Bill Gates wants you to pay attention to gene editing… Here’s why

A scientific breakthrough in China led to concerns about inequality

Gattaca (1997). Columbia Pictures

It seems that Hollywood’s sci-fi stories and dystopian films are becoming our present reality.

This is what can be concluded from Bill Gate’s blog post wrapping up 2018: We are not paying enough attention to gene editing, a new technology that could make inequality even worse.

Gates clearly points out that Gene editing should be a priority issue to be publically discussed as it is”the most important public debate we haven’t been having widely enough.”

Dystopia is now

A 1997 film that tells the story of a human who cannot fulfill his dreams due to his genetically-inferior status. He tries to purchase a laboratory-engineered “status” to overcome his “in-valid” status.

In the same fashion, Gene editing – and its impact on inequality and meritocracy – was among the key topics that seemed to concern Microsoft’s founder… positively and negatively.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates released his annual “What I learned at work this year” letter— a blog post reflecting on a year’s worth of developments in the global issues he works to address.

Chinese scientific breakthrough

Gene editing made the news in November when a Chinese scientist announced that he had altered the genes of two baby girls when they were embryos. According to Gates, “what is unprecedented about his work is that he edited their germline cells, meaning the changes will be passed down to their children”. (The other, less controversial type of gene editing involves somatic cells, which aren’t inherited by future generations.)

Gates reflects on the controversy stating that he agrees “with those who say this scientist went too far”, but he adds: “something good can come from his work if it encourages more people to learn and talk about gene editing. This might be the most important public debate we haven’t been having widely enough.”

Gene editing deserves as much of the spotlight as AI.

Bill Gates I am surprised that these issues haven’t generated more attention from the general public. Today, artificial intelligence is the subject of vigorous debate. Gene editing deserves at least as much of the spotlight as AI.

I encourage you to read up on it whenever you have a chance. Keep an eye out for articles in your news feed. If you are willing to read a whole book, The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee is very well done.

Bill Gates closes his comments with the following statement:

This story is one to follow, because big breakthroughs—some good, some worrisome—are coming.

A new utopia (or dystopia) might just be around the corner…

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