5 Topics That Are “Forbidden” to Science
A yearly conference organized by the MIT Media Lab tackles “forbidden research”, the science that is constrained by ethical, cultural and institutional restrictions. The purpose of the conference is to give scientists a forum to consider these ideas and questions and to discuss the viability and necessity of studying topics like the rights of AI and machines, genetic engineering, climate change and others.
Edward Snowden, who appeared remotely at the 2016 conference, summarized its “theme” as “law is no substitute for conscience.“ Pointing to his work against pervasive digital surveillance, he reiterated that “the legality of a thing is quite distinct from the morality of it.”
The major “forbidden” topics discussed at the conference were, unsurprisingly, wrought with political implications:
1. Messing with Nature
2. Engineering the Climate
3. Robot Ethics
4. Secure Communication Technology
5. Universal Access to Science
Could Genetic Engineering Lead to Unholy Mixing of Man and Beast?
By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz February 21, 2017
“Consider the work of God; for who can make that straight, which He hath made crooked?” Ecclesiastes 7:13 (The Israel Bible™)
New technology enabling scientists to manipulate genes, mixing human genes and organs with those of animals, is a disturbing trend in science which one rabbi believes mirrors the sin that led to global destruction in the generation of Noah.
Last week, the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine released a new report including recommendations to ensure genetic research done in the United States is performed responsibly and ethically. In essence, this report gave the greenlight to gene research, even though funding for such research is currently banned by the government because of the ethical dilemmas it raises.
The new technology bears with it practical risk. Genetic research can take two forms: gene editing to cure or prevent disease, and gene editing to enhance humans. Genetics is uncharted territory and scientists could accidentally introduce a dangerous mutation that will harm future generations, or, in an attempt to create vaccines, inadvertently create a superior form of the disease which could threaten mankind.
Rabbi Moshe Avraham Halperin of the Machon Mada’i Technology Al Pi Halacha (the Institute for Science and Technology According to Jewish Law) stated in response to the report that there are clear Torah guidelines for this new technology. Rabbi Halperin referred to the Biblical law concerning mixing of species.
The Post-Human World
A conversation about the end of work, individualism, and the human species with the historian Yuval Harari
Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
DEREK THOMPSON FEB 20, 2017
Famine, plague, and war. These have been the three scourges of human history. But today, people in most countries are more likely to die from eating too much rather than too little, more likely to die of old age than a great plague, and more likely to commit suicide than to die in war.
With famine, plague, and war in their twilight—at least, for now—mankind will turn its focus to achieving immortality and permanent happiness, according to Yuval Harari’s new book Homo Deus. In other words, to turning ourselves into gods.
Harari’s previous work, Sapiens, was a swashbuckling history of the human species. His new book is another mind-altering adventure, blending philosophy, history, psychology, and futurism. We spoke recently about its most audacious predictions. This conversation has been edited for concision and clarity.
Wired – Humans 2.0: these geneticists want to create an artificial genome by synthesising our DNA
Scientists intend to have fully synthesised the genome in a living cell – which would make the material functional – within ten years, at a projected cost of $1 billion
By EMMA BRYCE
Sunday 26 February 2017
In July 2015, 100 geneticists met at the New York Genome Center to discuss yeast. At 12 million base pairs long, it’s the largest genome scientists have tried to produce synthetically.
Andrew Hessel, a researcher with the Bio/Nano research group at software company Autodesk, was invited to speak at the event. The audience asked him which organism should be synthesised next. “I said, ‘Look around the room. You’ve got hardly anyone here and you’re doing the most sophisticated genetic engineering in the world,” Hessel recalls. “Why don’t you take a page out of history and set the bar high? Do the human genome.”
This triggered a panel discussion that stuck in Hessel’s mind for weeks. Soon afterwards, he contacted George Church, a prominent geneticist at Harvard University, to gauge his interest in launching what would effectively be the Human Genome Project 2.0. “To me it was obvious,” Hessel recalls. “If we could read and analyse a human genome, we should also write one.”
A year later, his provocation had become reality. In May 2016, scientists, lawyers and government representatives converged at Harvard to discuss the Human Genome Project-Write (HGP-Write), a plan to build whole genomes out of chemically synthesised DNA. It will build on the $3 billion (£2.3bn) Human Genome Project, which mapped each letter in the human genome.
Leading the Harvard event was Church, whose lab is synthesising the 4.5-million-base-pair E. coli genome, and Jef Boeke 1, the NYU School of Medicine geneticist behind the yeast synthesis project. “I think we realised the two of us were getting good enough at those two genomes that we should be discussing larger ones,” says Church.
“If we can achieve this, it should be possible to write large genomes in hours”