What if we are not doomed?
So, I recommend listening to After On, a really amazing podcast that covers some of the topics most relevant to our species, and this blog lingers on: AI, ethics, technology and change. The most recent podcast was an interview with Naval Ravikant, and it’s a great exploration of existential risk that will hopefully instill listeners with a sense of the challenges facing our species.
Episode 44: Naval Ravikant | End Games (part one) | Click to Listen
Episode 45: Naval Ravikant | End Games (part two) | Click to Listen
And in it, they both agree that we are pretty much doomed.
The reason is: we have Enders. Enders are members of our species who are suicidal and homicidal and who, if given a button to push that would end all human life, would push that button. Without hesitation.
This problem isn’t just solved by limiting access to machine guns. This threat makes school shootings appear quaint. Because synthetic biology is going to let people craft diseases that can wipe out, well, everyone. CRISPR editing techniques will make it possible for an undergraduate level human to craft death for the species in a bottle.
Except, what if…we evolved.
What if this threat, from the unseen world of microbiology, is what propelled us to take disease seriously. What if we had a Manhattan Project approach to artificially augment our immune systems to protect us from anything. And then used synthetic biology gene editing to ensure this approach became part of the DNA of our entire species.
Big thought, especially since we barely understand our immune system now. But if I told you that an asteroid was heading to wipe out the planet in five years, I am pretty sure we would get pretty good at launching rockets pretty fast.
The asteroid is on its way, but it is too small to see and comes with a cough. Then people just start dropping dead. No zombies, no dramatic music, no planes into buildings, just dead people and complete social breakdown.
We are an amazing species and I refuse to give up because of some broken Enders. There are only two paths to avoid catastrophic action from a biological pathogen. Either we identify and stop all the Enders from obtaining the necessary technology and know-how, which seems unlikely since even intelligent and stable people can become suicidal, or we cure disease for all time.
At a certain point our species needed to travel across the sea, so we built boats. Now we need to extend our immune systems to become vessels to help us navigate these dangerous waters. Machine learning and synthetic biology can protect us, just as it can kill us.
What will not protect us is more fear. We are filled with fear and dread, at least you will be after listening to that podcast and considering the reality of our situation. We need a serious multinational approach toward building real defenses against the horror to come.
Maybe someday we will be able to detect Enders using AI. But when all it takes is one miss to result in apocalypse, we can’t risk a misidentification. But if nothing could make us sick, we not only have mitigated the risk, we have made the world a better place.
Image from Vox article on CRISPR