CRISPR, the new technology that allows scientists to genetically edit our DNA, will be the end of normal humans, according to Stephen Hawking in his final publication Brief Answers to the Big Questions.
Before his passing, Hawking penned a series of essays on his final research, which included a few cautionaries for our future. He prefaced his musings with an upbeat recollection of his storied career, but his warnings proved incredibly depressing. Namely, the fact that he believed genetically modified superhumans will eventually rule our species, elbowing out the rest of us naturally born plebeians.
Of course, these observations went beyond Hawking’s traditional field of study, though they were corollaries to the work of an astrophysicist who aimed to define some of the deeper questions about our existence.
But whether or not you agree with his adamantly atheist, parting claim that God doesn’t exist, it’s easier to sympathize with his fear that designer humans with superior genetics may be around the corner and may exacerbate the ever-expanding crevasse of inequality in the world.
“Once such superhumans appear, there are going to be significant political problems with the unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” Hawking said. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant.”
Forget your fears of automation putting people out of work, superhumans will make us all obsolete anyway. But is this really a legitimate threat or another dystopian, sci-fi fantasy? We’d like to have more faith in humanity and believe it’s the latter.
CRISPR is certainly making leaps and bounds in genetic engineering, specifically to cure untreatable disease and prevent genetic mutations, but many are worried the technology will soon be used to create designer babies. Hawking feared this prospect, despite the fact that its premise is based on distant, unproven possibilities and a lack of faith that those with access to the technology actually have ethics.
Hawking also fails to recognize the fact that the same science and ethics that created the technology which allowed him to continue his work – and continue to live for that matter – is what lead to CRISPR in the first place. Put simply, the potential biomedical breakthroughs from CRISPR technology are likely to prevail over the pessimistic dystopian possibilities he put forward.
For more on how technology is allowing us to become superhuman in a less dystopian way, check out this documentary with Dr. Jordan Nguyen, Becoming Superhuman: