Scientists Hellbent on Human, AI Gain-of-Function Experiments
The world has a “science gone drunk with power” problem, Joe Doran writes
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Imagine super soldiers who can shrug off a chemical weapons attack and keep right on waging war.
Geneticist Robin Lovell-Badge has dangled the prospect like a carrot, to entice regulators to allow human Heritable Gene Editing (HGE) experiments to continue, unimpeded by authorities.
Meanwhile, AI developers are pushing their experiments virtually unbound, questing to create the most sophisticated and dangerously powerful AI possible. But not to worry. They’re only doing it, in order to test the capabilities of such systems, in order to learn how to mitigate any risks from so-called “strong AI” or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). (See our recent article “WHAT AI CAN’T KNOW, MAY JUST KILL YOU,” 28 Mar 2023.)
The world has a “science gone drunk with power” problem, and it’s only going to get worse, as long as humanity sees the “progress” of science as inevitable, and as the primary framework for mediating and understanding our existence.
Several events in March have underscored how twin transhuman revolutions in Artificial Intelligence and human genome editing are now squarely in the public’s consciousness, making news headlines almost every day.
But as the revolution rolls out, the public is being largely led astray concerning the monumentally destructive ramifications of unbound pursuits of scientists, and their enabling governmental authorities.
A combination of extreme anti-human ideological goals, “technology arms race,” and self-serving prestige and profit are the primary factors driving their unbound pursuits.
The more honest among them admit there are real, catastrophic potentials and risks in what they are doing and attempting to do.
But they have decided for the rest of us that the potential benefits outweigh any risks, and that their research and experiments must be allowed to continue, for the betterment of humankind.
But the betterment of humankind—or at least natural humankind—is not not only NOT their goal, but is destined to be a certain casualty of their work.
If allowed to proceed, Heritable Gene Editing and Artificial General Intelligence will spell the end of natural humanity, and assure a post-human future, period.
From Ray Kurzweil to Ben Geortzel to Sam Altman, and Robin Lovell-Badge to Yuval Harari, thought leaders in these fields are themselves providing ample quotes and prognostications regarding the looming disaster, even as they sell the upside.
Conference Pretends to say No to HGE, while Advocating for Continued Experimentation
An influential “Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing” was held between 8 and 10 March, co-sponsored by K Royal Society, UK Academy of Medical Sciences, US National Academies of Sciences and Medicine, and The World Academy of Sciences.
Regarding human gene editing that can be passed on, effectively entering the natural human gene pool, the Summit engaged in a kind of doublespeak.
It said the technology should not be attempted in any trials, but only because the technology was not yet reliable.
In other words, it offered no specific moral or ethical grounds for prohibiting HGE.
Its statement summarizing the Summit said with regard to HGE:
“Heritable human genome editing remains unacceptable at this time. Public discussions and policy debates continue and are important for resolving whether this technology should be used. Governance frameworks and ethical principles for the responsible use of heritable human genome editing are not in place. Necessary safety and efficacy standards have not been met.”
Sound like a rejection of HGE?
Not quite. The very next paragraph emphatically argues that HGE research, which involves experimenting on human embryos, be allowed to continue:
“Governance mechanisms for human genome editing need to protect ongoing, legitimate research, while preventing clinics or individuals from offering unproven interventions in the guise of therapies or ways to avoid disease.”
The statement returns to HGE, making clear that the technology will be on the table as soon as technical hurdles to its reliable use can are overcome:
“Preclinical evidence for the safety and efficacy of heritable human genome editing has not been established, nor has societal discussion and policy debate been concluded. (In some cases, preimplantation genetic testing is among the alternatives.) Heritable human genome editing should not be used unless, at a minimum, it meets reasonable standards for safety and efficacy, is legally sanctioned, and has been developed and tested under a system of rigorous oversight that is subject to responsible governance. At this time, these conditions have not been met.”
