I just finished reading my latest book titled The Genesis Machine, in which authors Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel explore the world of synthetic biology. Although not as widely discussed as AI, Blockchain and others, it is perhaps the best example of why the future may look very different than the past. I have argued that the world is in the early stages of a phase transition. The content of the book represents a clear reason why.
The authors provide a riveting look into the world of synthetic biology. The book focuses initially on its origins, shifts to the here and now, and then pivots to a glimpse of the future. They provide several scenarios that help the reader envision that future, and in so doing, allow us to see both the potential for human development, as well as the possibility of several destructive paths. The book closes with a discussion on our way forward. As a world-renowned Futurist, Amy knows how to tell a story, and it is through storytelling that individuals can see the possibilities along both paths. The authors define synthetic biology as:
An emerging field of science promises to reveal how life is created and how it can be re-created, for many varied purposes: to help us heal without prescription medications, grow meat without harvesting animals, and engineer our families when nature fails us. That field, which is called synthetic biology, has a singular goal: to gain access to cells in order to write new—and possibly better—biological code.Amy Webb, Andrew Hessel – The Genesis Machine
As one of the most critical discussions we are likely to face in the foreseeable future, this is a timely look into a field that has the potential to change everything that we once believed. As they so accurately describe in the book, “If we encourage “What if?” questions today, we can avoid “What now?” questions in the future. I highly recommend it and have added it to my book library. The Amazon book abstract is included below.
The next frontier in technology is inside our own bodies.
Synthetic biology will revolutionize how we define family, how we identify disease and treat aging, where we make our homes, and how we nourish ourselves. This fast-growing field—which uses computers to modify or rewrite genetic code—has created revolutionary, groundbreaking solutions such as the mRNA COVID vaccines, IVF, and lab-grown hamburger that tastes like the real thing. It gives us options to deal with existential threats: climate change, food insecurity, and access to fuel.
But there are significant risks.
Who should decide how to engineer living organisms? Whether engineered organisms should be planted, farmed, and released into the wild? Should there be limits to human enhancements? What cyber-biological risks are looming? Could a future biological war, using engineered organisms, cause a mass extinction event?
Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel’s riveting examination of synthetic biology and the bioeconomy provide the background for thinking through the upcoming risks and moral dilemmas posed by redesigning life, as well as the vast opportunities waiting for us on the horizon.