The Dawn of a New Era
With breakthroughs in advanced quantum computing, humanity has finally decoded the mysteries of the human genome. In 2050, we have evolved the human species. For the first time in the entire existence of organic life, we can now re-engineer, reshape, and recreate human life through digital interfaces. We have eliminated the genetic lottery, and you now can program the exact traits you want in your children, from eye color, height, intelligence, sexual preferences, etc. We have borne a new human species: Homo Deus.
Although this evolution did not come from a god complex, power trip, or simply because we wanted to, it came out of necessity and the survival of our species. In 2019, when the Amazon Rain forest, the lungs of the Earth’s Biosphere collapsed, leaders of the UN and other well-renown researchers and scientists came to the conclusion that the effects of climate change are irreversible. What’s worse, they determined that many of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) won’t be achievable by 2030. It’s only a matter of time until our world becomes uninhabitable for most of biological life. We had to evolve or perish.
By 2030, with the polar ice caps melted, the Earth’s atmosphere consisted mostly of CO2, methane, and other contaminants; making our atmosphere nearly toxic. Coastline towns and cities flooded and the average temperature was between 90º and 110º year-round. Natural disasters, fires, hurricanes, and floods, have been more frequent and more severe; claiming several thousands of lives at a time.
In 2022, in a state of emergency, world governments planned and began an initiative called “Noah’s Ark” in an attempt to prevent potential mass extinction. We’ve retreated into large domed cities that sheltered us from the toxic air and heat. We saved as many other species as possible to preserve the Earth’s biodiversity. However, for the world’s richest, they opted to leave Earth and start colonies on the Moon and Mars. It was too expensive for many to abandon Spaceship Earth, the only home we have ever known.
The collective effort of countries, states, and cities developed several plans to slow down the effects of climate change. We moved and converted large livestock to micro-farms in our large domed cities by growing synthetic meat from a cow, chicken, and pig DNA — which significantly reduced our methane output. We created large industrial fans in an attempt to absorb the excess CO2 from the atmosphere to store them underground or convert them into re-usable fuel. [Concept]
Countries adopted different variations of the “New Green Deal” to help solve climate change such as switching over to 100% sustainable and renewable energy, yet nothing proved to be significant in the short-term to reverse the effects. Possibly, in the long-term, we see will see the positive impact of the Green Deal.
During the last 30 years, medical professionals, researchers, data scientists, and bioengineers explored and experimented with numerous ways on how to use infotech, biotech and nanotech, and Artificial Intelligence, to evolve our species to avoid extinction. As a result, we have seen several breakthroughs in healthcare and medical advancements unseen in previous decades, we have extended life, cured most diseases, and improved the whole population health despite the ecological collapse.
However, the most significant achievement has been at the convergence of quantum computing, biotechnology and nanotechnology, and AI, where humanity has been able to decode the mysteries of the human genome. We can now re-engineer, reshape, and recreate life to potentially survive the effects of the ecological collapse and create a new generation of humans to live on Earth, Mars, and beyond.
To save ourselves, we needed to re-engineer humans at the genetic base pairs completely. It was the only way any form of our species could live.
2050 marks the Dawn of Homo Deus; Latin for “man-god.”
The narrative above may be one of the many possible futures of what healthcare, medicine, and bio-engineering could become. What will such a drastic change mean for people? What will it mean if we had the power to re-engineer, reshape, and recreate biological life against people’s free will? What if we could read and rewrite our genetic code? Will such power contribute to the speciation of humanity?
As a species, we are at a pivotal moment in our biological history. From the eradication of all human diseases to genetic and biological engineering, we can recode our genetic make-up to write our history.
Vaccines and Infectious Disease
Humans and Epidemics have had a bloody history since the Great Plague. For example, the Plague was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351 — more than a quarter of the population of Eurasia.[Robert S. Lopez, The Birth of Europe].
In 1967, smallpox infected 15 million people and killed 2 million of them. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) began a global campaign against smallpox and engineered vaccine to stop the infections and deaths. In 1979, the worldwide battle against smallpox was so successful that the organization declared that humanity has won. In 2014, not a single person was killed by smallpox, and for the first time in history, more people are dying from old age and overeating rather than infectious disease. [David A. Koplow, Smallpox: The Fight to Eradicate a Global Scourge]
In the early 1980s, AIDS claimed more than 30 million people and tens of millions more suffered from debilitating physical and psychological damage. AIDS is deadly because HIV attacks the immune system and makes the infected highly susceptible to other diseases. [Hung Y. Fan, Ross F. Conner, and Luiz P. Villareal, AID: Science and Society, 6th Edition]
Today, the smallpox vaccination is no longer available to the public because, over time, populations have developed an immunity. Currently, children and adults are required to get vaccinations for the same reasons. Since the AIDS outbreak, humanity has turned the deadly disease into a chronic condition rather than a death sentence with the proper medication.
There are more that haven’t been mentioned such as more recent outbreaks scares — SARS in 2002, bird flu in 2005, swine flu in 2009, and Ebola in 2014 — we have overcome them every time without the same devastation as the Plague. Science, medicine, and healthcare have come a long way to extend human longevity and has added many good years from once we began.
Antibiotics and Superbugs
Unfortunately, they are more drug-resistant pathogens spreading among hospitals that don’t share the limelight with other infectious diseases. Multi-drug resistant pathogens, also known as superbugs, are beginning to develop immunity of their own against antibiotics, like all organic life, even bacteria evolve.
Take, for example. When you have prescribed antibiotics for an infection, you are instructed to take one pill a day for the next seven days. If you don’t follow the instructions and take it for six days instead of seven, you run the risk of developing a stronger, more drug-resistant bacteria.