The summit confirmed that a number of labs are currently experimenting with different technologies that would enable HGE.
Three areas of research involve:
Using popular editing the CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing system
Gene “base editing” and “prime editing” techniques; and
Genetically altering gametes (ie. eggs and sperm)
While CRISPR technology is the leading gene editing system, it has so far shown limitations with regard to human heritable gene editing.
Trying to use CRISPR-Cas9 resulted in large DNA deletions at the editing site in human embryos, which might go undetected using standard tests, said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a biologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said at the summit. Other researchers reported similar results.
Attempts at gene base editing, which can change a single DNA letter into another, and a technique termed prime editing, whereby scientists can insert DNA sequences more predictably than when employing CRISPR–Cas9, were also reported at the summit, according to the science journal Nature.
But while researchers at Kunming University of Science and Technology in China said this technique preserved DNA in replication, it caused RNA mutations in rhesus macaque test embryos.
A third area of HGE research consists of altering gametes, or even stem cells that give rise to these. The object is to avoid mutation and other issues of concern, such as gene edits in embryos not succeeding in all cells, resulting in a mix of edited and unedited cells.
Researchers at the summit reported progress with gamete editing, but emphasized it still involved challenges.
“We are still keen that the research goes ahead,” Lovell-Badge, chair of Summit’s organizing committee, made clear with regard to HGE. He added, “In parallel, there has to be more debate about whether the technique is ever used.”
But though there was an exhibit at the summit called “Cut + Paste,” inviting the public to “contemplate” examples of gene editing, there was no substantial debate involving voices forthrightly opposed to HGE.
In 2015, an earlier summit failed to call for a ban on HGE. (“Summit rules out ban on gene editing embryos destined to become people,” The Guardian, 3 Dec 2015.)
The group said at the time:
“It would be irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of
germline editing unless and until the relevant safety and efficacy issues have been resolved, based on appropriate understanding and balancing of risks, potential benefits, and alternatives, and there is broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application.”
That declaration very arguably led to a notorious incident where a Chinese scientist performed HGE on human embryos in an attempt to make them resistant to HIV. Embryos were then implanted in a woman, resulting in the birth of twin girls.
So much for “broad societal consensus” putting a hold on the world’s first embryonically heritable gene edited humans.
The scientist, He Jiankui, revealed his “success” at the last International Summit on Human Genome Editing in 2018.
JianKui ended up in jail, but he was released in the spring of 2022.
Futurism noted at the time:
“Needless to say, there are immense and unanswered scientific and ethical questions surrounding the entire concept of tinkering with human DNA — starting with the fact that leading experts still have no idea how genetic code even operates in the totality of an organism.
“But the fact that it’s been done for the first time is a bell that can’t be unrung.”
(“Scientist Who Genetically Modified Human Babies Released From Prison,” 4 Apr 2022.)
Lovell-Badge Ideas For Creating Super Soldiers
Caution with regard to gene editing doesn’t appear to exist in Robin Lovell-Badge’s vocabulary. And that’s important, given the fact that he’s one of the most influential and decorated geneticists in the world, heading up genetic summits that make recommendations to political bodies.
Lovell-Badge conveyed his own extreme visions for genetic transhumanism, in the lead-up to the recently concluded summit.
In an interview with The Guardian, he detailed various ways gene editing could create super soldiers.
“You could also think about modifying liver enzymes to make men and women better able to rid their bodies of toxins used in chemical warfare, or to make changes that make them more resistant to biological weapons,”
Lovell-Badge said. “That is the kind of human enhancement that military researchers are thinking about now.”
Lovell-Badge design ideas also touched on altering humans so they “could see in the infrared or the ultraviolet range, as some animals can do.”
He added that “Such enhancements would be ideal for troops fighting at night or in other hostile conditions.”
From Curing Diseases to Enhancing Humans—A Coming Consequence “Biocapitalism” or Scientism?
