Neo.Life by Jane Metcalfe & Brian Bergstein (and the contributing authors) presents 25 visions for the future of the human species. They vary from research reports grounded in today, to speculative stories about how our world will look in 50 years.

The book is divided into three parts, the first consists of road maps and is the most grounded in today. The second is creative briefs and those look at what could be possible (say in 5-50 years). The last imagines a brave new world in which the human species is quite different from today.

Below are some of the things I found most interesting:

Jan Metcalfe (the author/compiler) wrote down the principles that the group proposes for the development of our species:

  • Technology should be used to increase biological diversity, both in humans and other species.
    • To future proof the species and I think also as a counterpoint to the monoculture that we sometimes strive for (e.g. optimize for intelligence over art)
  • In general, people should be free to determine their own use of genetic modification, based on well-informed choices
    • Of course it’s difficult to say who is well-informed
    • But they do note that it should give more freedom to someone experimenting on themselves versus editing an embryo
    • And makes us think about what we edit that is only for you, or something that you pass along through the gene line
  • Humility and caution will lower the risk of unintended consequences that would undermine biotechnologies and thus reduce human possibility in the long run.
    • This seems a bit too vague
    • The explanation does mention more mute switches in genes and testing in somatic cells
  • Governance of biotechnologies should exhibit traits of the underlying system.
    • This argues that the regulations should be aware of the biological features (feedback loops, adaptations)

Genetic sequencing of everyone should help us eliminate single-gene diseases and make carriers more aware of them.

  • One example used was to have this added to dating, so at a second date you could bring it up and prevent heartbreak
  • That part didn’t sound to convincing, but the part about saving a million lives did

We humans are not diverse (only 0.1% of genome is different)

  • What would happen if this changes and we would have different types of humans?
  • Some adapted to living in space (against radiation) or other circumstances

One author (David Eagleman) philosophizes about us being able to choose kids and by having more choices, regret the alternative histories (the choice we didn’t make/pick).

  • I don’t think that applies perfectly, but I do get the point that if we know what kid we choose from 8 (or 100) options of which we knew some characteristics, we might regret it later on

Two stories revolve around the democratization/stuff becoming cheaper, of biotechnology. One should only think about a more efficient SARS-CoV-2 and we would all be toast. So ethics and detection should be paramount.

Zoe Cormier imagines the perfect drug. This reflects (one of the) last chapter(s) in Drugs: Without the Hot Air by David Nutt. It would be great if we could invent something that was better than was out there today (alcohol, tobacco – and others).