October 15, 2018
STEPHEN Hawking made a grim prediction before his death that a race of superhumans will rise up and destroy the social fabric as we know it.
THE late Stephen Hawking believed advances in genetic science would lead to a future generation of superhumans that could ultimately destroy the rest of humanity.
In newly published writings, Dr Hawking suggested an elite class of physically and intellectually powerful humans could arise from rich people choosing to edit their DNA and manipulating their children’s genetic makeup.
“I am sure that during this century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” he wrote.
“Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life.”
The renowned theoretical physicist, who died in March this year, made the grim prediction in a collection of essays and articles recently published by the UK’s Sunday Times, prior to the release of a book containing a collection of writings by Dr Hawking.
Those without the means will become relegated to a sub-class of “unimproved humans,” he suggests in Brief Answers To The Big Questions due out this week. The wealthy who have power and access could tweak their genome to boost strength, memory and disease resistance.
This two-tier system of humans, Dr Hawking predicted, could have grave social consequences.
“Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.
“If the human race manages to redesign itself, it will probably spread out and colonise other planets and stars.”
While the rise of a superhumans won’t happen in our lifetime, new gene-editing technology has already led to concerns about the potential of designer babies.
Most notably, CRISPR-Cas 9 is a recently emerged technology that can be thought of as acting like a tiny pair of molecular scissors that can cut and alter nucleotides which make up DNA, enabling scientists to find and modify, or replace, genetic defects.
“The fear is that they could use these techniques to create, some way, genetically modified people. You know designer babies where parents pick and choose the traits of their babies, make them taller, stronger, smarter or something like that,” NPR said in a 2016 report about a Swedish scientist using the technique to edit human embryos.
Dr Hawking was known for bringing clarity to some of the most mind-bending ideas in science such as the nature of black holes and the possibility of a multiverse.
But towards the end of this life, he grew increasingly vocal about future problems the world might face.