Hot Topic: Is the Future Now for Designer Babies and Human GMOs?
An August 2 New York Times headline—“In Breakthrough, Scientists Edit a Dangerous Mutation From Genes in Human Embryos” —triggered one of those “the future is now” moments, when we recognize a present that has seemingly caught up with futures once only imagined.
The goal of “gene editing” technology, CRISPR-Cas9, is to prevent inheritable disorders by repairing a single defective gene before it can be passed on to the next generation. Earlier this year, an advisory panel of scientists at the National Academy of Sciences offered support for such gene editing for preventing serious diseases or disabilities or those for which there are no alternative treatments.
“We’ve known this was coming for decades, at least since the 1970s,” observes science journalist Tabitha M. Powledge on the PLOS On Science blog. Futurists and science fiction writers have long warned that such tools could be used to create designer or super babies from otherwise healthy embryos. (In more disturbing scenarios, hackers could create human GMOs with unimaginable deformities.)
So are we there yet? Powledge offers a well-balanced collection of opinions on the topic, concluding that those who think such scenarios won’t happen “anytime soon” are “engaged in the very human practice of kicking the can down the road.”
Whether designer babies or human GMOs are imminent, bioethicist Arthur L. Caplan advises us to “keep our ethical eye on the right ethical ball.” We need oversight—“rules with teeth” and close monitoring of all experimentation in human genetic engineering—and clarity on issues such as ownership of the technologies. “Important patent fights are underway among the technology’s inventors,” Caplan points out. “That means people smell lots of money.”
“Correction of a pathogenic gene mutation in human embryos,” Nature (online August 2, 2017). Access doi:10.1038/nature23305.
“In Breakthrough, Scientists Edit a Dangerous Mutation From Genes in Human Embryos” by Pam Belluck, New York Times (August 2, 2017).
“Inevitable successful gene editing of viable human embryos. No designer babies, but lots and lots of links” by Tabitha M. Powledge, On Science blog, Public Library of Science (August 4, 2017).
“The Code of Life,” Future Crunch (August 3, 2017).
“Commentary: Don’t fear the rise of superbabies. Worry about who will own genetic engineering technology” by Arthur L. Caplan, Chicago Tribune (August 2, 2017).
Moves in the Field
Paramount Pictures has hired digital cinema innovator Ted Schilowitz as the studio’s first futurist-in-residence. Schilowitz, previously a consulting futurist at Fox, will pursue immersive cinema, augmented reality, and other technologies to enhance audience experiences, he says. He’ll also continue his work as chief creative officer at Barco Escape. Read “Paramount Hires Ted Schilowitz as Studio's First Futurist” by Rebecca Ford, Hollywood Reporter (July 13, 2017).
Mark Your Calendar for Public Sector Futures
The next joint meeting of the Public Sector Foresight Network and the Federal Foresight Community of Interest will take place October 20 in Crystal City, Virginia, with an enhanced “virtual meeting” option via Lync or Skype. The agenda will be based on expressed interests of PSFN and FFCOI members, but potentially will include discussion of the results of a major survey of federal foresight activities across agencies, which will be available by October. Learn more about PSFN.
Milestones and Honors
The Association of Professional Futurists marked its 15th anniversary during its annual meeting, held in Seattle in July. As Andy Hines notes in his blog, “the organization is once again on the cusp of a significant change. … Now, it’s time for a new group of leaders to guide APF on the next leg of its journey. I’m very excited to see what emerges.” For more about the APF meeting, see Seeking Delphi and GeekWire.
Also participating in APF’s event was Richard Yonck, author of The Heart of the Machine, whom GeekWire interviewed and named its Geek of the Week!
Help Wanted: Futurists
Associate Director: Forum for the Future, (Brooklyn, New York). A global nonprofit providing sustainability strategies for businesses, seeks an associate director to deliver and expand its program of one-on-one advisory work with U.S. partners, “with an emphasis on driving innovative and transformational strategies that will be successful in a variety of future scenarios.” Learn more or apply.
Senior Program Manager, Community Leadership: Singularity University, a global learning and innovation platform for accelerating technological entrepreneurship, seeks coordinator to connect chapters with marketing, business analytics, thought leadership, impact, and academics teams.
Learn more or apply.
Vice President, Corporate Communications: Under Armour (Baltimore, Maryland). Sports and fitness apparel brand seeks a vice president of consumer insights and analytics to join the Global Marketing team. “Equal part anthropologist, futurist, moderator, influencer and data scientist, this senior contributor will be instrumental to driving the intersection of consumer needs to cultural relevance across new wearable technologies, connected fitness, performance wear categories and design style.” Learn more or apply.
Senior Director of Innovation and Insights: World Kitchen (Rosemont, Illinois). Manufacturer of well-known household brands such as CorningWare, Revere, and Pyrex seeks a consumers’ champion who will discover unmet consumer needs and connect them to brand strategies and new product development pipelines. Learn more or apply.
Director of Marketing and Communications: SEED Foundation (Washington, D.C.) provides programmatic and operations support for SEED schools—tuition-free public, college-preparatory boarding schools for underserved students. Learn more or apply.
Program facilitators: Edu-Futuro (Educación Para Nuestro Futuro) in Arlington, Virginia, is accepting applications for the 2017-18 Moving Forward! AmeriCorps program year. The positions open with the AmeriCorps Emerging Leaders Program are for STEM robotics club facilitator, parent support, volunteer coordinator, and other facilitators. Learn more or apply.
Herbert Anthony (Tony) Stevenson, former president of the World Futures Studies Federation (1997-2001), died July 28 in Noosa, Australia. He was 80. Stevenson was introduced to futures studies while working toward his master’s degree in communications at the University of Hawaii. He then integrated futurism into his work upon returning to Australia, creating a research center that focused on the future of communications at the Queensland University of Technology. “He was one of the founders of futures studies in Australia,” said Sohail Inayatullah, whom Stevenson also helped start the Noosa Institute for the Future, which later became Metafuture. Read more at Courier-Mail or Sohail Inayatullah’s Facebook post July 29, 2017.
Martin A. (Marty) Sklar, aide to Walt Disney and one of the Disney company’s first imagineers, died July 27 in Hollywood Hills, California, at 83. Sklar is credited with helping develop every Disney theme park in the world, from Disneyland to the Shanghai Discovery Resort, including the makeover of Tomorrowland in 1998.