I do not like to use fear as a motivator for change, and I don’t often talk about the darker reasons underlying what I do. But, at times, the context helps to to explain some of the decisions I make. This is one of those times.
Three years ago, I learnt about the technology – Biotech – that transformed me into a full-time social reformer. Just think about the impact Moore’s Law has had in the past 2 decades! Think about how much it has changed our lives, through the explosion of innovation created by the exponential growth of computing power. We now have more computing power than President Clinton had when he was in office. Biotech is moving a staggering 3 to 5 times faster than Moore’s Law predicted and the progress of this technology will eclipse anything ever seen before. It is even more staggering that very few people can even see it coming – let alone understand the implications.
Biology has become an information technology. We are now able to analyse, code, edit and print DNA. And the cost of it has fallen through the floor, to the point that we can give anyone, anywhere, access to it, for very little money. The repercussions for the human race are incredible.
There is an infinite number of ways this technology can be used, but I just want to highlight a couple of use cases that will change everything:
The Impact of Biotech on Security
With easy access to skills and technology, an explosion of innovation will help us to tackle global problems like hunger, climate change and energy.
There are millions of new bio-programmers coming onstream. But it only takes one person with a grudge on society, or some other problem, to have a hugely negative impact on the world. The ability to synthetically create killer diseases is becoming quite easy and cheap. This cannot be controlled. I am talking about kids accessing this technology, using items they will be able to buy from Amazon – by the end of this decade.
The social and economic impact of disease-release is huge. SARS and Ebola are just two examples – and think how much panic they caused! Epidemics could be created any day, anywhere, in a relatively short space of time. We are not far from the point where one human being has the capability to destroy us all.
How can humanity deal with such an escalation of risk? This is a question we have to answer – quickly.
The impact of Biotech on Human Longevity
The second example is the impact of the Biotech industry on ageing. Ageing is now seen as a reversible disease, rather than an absolute. There are already people editing their DNA to stop ageing. This is not simply about keeping people alive, either. This is about being fitter at 150 than you were at 40. Some circles say that within the next decade or two, our predicted life expectancy will accelerate faster than we are actually ageing. Not ‘maybe’. This is very highly likely.
Your pension is likely to be worth a lot less, sooner than you realise. Much of our economic model is pinned on the assumption that we are going to die. The world already struggles to cope with the financial burden of current projections in life expectancy. What will the markets do when the full financial liabilities of our true ageing profile get out?
What is the fallout? What is the social impact of only certain (rich) people having access to ‘anti-ageing’ technology in the beginning, when others will not? What kind of social unrest will occur when people are told that they will never get a pension? Once sentiment starts to shift, the full liabilities and risks of this emerging technology mean that market value can disappear overnight.
As I said, these are just two disruptive examples of this technology’s use. A huge number of emerging technologies and an infinite number of applications are developing far faster than we realise. Unless there is a radical shift in society, I cannot see how the human race can survive longer than the next 10-15 years. What lies ahead in the short term is far more serious than huge problems like climate change.
Two things need to happen – and these two things are closely linked. First, we need to heal the inner pain that is fundamental to the models of scarcity we have built – whether individual or societal. But ultimately, we have a huge job to do – to create a world where no human being feels so lost that they want to cause harm to others. There are emerging technologies and processes that can achieve this, but they need to spread around the world very quickly to make the impact required.
There also has to be a radical shift away from globalisation and a move towards local resilience. Local resilience in food production, in energy production, in financial systems, in healthcare, and so on. Think about all the power games being played in the world – the limited sharing of resources and the global systemic risks of that. My own community has less than 2 weeks’ food supply, which could easily falter if the financial mechanisms behind the global food system fail for a while. How urgently would they get a small island back onstream? How long would it take for economic systems to reboot, in the event of collapse? More than 2 weeks, I fear.
Peace comes when everyone has enough to thrive.
As a father and community member, I am faced with these issues every day.
This is why I do what I do.
P.S. It’s not all doom! There is more hope than you realise. Listen to my Podcast with Nadav Wilf on how any problem is becoming solvable in a very short space of time http://coffeefromtheedge.com/episode-10-nadav-wilf/