Scientists invested in advancing genetic technologies should not be expected to lead any real debates on whether the technologies should be utilized.
Some have blamed “bio-capitalism” as a reason why the field of genetic technologies are pushing the envelope regarding human heritable genome editing.
A Guardian article that coincided with the opening of this year’s genetic summit said the prospect of editing humans not just to cure serious maladies, but to make humans “faster, smarter, stronger, or more resistant to disease,” was seen by some as “inevitable”:
“Regardless, some see it as inevitable. Professor Mayana Zatz at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and founder of the Brazilian Association of Muscular Dystrophy, said she was ‘absolutely against editing genes for enhancement,’ but added: ‘There will always be people ready to pay for it in private clinics and it will be difficult to stop.’ Baylis believes genetic enhancement is ‘inevitable’ because so many of us are ‘crass capitalists, eager to embrace biocapitalism’.”
(“Forthcoming genetic therapies raise serious ethical questions, experts warn,” 6 Mar 2023)
But filthy lucre is hardly the only whipping post. JianKui dreamed of winning the Nobel Prize for his accomplishment.
Perhaps one day he will be rehabilitated by Chinese authorities eager to claim a first with regard to a breakthrough transformative technology, and receive his reward.
Prestige, including achieving sensational “firsts” in the ever-progressing march of science, can hardly be overlooked as a motivating factor for those involved in advanced genetic research.
But a scientific outlook which sees itself as the only truly relevant way of mediating the world, may be the ultimate source of the problem.
The notion that “progress” must inevitably control, design and “improve” the physical world to an ever greater self-actualization, is the core premise of the science worldview.
It is fundamentally transhuman, because its object is progress itself, not recognizing any special dignity of humans as made in the image of a Creator.
If HGE is destined to be unleashed further, it is because scientists respect no bounds with regard to natural humanness.
For related articles, see:
“FOR TECHNOCRATIC ELITES, THERE IS NO ‘NATURAL’” (30 Mar 2021)
“THE ‘PROGRESS’ OF LEAVING HUMANS BEHIND” (1 Jun 2021)
“ARE HUMANS ALREADY BEING GENETICALLY LEGISLATED?” (8 Jun 2021)
“CRISPR CREATOR SAYS GENE EDITING JUST GETTING STARTED” (22 Jun 2021)
“‘BIO-PHARMA’ PROFITING OFF A TRANSHUMAN FUTURE” (27 Jul 2021)
“TECHNO EUGENICS: SUPERIOR BABIES JUST A POLYGENIC RISK SCORE AWAY” (12 Oct 2021)
“GENETIC MODIFICATIONS BEING PREPPED TO “SOLVE” EVERYTHING” (18 Jan 2022)
“THE TRANSHUMAN WAR HAS ALREADY BEGUN” (29 Mar 2022)
“WHAT DO AMERICANS REALLY THINK ABOUT AI AND HUMAN GENE EDITING?” (7 Jun 2022)
“EVOLUTION 2031: FROM HUMANS DESIGNING MACHINES, TO MACHINES DESIGNING HUMANS” (4 Oct 2022)
“U.K. MAY LEGALIZE HERITABLE GENE EDITING BY 2023” (15 Nov 2022)
“TRANSHUMANISM: YES THERE’S A PARTY FOR THAT” (31 Jan 2023)
“‘ETHICAL OFFSPRING’ MOVEMENT WILL DEMAND HERITABLE HUMAN GENE EDITING” (14 Feb 2023)
Those pushing these changes are people in a hurry. It seems to be a disturbing alliance of two groups. One is the impatient "Dr. Frankenstein" types we've always had, wanting to leapfrog patient methodical science. The other is technocratic elites anxious to complete development of the technological yoke they hope to harness society with before it permanently escapes their grasp.
"Scientist Who Genetically Modified Human Babies Released From Prison" says it all.
Tech, Big banking and Big Pharma is calling all the shots on our future, and we don't even get a vote.