Imagine a future in which memories can be implanted into your brain. Want to go to the Caribbean? India? Mars? Can’t afford the trip? No problem – if you have the memories of going, what’s the difference?
Of course, this is the plotline from recent sci fi remake Total Recall, and not a world we’re ever likely to inhabit. Or is it? It may sound implausible, but last month, scientists from MIT announced that they had achieved false memory implantation in mice.
At the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford, a group of academics attempt to unravel the likely cause of the end of the world. The top contenders, so called ‘global catastrophic risks’, include the sci fi stalwart totalitarianism, cold war favourite nuclear war and Jeremy Clarkson bugbear global warming. Also on the list is the threat arising from misuse of biotechnology. In an interview with the BBC in March of this year, the director of the FHI, Nick Bostrom, stated that synthetic biology was a primary concern in this area (along with artificial intelligence and nanotechnology). With these technologies advancing at such a rate, he argues, we are not fully able to comprehend the potential dangers of the tools we develop. This was likened to ‘a dangerous weapon in the hands of a child’ by Bostrom.
Admittedly, these guys are paid good money to let us know that the end is nigh. They are bound to err on the side of caution. But they’re not the only people raising such concerns
Synthetic Biology was not a term I’d ever come across before my boyfriend announced he was taking a job working on it. So, being a curious type, I looked it up. According to syntheticbiology.org (the natural first calling point for lazy googlers) synthetic biology is A) the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, or B) the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes. To translate from jargon, synthetic biologists aim to manipulate existing biological ‘parts’ and put them together in new ways to generate organisms with new functions. This still sounds pretty vague to me, but it’s important to pay attention to synthetic biology. Regardless of how familiar you are
Wolverine from the X-men is pretty awesome. Not only does he have a hairdo to die for and claws coated in adamantium (ask you nearest nerd), he also has the power to self-heal. As a naturally clumsy person, if I could pick a superpower then regeneration would be amongst my top choices, along with the clichéd invisibility and maybe a super-human metabolism. Excitingly, whilst many superhero powers remain just that, super, a breakthrough in stem cell technology may have brought us mere mortals a step closer to mimicking Wolverine’s healing powers*.