How fast can our society adapt to radical change? That’s the question that Juan Enriquez poses to the audience at PopTech. He’s the director of the Harvard Business School Life Science Project and he says if you think we’ve seen massive change with the proliferation of computing then hang on. The Life Sciences is going to blow that away, and is going to create serious social questions.
Okay, we sort of all knew that. But his message is that we all need to become a lot more conversant with the basic ideas that are in play in life sciences. We all know the significance of “100010100010101110” even if we don’t know what that number means. But not many of us know which four letters of the alphabet are the Life Sciences equivalent that (“ATCG”). Many of us own computers and buy software, but not many of us are aware that soon we may be able to buy biological stuff that acts like software on our bodies.
What are we as a society going to do about this new capability? By the time we finish arguing about whether stem cell research is a good thing we will have developed many many other technologies that are just as socially provocative. I don’t know what we are going to do about this stuff, but I think these developments are going to place great strains on our inefficient governing system (which, of course, includes our inefficient legal system). Just like people who are in the path of a hurricane can’t do much other than to run away or brace for impact, I guess all we can do is learn more about this new force that is bearing down upon us. Enriquez has a short handout that he calls “The Smallest Ever Guide to Life Sciences for Busy People” which he is going to distribute to the audience so that they can learn enough to educate their kids. I plan to get one and read it. And I plan to read his book As the Future Catches You.