At TED 2009, now halfway through the near-weeklong binge of activities and presentations, Juan Enriquez energized and perhaps terrorized attendees with his brief look into the future of human affairs, and indeed, of the human species. What made Enriquez' presentation so engaging was that his vision wasn't that far off, this sci-fi future that he spoke of; it's the future that is unveiling itself right before us, a future that we will all likely watch arrive, and our children will come to know as reality.
Chairman and CEO of Biotechonomy, Enriquez says that humanity is on the verge of becoming a new and utterly unique species, which he dubs Homo Evolutis. What makes this species so unique is that it "takes direct and deliberate control over the evolution of the species." Calling it the "ultimate reboot," he points to the conflux of DNA manipulation and therapy, tissue generation, and robotics as making this great leap possible.
We are already in the midst of minor improvements to the human body and mind; Enriquez gave examples of growing new tissues for successful transplant, programmable cells, and augmenting our abilities through robotics. As this trend accelerates, more and more aspects of the human experience, of the human life, will be capable of scientific manipulation. While some improvement may come post-birth, our understanding of DNA and biology may lead to something much bigger.
The day may come when we are able to take the best biology of the known animal kingdom and make it part of our own. This isn't just about being a bit stronger, or having perfect eyesight our whole lives. All of our organs and limbs have weaknesses that can be addressed, and there are also opportunities to go beyond basic fixes and perform more elaborate enhancements. At a private lunch on Thursday, Enriquez spoke of a young girl who, after suffering a knee injury, received tendon replacement therapy centered around tendons grown in a lab. It not only fixed her knee, but made it stronger than normal. Later in life as she pursued life as a professional skier, the coach actually asked that she have the same surgery on her other knee to increase her abilities.
The point was clear: one day it will be possible for everyone to have stronger joints, bones, etc., thanks to work being done today, work which may ultimately be delivered into DNA. We would become a species that could, literally, control its own biological destiny.
All TED talks are limited to 18 minutes (in theory), so Enriquez wasn't able to elaborate beyond the basic points, nor was he able to field questions, which would have undoubtedly included essentialist objections to his notion of speciation or evolution. But for those 18 minutes, Enriquez painted the clearest path towards humanity's Borg-like future I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. It is no coincidence that he also mentioned, briefly, the need for ethical dialog around these issues.
All of this, coincidentally, was prefaced by a short discussion about our economic woes as of late, and Enriquez's view of the way out. With the massive growth in mandatory spending, Enriquez called for an end to entitlements, and a return to the acceptance of austerity. Tough times are unavoidable.
He also had comments on the workforce that were more relevant to his presentation. Like many, Enriquez believes that our workforce is going to work later and later in life, to the age of 70 and beyond. This is necessary because we need more production, and also because we must reduce the amount of time seniors spend collecting money from governments. In this way, the dawn of Homo Evolutis will not merely be occasioned by our desire to live longer, but by the necessity of it.