Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Video: "Are we ready for neo-evolution" by Harvey Fineberg

by Salman Hameed

We will be facing increasing number of complicated ethical questions as we learn more about the human genome and develop the ability to manipulate it. The possibilities of biology today are both awesome and frightening. I was thinking if physicists felt like this in the early 20th century, when discoveries on both large and small scales were promising improvements in the human quality of life as well as bringing the threat of complete annihilation.

It is therefore great to see this talk by medical ethicist, Harvey Fineberg, on the promise and pitfalls of manipulation at genetic scales. I agree with him  that given an opportunity, people will indeed seek improvements in the physical abilities. Writing in Universe in a Nutshell, Stephen Hawking had made an interesting observation about Star Trek - The Next Generation (ST-TNG). He was a fan of ST-TNG, and even appeared in one of the episodes playing poker with Data, Newton, and Einstein in holodeck (you can see the scene here). However, he said that the most unbelievable thing about ST-TNG was not its depiction of aliens. Instead, what was most unbelievable was that humans looked like today's humans in the 24th century! His main point was that whether we like it or not, given the ability, humans will modify themselves. May be we will all be 10 feet tall. But more likely, we have no clue what physical ability will help us more in the next couple of 100 years. After all, not many futurists predicted internet and the way it has transformed our society. Nevertheless, it is valuable to think about the way we use this power of biology - and we can perhaps learn some lessons from 20th century physics. [By the way, this is one place where creationists are on the safe ground. Since they don't have a clue about the basics of biology, their (lack of) understanding can lead to neither any positive or negative results - or any results in general. :) ]

In the mean time, here is the TED talk by Harvey Fineberg (about 20 minutes long):

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