SU Faculty Finds: What to Read in March

At SU, our faculty members are always discovering great content that sparks fascinating discussions among ourselves and with those of you who attend our programs. Here are a few of the items that had us buzzing this month!

Adopt a Moratorium on Heritable Gene Editing

On March 13th, a group of scientists and bioethicists published this Comment in Nature urging a multi-year global moratorium on all clinical genome editing in humans—meaning changes that are inherited by the next generation, for example by changing the DNA of an embryo. The NIH strongly concurred with this proposal, despite the potential to cure genetic disease (not everyone agrees). Why should we wait? Quite simply, these revolutionary technologies are moving much faster than humankind’s ability to process the moral, ethical, and indeed evolutionary impacts of today’s humans rationally designing tomorrow’s humans. How should we craft conversations, frameworks, and ultimately regulations to guide us into this future? And who gets to decide? (Spoiler alert: various opinions need to be respected.) I believe these statements are remarkable because the authors of the Comment have deep technical knowledge as well as strong financial stakes in seeing genome editing in IVF clinics. When it’s those who stand to benefit who are urging caution, I pay attention.

A New Proposal: Measuring Social Impact in an Exponential World

At Singularity University, our core idea—our beacon in a world that at first glance seems dark and getting darker—is that exponential technologies can and must be harnessed to ensure a future of abundance for billions of people. But how do we measure whether those efforts are actually resulting in meaningful change? In this post on the SU Blog, my colleague Darlene Damm wrestles with defining new problems and metrics for success in the burgeoning area of social impact. After you check out her fascinating article, I invite you to join Darlene on this journey. What are you doing to make the world a better place? And how do you know whether it’s working?

Ocean wave

The Best Way to Solve the World’s Water Woes Is to Use Less of It

From the title of this article, the solution seems pretty straightforward, right? The problem—as The Economist deftly points out in this Special Report—is that you’re not using water the way you think that you are. How long you shower or how many times you flush the toilet is only the tip of your water footprint: most of your water usage is embedded in the food that you eat and the clothes that you wear. You don’t see this virtual water footprint, which means that you probably never think about it. After reading the article, play with a water calculator to get a glimpse of the impact of your eating, energy, and consumption choices. When I used it, the effect of meat consumption (including by my cat!) on my family’s water footprint was appalling. It’s not just the water that the cow drank, but the water consumed by everything that that cow ate! My family came in under the American average, but we have a lot of work to do. How big is your family’s water footprint, and what can you do to shrink it?

Why Should We Listen to Scientists?

I was delighted to discover this gem of a Singularity Hub article written by a physics student. Thomas Hornigold neatly captured the core belief that gets us scientists—and many other people—out of bed in the morning: “that science remains humanity’s best tool to understand the universe, to survive, and to flourish.” Can science answer all questions? No. Is science always right? Heck no. But science is a process. At its best, it’s transparent, inclusive, rigorous … and deeply uncomfortable. In this age when social media has made it increasingly easy to attack logic and to evade uncomfortable facts, it’s more important than ever to remember that humanity has a system to close this gap. We’ve got this. But we need to be strong to keep holding the candle in the dark.