Two scary things

Scarier than Al Qaeda? Yup, at least I think so.

The January issue of Wired Magazine has an article buried in the back (The First Cloning Superpower1) that  spooks the hell out of me. The author, Charles Mann, investigates the status of Therapeutic Cloning in China.

Unlike Europe and the United States, where the government is attempting to impose tight controls on stem cell and human cloning research, the mainland Chinese government is actively encouraging and funding its scientists in the hope of gaining an early and significant lead in this disruptive technology

Therapeutic cloning, as contrasted with reproductive cloning doesn't attempt to make whole humans, only spare parts. This makes perfect sense when you think of it. As Qi Yaqiang, at Peking University, says We have a huge population problem and a one-child policy.... Why would you think about making people in a laboratory? 

On the other hand, the business of creating custom-grown cloned hearts or other organs is the low hanging fruit of the cloning world and will likely be a megabusiness in the future. The creepy twilight-zone reality of this technology is perfectly highlighted in the intro picture to the story where a perfect human ear is growing on the back of a white lab rat. It's both banal and oddly horrifying!

So, one might ask, why is this so scary?  It's not that the Chinese will get there first, but that once we get there at all, the next few steps are likely to be fast and steep.  This is an extremely disruptive technology and I'm positive down to my last synapse that we aren't ready to handle it.  Not ethically, spiritually or even legally.  Once this genie is out of the bottle I don't think things will every be the same again.  

Why's that?  Well (the author takes a long slow breath), we are taking control of our own evolution in the most literal sense but I don't think we're ready for the responsibility by a long shot.  Lewis Thomas once said that man is like a creature with the body of a whale but the mind of a mouse (paraphrase).   Although we don't have the right equipment to integrate this technology into our world yet, it's coming at us like a freight train. 

This really isn't about therapeutic cloning, or the Chinese for that matter.  Bill Joy offers robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech as the "scariest," technologies in his futurist manifesto, "Why the future doesn't need us.2"  The message is the same though: the tipping point is near and we don't seem to be able to do a damned thing about it.  I fear for my children, I really do.

Footnotes:
1Wired Article: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.01/cloning.html
2 Why the future doesn't need us: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html


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