In order to give you pleasant dreams tonight, let me offer a few possibilities about the days that lie ahead — changes that may occur within the next twenty or so years, roughly a single human generation. Possibilities that are taken seriously by some of today’s best minds. Potential transformations of human life on Earth and, perhaps, even what it means to be human.
For example, what if biologists and organic chemists manage to do to their laboratories the same thing that cyberneticists did to computers? Shrinking their vast biochemical labs from building-sized behemoths down to units that are utterly compact, making them smaller, cheaper, and more powerful than anyone imagined. Isn’t that what happened to those gigantic computers of yesteryear? Until, today, your pocket cell phone contains as much processing power and sophistication as NASA owned during the moon shots. People who foresaw this change were able to ride this technological wave. Some of them made a lot of money.
Biologists have come a long way already toward achieving a similar transformation. Take, for example, the Human Genome Project, which sped up the sequencing of DNA by so many orders of magnitude that much of it is now automated and miniaturized. Speed has skyrocketed, while prices plummet, promising that each of us may soon be able to have our own genetic mappings done, while-U-wait, for the same price as a simple EKG. Imagine extending this trend, by simple extrapolation, compressing a complete biochemical laboratory the size of a house down to something that fits cheaply on your desktop. A MolecuMac, if you will. The possibilities are both marvelous and frightening.
When designer drugs and therapies are swiftly modifiable by skilled medical workers, we all should benefit.
But then, won’t there also be the biochemical equivalent of “hackers”? What are we going to do when kids all over the world can analyze and synthesize any organic compound, at will? In that event, we had better hope for accompanying advances in artificial intelligence and robotics… at least to serve our fast food burgers. I’m not about to eat at any restaurant that hires resentful human adolescents, who swap fancy recipes for their home molecular synthesizers over the Internet. Would you?