OCTOBER 14, 2018
The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has sparked controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their own and their children’s DNA.
Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who died in March, made the final predictions in a collection of articles and essays.
The scientist presents the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday.
“I am sure that during this century people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” he wrote.
“Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life.”
In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking’s final thoughts on the universe’s biggest questions, the physicist suggests that wealthy people would soon be able to choose to edit their own and their children’s genetic makeup to create superhumans with enhanced memory, disease resistance, intelligence and longevity.
Hawking suggests that breakthroughs in genetics will make it attractive for people to try to improve themselves, raising issues for “unimproved humans”.
“Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.”
The comments refer to techniques such as Crispr-Cas9, a DNA-editing system that was invented six years ago, allowing scientists to modify harmful genes or add new ones. London’s Great Ormond Street hospital for children has used gene-editing to treat children with an otherwise incurable form of leukaemia.
However, questions have been raised about whether parents would risk using such techniques for fear the enhancements would have side-effects.
The astronomer Lord Rees, who was a friend of Hawking at Cambridge University but often disagreed with his peer, noted that a sperm bank in California offering only “elite” sperm, including from Nobel prize-winners, closed due to lack of demand.
Courtesy/Source: The Guardians