Jamie Metzl is a Senior Fellow for Technology and National Security at the Atlantic Council. After 4 billion years of evolution by one set of rules, our species is about to begin evolving by another. Overlapping and mutually reinforcing revolutions in genetics, information technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and other fields are providing the tools that will make it possible to genetically alter our future offspring should we choose to do so. Nearly everybody wants to have cancers cured and terrible diseases eliminated. Most of us want to live longer, healthier and more robust lives. Genetic technologies will make that possible. But the very tools we will use to achieve these goals will also open the door to the selection for and ultimately manipulation of non-disease-related genetic traits -- and with them a new set of evolutionary possibilities.
Genes carry the information that make you you. So it's fitting that, when sequenced and stored in a computer, your genome takes up gobs of memory--up to 150 gigabytes. Multiply that across all the people who have gotten sequenced, and you're looking at some serious storage issues. If that's not enough, mining those genomes for useful insight means comparing them all to each other, to medical histories, and to the millions of scientific papers about genetics. Sorting all that out is a perfect task for artificial intelligence.
Editor's note: This is Part II of a guest series written by legendary Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla, the founder of Khosla Ventures. In Part I, he laid the groundwork by describing how artificial intelligence is a combination of human and computer capabilities. In Part III, he will talk about how technology will sweep through education. I was asked about a year ago at a talk about energy what I was doing about the other large social problems, namely health care and education. Surprised, I flippantly responded that the best solution was to get rid of doctors and teachers and let your computers do the work, 24/7 and with consistent quality.
More and more, 67-year-old Washington resident Lon Coleman feels like he's wandering through a fog. He walks into the living room and forgets why, or makes a phone call only to blank on whose number he dialed. An author of three books who once wrote up to five poems a day, now the lines that spring to his mind often slip away as soon as he puts pencil to paper. Sometimes the fog clears, and when his memory comes back, "it's amazing," he says. "Sometimes it doesn't, I have to admit."
Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, recently announced a $3 billion effort to cure all disease during the lifetime of their daughter, Max. Earlier this year, Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker donated $250 million to increase collaboration amongst researchers to develop immune therapies for cancer. Google is developing contact lenses for diabetic glucose monitoring; gathering genetic data to create a picture of what a healthy human should be; and working to increase human longevity. The technology industry has entered the field of medicine and aims to eliminate disease itself. It may well succeed because of a convergence of exponentially advancing technologies such as computing, artificial intelligence, sensors, and genomic sequencing.