December 10, 2023

A peep into the future of science

Sir Isaac Newton once marvelled at "the great ocean of truth [which] lay all undiscovered before me", but modern scientists will soon turn the ocean into a shallow pond, according to theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, of the City College of New York. He is the host of a new BBC series in which scientists peer into the future.

His own feeling is that "We have unlocked the secrets of matter. We have unravelled the molecule of life, DNA. And we have created a form of artificial intelligence, the computer. We are making the historic transition from the age of scientific discovery to the age of scientific mastery in which we will be able to manipulate and mould nature almost to our wishes."

Nearly all of the predictions have some bioethical relevance, but here are two which are good talking points:

Control over human evolution, by Joel Garreau, author of Radical Evolution: "For the first time, our technologies are not so much aimed outward at modifying our environment in the fashion of agriculture or space travel; increasingly, technologies are aimed inward, at modifying our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities and our kids. And this is not in some distant, science-fiction future — this is now. What’s shocking about this is that if you can do all that, you’re talking about humans becoming the first species to take control of their own evolution."

An end to ageing, by Prof Leonard Hayflick, University of California, San Francisco: "Our conscious recognition of the finitude of our lives is key to how we live. Virtually every aspect of our lives is governed by our sense of self and our sense of when we will age, and, of course, when we will die. One really has to think seriously about tampering with the ageing process and what its implications might be."