Stephen Hawking's Last Book Warns About the Rise of Genetically Engineered Superhumans

Monday, 15 October 2018 - 12:31PM
Technology
Genetic Engineering
Monday, 15 October 2018 - 12:31PM
Stephen Hawking's Last Book Warns About the Rise of Genetically Engineered Superhumans
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There were a lot of things keeping Stephen Hawking awake at night, but among the top three were the imminent AI revolution, the possibility of making contact with hostile aliens, and the growing threat of climate change. Now, according to The Guardian, we can add "genetic superhuman dystopia" to that list. Hawking's last book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, is a posthumous collection of Hawking's articles and essays, and spends some time outlining the bleak future ahead of us if genetic engineering is allowed to create "improved" humans.

Of course, organizations like UNESCO have already called for bans on using gene editing tools like CRISPR Cas9 to alter human genetic code, but that hasn't stopped Chinese scientists from doing exactly that. Opponents argue that genetic editing will lead to species-wide ethical issues, including the stratification of society and a shift into what it means to be human, but according to Hawking, it's only going to be a matter of time until those reservations are overcome by the demand for smarter, more resilient human beings: "Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won't be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life."

Once the embargo on human gene editing is broken down, Hawking says, it'll be a rapid march to extinction for those who don't or can't benefit from gene editing: "Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won't be able to compete," he writes. "Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate." Between gene-editing and human augmentation with technology, which has already spawned transhumanist organizations like Humanity Plus, it seems that humanity will look very different by the time the robots kill us all.

You can order a copy of Brief Answers to the Big Questions here.


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