickets for the Bankhead talk are available online at http://raedoroughspeakerseries.org/tickets/ or may be purchased at the Bankhead Theater box office, 2400 First Street, Livermore, Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m., or by calling (925) 373-6800.