Stephen Hawking’s Last Warning: Superhumans May Conquer Humanity
CRISPR, the new technology that allows scientists to genetically edit our DNA, will be the end of normal humans, according to Stephen Hawking in his final publication Brief Answers to the Big Questions.
Before his passing, Hawking penned a series of essays on his final research, which included a few cautionaries for our future. He prefaced his musings with an upbeat recollection of his storied career, but his warnings proved incredibly depressing. Namely, the fact that he believed genetically modified superhumans will eventually rule our species, elbowing out the rest of us naturally born plebeians.
Of course, these observations went beyond Hawking’s traditional field of study, though they were corollaries to the work of an astrophysicist who aimed to define some of the deeper questions about our existence.
But whether or not you agree with his adamantly atheist, parting claim that God doesn’t exist, it’s easier to sympathize with his fear that designer humans with superior genetics may be around the corner and may exacerbate the ever-expanding crevasse of inequality in the world.
“Once such superhumans appear, there are going to be significant political problems with the unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” Hawking said. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant.”
Forget your fears of automation putting people out of work, superhumans will make us all obsolete anyway. But is this really a legitimate threat or another dystopian, sci-fi fantasy? We’d like to have more faith in humanity and believe it’s the latter.
CRISPR is certainly making leaps and bounds in genetic engineering, specifically to cure untreatable disease and prevent genetic mutations, but many are worried the technology will soon be used to create designer babies. Hawking feared this prospect, despite the fact that its premise is based on distant, unproven possibilities and a lack of faith that those with access to the technology actually have ethics.
Hawking also fails to recognize the fact that the same science and ethics that created the technology which allowed him to continue his work – and continue to live for that matter – is what lead to CRISPR in the first place. Put simply, the potential biomedical breakthroughs from CRISPR technology are likely to prevail over the pessimistic dystopian possibilities he put forward.
For more on how technology is allowing us to become superhuman in a less dystopian way, check out this documentary with Dr. Jordan Nguyen, Becoming Superhuman:
Antibiotic Resistance is Becoming a Major Threat to Humanity
As humans, we face a number of threats from the environment, but none may loom larger than the one posed by antibiotic resistance. Through our over prescription, poor regulation, agricultural abuse, and weak supply chains, a hyper-resistant bacteria is just around the corner. And unless we do something to change the tide, we may be looking at a pandemic of mass proportion.
Human presence on earth is a blip on the timeline compared to bacteria. And bacteria are pervasive; on our clothes, in our bodies, in dirt, and on the surface of pretty much everything – in fact, all of the bacteria on Earth, despite its microscopic size, would outweigh us 100 million times.
In the 3.5 billion years bacteria have lived on Earth, it has survived interminable challenges to its existence, which has only given it time to continuously adapt and outlast every other lifeform. Not to mention the fact that bacteria can reproduce 500,000 times faster than we can, with certain strains giving rise to a billion offspring within several hours.
Now that we’ve made it our mission to maintain sterile environments and avoid illness, we’ve been combating bacteria with chemicals and antibiotics every chance we get. Antimicrobials are used in everything from hand soap, to skin wipes, to yoga mats and kitchen towels, creating what can only be described as a Darwinian battleground, where only the strongest bacteria survive.