THE TRANSHUMANIST SCRAPBOOK: DESIGNER LIFE, OR, “CREATE YOUR OWN ...January 10, 2015
For those of you who've been following the insanity (not to mention the moral dubiousness) of the whole transhumanist meme, this one probably won't come as a shocker. Indeed, so many of you saw various versions of this story and sent them to me(and my thanks to all of you who did), that it was difficult to decide which version to link, but this is as good as any. It seems that genetic engineering, science fiction, capitalism, and 3-d printing are about to merge in the latest version of "entrepreneurism":
The article begins with a summary of the various "things" in the works, which we've blogged about here on this site, and which Dr. Scott DeHart and I wrote about in our book Transhumanism: A Grimoire of Alchemical Agendas, things like "color-changing flowers, cow-free milk, animal-free meat, tests that detect diseases from one drop of blood and pills that tell doctors whether you have taken your medicine." But Austin Heinz of Cambrian Genomics has gazed into the sci-fi crystal ball and wants to go much farther:
"But few founders are pushing the technical and ethical boundaries of science as far as Heinz, who told the Wall Street Journal, “I can’t believe that after 10 or 20 years people will not design their children digitally.” At a recent conference in Vienna, he said, “We want to make totally new organisms that have never existed.”
"His 11-person team has raised $10 million from more than 120 investors, including Peter Thiel’s venture firm Founders Fund. “It’s a fundamentally new technology that can open up a whole new industry,” said partner Scott Nolan.
"Venture capitalist Timothy Draper, another investor, praises Heinz as an 'exceptional leader with a unique passion for his business.'
“'I love Cambrian,' he wrote in an e-mail. 'The company is literally printing life. Can’t wait to see all the great things that come of it.'
"To be clear, Cambrian isn’t printing designer babies or dinosaurs — yet. Still, its rhetoric alarms critics. Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a bioethics watchdog group in Berkeley, sums up Heinz’s belief that “every problem can be solved by engineering” as as a kind of 'techno-libertarianism.'" (Emphasis added)
There you have it: "designer children" - which has been the subject of science fiction stories and even films and television shows for some time to designed life The key is the integration of computer-engineered genomes, and a 3-d printing technology using lasers to "print" the designed genomes:
"DNA is made up of four chemicals represented by the letters A, C, T and G. When Cambrian receives an order for specific genes, it adds DNA chemicals millions of times onto tiny beads that are then layered onto a glass slide. A machine assigns a color to each DNA chemical. The next step is the key one: A laser programmed to analyze the color combinations ignores the erroneous strands and “prints” the correct ones by pushing them apart from the rest. The final product arrives on a small plastic plate as a powder that customers put inside the cells of an organism.
"Right now, employees check each order to make sure that a customer isn’t printing, say, base pairs of Ebola. But staff won’t have time to do that if, as Heinz predicts, orders dramatically increase in the next two years. In that case, he said, Cambrian might first ship the plates to an independent facility where experts would put the DNA inside cells, film and analyze it, and make sure that it is safe before releasing it.
"This facility, he envisions, could be run by another company, not necessarily the government. Because Cambrian wants to keep government interference to an absolute minimum, its CEO insists that behaving well is in the company’s best interest.
“It’s pretty obvious why we wouldn’t want to do something bad,” said Heinz on a recent afternoon in his South of Market office. “We wouldn’t want the industry to be regulated. So, 'How do we democratize creation without killing everyone?’ is basically the question.”
In other words, Mr. Heinz is espousing what for all intentions and purposes is a libertarian philosophy: there's little to no regulation over the sorts of "designer life" he envisions right now, and he is relying on his own, and presumably other companies, "behaving well" to keep it that way.
I don't know about you, but I have my doubts about the utility of such a libertarian vision in the current technological age, just as I have even more profound doubts about the current "regulatory culture" in government, for there is yet another issue that, to my mind, has exposed the futility of both approaches for keeping a hold on Young Dr. Frankensteins designing their own "creatures" and printing them up for their own fun and amusement, and that's the GMO issue, for if ever there was an issue where the absence of genuine scientific checks, real and effective regulation to insist on the same, and unbridled freedom for corporations to do whatever they wanted in pursuit of their "bottom line" - no matter what the long term environmental or human health risks were - then the GMO issue was it. No one who has studied the issue can come away without at least some idea that the evidence for health and environmental risks at least merits much closer attention, and no one can come away without at least some suspicion that there is no real effective regulatory culture at work. In effect, that culture was subverted by corporate influence, money, and greed. And that's just with plants. In short, a "libertarian" laissez faire climate has been created for agribusiness, through the age-old practice of mercantilism.
One can imagine, therefore, what a boon such a philosophy will be to those who want to play Dr. Frankenstein, not just with plants, but with mankind itself. And then we'll see a repeat, as we are already seeing evidence in this article, of the "game of concern": "concerned voices" will raise objections and concerns, and advocate "regulation"; the corporate world and its investors will respond to the inevitable pressure with more arguments that their "designer children" and "new organisms" are "substantially equivalent" to the old ones, regulators and politicians will be bought off, and, once the "appropriate regulatory culture" has been created, patents on the "new life: and "royalty fees" on your "designer children" will be read into law; the WTO (World Trade Organization) will seek to extend the concepts into international law... we've seen it all before folks, and as a co-author to Transhumanism, at least I have some satisfaction that my co-author and I predicted the possibility of patents on human life itself.
To put it country simple, what I believe we're looking at in this article is really the careful sounding of all those memes, for a repeat performance of the way GMOs were implemented and spread through the western world by a laissez faire attitude, mercantilism(the synthesis of libertarianism and "regulation'), and "substantial equivalence." Wait for it, because this first muted sounding of those memes and themes will, I suspect, grow more clear and apparent in the coming year and years.
See you on the flip side...