Michael Bess is a historian of science at Vanderbilt University and the author of a fascinating new book, Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in a Bioengineered Society. Bess’s book offers a sweeping look at our genetically modified future, a future as terrifying as it is promising.
“What’s happening is bigger than any one of us”
We single out the industrial revolutions of the past as major turning points in human history because they marked major ways in which we changed our surroundings to make our lives easier, better, longer, healthier.
So these are just great landmarks, and I’m comparing this to those big turning points because now the technology, instead of being applied to our surroundings — how we get food for ourselves, how we transport things, how we shelter ourselves, how we communicate with each other — now those technologies are being turned directly on our own biology, on our own bodies and minds.
And so, instead of transforming the world around ourselves to make it more what we wanted it to be, now it’s becoming possible to transform ourselves into whatever it is that we want to be. And there’s both power and danger in that, because people can make terrible miscalculations, and they can alter themselves, maybe in ways that are irreversible, that do irreversible harm to the things that really make their lives worth living.
“We’re going to give ourselves a power that we may not have the wisdom to control very well”
I think most historians of technology … see technology and society as co-constructing each other over time, which gives human beings a much greater space for having a say in which technologies will be pursued and what direction we will take, and how much we choose to have them come into our lives and in what ways.