The Corner

Science & Tech

Here Comes ‘Blade Runner World!’

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner(1982) (Warner Bros.)

The 1982 film Blade Runner presented audiences with brilliant dystopian visual images of a dark, joyless non-society set in a future Los Angeles steeped in a radically individualistic social anarchy so pervasive that rich human interconnections no longer exist, in which genetically engineered life forms are so ubiquitous it is impossible to know where the natural ends and the bioengineered begins.

How would such a society come into being? Socializing and binding institutions would fail,  leading to a collapse of civic society. Then, add to the recipe a stunning failure to properly regulate biotechnologies — the most powerful and potentially impactful inventions ever conjured out of the minds of man — for ethics and morality as well as safety.

It could happen. Can anyone deny our civic and political institutions are in crisis? Moreover, as you read these words, biotechnologists are creating the most powerful technologies known to man. And yet, there is a paucity of legally enforceable regulations creating proper parameters around the technology to govern what can and can’t be done.

Take the manufacture of germline gene-edited babies. It is profoundly unethical to (essentially) manufacture babies with genetic alterations that will pass the alterations down the generations for no urgent medical purpose. It is to change these babies’ futures and those of their progeny.  It is to treat the birth of babies as a mere  medical experiment, without any sure knowledge of what impact these alterations will have on their lives.

Meanwhile, we are told that the scientists can be trusted to self-regulate their ethics. After a Chinese biotechnologist created the first gene-edited babies — landing him in prison because he embarrassed his government — now, a Russian scientist has announced he plans to be next.  From the Nature story:

A Russian scientist says he is planning to produce gene-edited babies, an act that would make him only the second person known to have done this. It would also fly in the face of the scientific consensus that such experiments should be banned until an international ethical framework has agreed on the circumstances and safety measures that would justify them.

Consensus these days is meaningless without enforceable legal penalties to back it up.

It is long past time that governments impose legally enforceable domestic moratoriums and that these be reinforced by international bans on creating these babies. Sure, Wesley. And Donald Trump will quit tweeting.

It is startling to realize that Blade Runner takes place in 2019. While we have certainly not yet devolved into a “Blade Runner World,” the movie’s dark prophetic vision is starting to come true.

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