Julia Belluz on the article, “Drug-resistant ‘superbugs’ are spreading — but your hospital doesn’t have to tell you, ” “Experts warn that as early as 2050, the death toll from drug-resistant infections will rise to 10 million.”
Belluz continues, “In the US alone, we see 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses — a conservative estimate — from drug-resistant infections every year.”
Experts have warned that superbugs are going to become more common soon. And without antimicrobials and antibiotics that work, common medical procedures such as hip operations, C-sections, or chemotherapy will become more dangerous, and other therapeutic interventions — organ transplants, chemotherapy — would be impossible to survive.
Fortunately, in 2015, doctors announced the discovery of a new antibiotic, teixobactin, to which bacteria have no resistance to as of yet. This antibiotic will serve a deterrent for superbugs, but we don’t know for how long. [Losee L. Ling et al., ‘A New Antibiotic Kills Pathogens without Detectable Resistance’]
As it stands, we are dying more from our lifestyle choices, environment, and underlying genetic code. What we eat, how we live, where we live, and what are base pairs dictate greatly determine premature death or life-long chronic disease rather than infectious disease.
Homo Deus: Endless Possibilities
From engineering vaccines and discovering antibiotics, we are entering a new era of bio-engineering of organic life. We have witnessed several breakthroughs that are moving humanity closer to the eradication of disease and the creator of life. Long gone will be the days of infectious disease, cancer, and chronic illness.
The Blueprint for Homo Sapiens
In April 2003, the first breakthrough was the success of the Human Genome Project, which successful sequenced the whole human genome. The purpose of the project was to provide a complete and accurate sequence of the 3 billion DNA base pairs that make up the human genome and find all of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 human genes.
The complete sequence of the human genome provided medical professionals, researchers, and scientists the blueprint needed to create a human being. It has allowed us to read and understand how the parts work together and to discover the genetic basis for health and pathology of human disease.
With this blueprint, it will eventually lead to highly useful diagnostic tools, better understand the health needs of people based on their genetic make-ups, and design new and highly effective treatments for disease. What’s more, based on DNA analysis, we’ll be able to learn about future illness in an individual or the entire population.
For example, companies like Illumina provide products and services to sequence the human genome for analysis of genetic variation and function. Currently, they are conducting studies in cancer research, microbiology, and Agrigenomics. [Illumina]
Read and Rewrite Protocol
The second breakthrough brought the introduction of gene editing with CRISPR-Cas9, introduced in 2012, (stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), which has given way to targeted genome editing. Think Microsoft Word for the entire human genome. For instance, CRISPR can edit point-mutations in an individual’s genetic make-up and could potentially cure diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, and Huntington’s disease. [Broad Institute]
Imagine, if you were born with Type 1 Diabetes, you would be able to go to your genetic counselor and undergo an elective genetic-procedure to repair your pancreatic cells to produce insulin. What’s more, while your child in the womb, or even before conception, you can have your genome sequenced and genetically modify and program the traits you want for your kid. For example, a scientist in China that gene-edited two babies were born in November 2018. [First Gene-Edited Babies]
Companies are already looking way to uncover the mysteries of the human genome, coupled with target genome editing, Big Data, and Machine Learning. We’ll soon see a new generation of genetic-intervention, which will be more effective and precise than medical interventions available today. This year, CRISPR entered its first human trials to combat cancer and blood disorders in people. [CRISPR enters its first human clinical trials]
Digital Human to Synthetic Fabrication
In the 2010s, the third breakthrough has been the introduction of Digital Health and 3D Printing, which provide methods of real-time health tracking and the ability to print limbs and organs. Examples that come to mind are Fitbit and Apple Watch. These smartwatches provide everyday people with the ability to track their biometrics such as heart rate, steps, sleep, etc.; giving them a 360º degree of themselves.
The power of 3D printing would eliminate the need for donors and transplants because we can print organs based on an individual’s genetic make-up. Currently, scientists are exploring ways of culturing organ-specific tissue from stem cells called “Organoids.” [Organoids: A new window into disease, development and discovery]
Companies like Apple and Google are providing platforms to track our health in real-time while companies like Illumina and 23andme sequence part or our whole genome. With the sequencing of the entire human genome, gene editing, and real-time health tracking, we will eventually be able to, not only track our health but genetically modify ourselves through smart devices and AI to fix bugs in our code accurately.
Although 3D printing organs and limbs aren’t scientifically viable yet, imagine if you were able to use a computer and 3D print your children based on the traits you want from you and your wife’s genome. Admittedly, less enjoyable than the traditional ways of having kids; however, this a possibility.
Growth for Concern
Sure, all of this sounds great. We could live in a disease-free world and live forever with superhuman powers, but we won’t be humans anymore. We would be playing god. Where would we draw the line in medicine and government policy? What if we could rewrite and edit our genetic code? What are the ethical implications of gene editing, and does this eliminate free will?
What’s more, data privacy and breaches of health records, consumer-facing companies, like 23andme and AncestryDNA, are collecting DNA records of their customers. How do we know our genetic information is adequately protected from data breaches and hacking? More importantly, who owns digital selves? Who owns our genomic data? Are we going to be denied health insurance because of genetic discrimination?
On the same token, if there were a breach, what would stop anyone from creating bio-weapons that can target a person’s specific genetic make-up without harming anyone else? What’s worse, what would prevent someone from creating another copy of ourselves, like the movie, Gemini Man? Just as there is a black market, there could potentially be a black market for genome sequencing, gene editing, etc at some point.