Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. Chances are you don’t know these women. And the chances are also pretty good your life will be changed in unexpected ways by their research. Just three years ago, they discovered CRISPR-Cas9 (Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats-associated protein-9 nuclease). And that discovery has the potential to change everything.
Literally everything? Well every-thing with DNA. Which means every living thing—including you, me, our children, the food we eat and the pets we play with. If it’s alive, CRISPR-Cas9 matters.
CRISPR-Cas9 provides a mechanism to efficiently, precisely and cost effectively edit DNA. It could be the miracle cure for genetic diseases, used to target cancerous cells and even used to edit the DNA of human embryos. In fact, Chinese scientists announced just last year the first ever DNA edit of a human embryo using CRISPR.
2. Crypto currencies
Satoshi Nakamoto is the creator of Bitcoin, a transnational, crypto-currency introduced in 2009. It has no nation state behind it and no physical notes or coins. But today, you can buy airline tickets, books and even clothing, all using Bitcoin. In fact more than 100,000 merchants accept it. And if you want to pick up just one? It’ll set you back $A500.
Imagine a world where there is transnational currency beyond the control of governments. If the state can’t impact the currency, is it responsible for the economy? And if not, how relevant is it? And what about collecting tax revenue? Can you imagine a world where multinationals hold their revenue in transnational crypto-cash? And what will happen to the value of our quaint national currencies if transnational, private, crypto-currencies become the flavour of the era?
3. The age of perpetual disruption
The world has always experienced disruptive technologies. The Luddites of the early 1800s attacked the new weaving machines that were putting them out of work. And the Industrial Revolution was just the start of our modern cycle of economic disruptions that ensured everyone from horse buggy drivers to milkmen disappeared.
But there’s something new in our world: the pace and scale of disruption have substantially increased. Uber, a company headquartered in California, can now disrupt the business of taxi drivers from Paris to Lagos, Sydney to Beijing—all within a handful of years of starting. And there is very little that governments or existing firms with established business models, assets and regulatory structures, can do about it.
And while all of us might feel a little sorry for taxi drivers, maybe we should ask not “for whom the bell tolls,” as “it tolls for thee.” Because most positions in most industries are subject to radical disruption in one way or another. And just as we are bound to see the rapid death of the traditional taxi industry in many cities, we are likely to see other industries radically and rapidly disrupted. And that disruption can come from literally anywhere on earth.
4. Rise of the robots
As reported in Business Insider Australia, Momentum Machine, a robotics company based in San Francisco, has invented a robot that can “slice toppings like tomatoes and pickles immediately before it places the slice onto your burger, giving you the freshest burger possible . . . [it is] more consistent, more sanitary, and can produce [about] 360 hamburgers per hour.” Commenting on the development, the magazine observed that the new machine might put a lot of people out of work.
And that’s just the beginning. Robots are on the cusp of taking over many relatively simple, repetitive tasks. Before you set up your Uber business, you might want to keep in mind machines might soon make not just taxi drivers, but all drivers, obsolete. After all, autonomous cars aren’t somewhere out there in the future, they exist right now. And as Momentum Machine’s co-founder charmingly put it: “our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient. It’s meant to completely obviate them.”
Of course, being “obviated” is a good thing if there are better, more interesting, higher paying jobs to go to. If there aren’t, will governments be forced to impose higher taxes on the owners of the technology producing so much concentrated wealth, and use that revenue to pay (in Bitcoins?) the unemployed masses? That is what some predict.
Is it possible we’ll enter a new age where we’ll work a lot less as revenue is shared a lot more, have access to food and products produced with such startling efficiency that they are exceedingly inexpensive, and have much more time to enjoy our individual passions, time with our families and holidays? Efficient machines have improved our lives in the past, and new careers have opened up in abundance. So maybe the rise of the robots won’t be such a bad thing?
5. Political and economic bipolar disorder
Most countries have their own far right and far left political parties. And, as dissatisfaction with the direction of society and the economy grows, the extremes are flourishing, and the centre increasingly appears a hollow shell of compromised ideas and tarnished integrity.
Western political polarisation is just the beginning. In many ways, it is a reaction to the extreme polaris-ation across much of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, where violent Islamic extremism has resulted in carnage and chaos.
And it’s not just in the world of politics and politicised religion that the extremes are flourishing; it’s in the economy. While the poor are not, generally, getting poorer, the rich really are getting richer. Last year, Oxfam released a report showing that half of the world’s wealth is held by only 1 per cent of the world’s population, leaving 99 per cent of humanity to divide up the other half between them.
Why should we care? After all, even as wealth is becoming more concentrated, there is a lower percentage of humans living in extreme poverty than ever before. The Economist reported in 2013 that “Between 1990 and 2010, [people living in extreme poverty] fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people.” If the poor are getting less poor, why should we care if the rich are getting richer?
Because in a world where wealth is concentrated, power is concentrated too. And that concentrated power influences regulators to ensure the concentration of wealth and power is preserved and grows. It isn’t because the wealthy are particularly evil or conniving (though some may be), it’s because it is human nature to see things from our own perspective, and to engage in self-preservation. And this fuels inequity, which fuels the frustrations that result in political polarisation that ultimately threatens economic stability and contributes to both domestic and international violence.
As our world grows increasingly economically and politically polarised, what can we do? Keep our heads on our shoulders, take the long view and think issues through very carefully. In every major debate, there are vested interests with something to gain and something to lose. No matter where we live, our job is to do what is best for our society writ large, not what is best for narrow interests manipulating opinions.
6. The subtlety revolution
On a scale of 1–10, we are now living in a society where everything is turned up to 11 all the time. We are at 11 on the sexuality scale. 11 on the gastronomy scale. Music, movies, TV and computer games are all set for 11. Our screens, our speakers and our senses, all 11, all the time. Work life is 11, home life is 11, school life is 11. On every corner is another coffee shop selling double shot espressos at 4 pm just to keep us going on our fabulous life. And increasingly, for those who find that caffeine doesn’t quite cut it, there’s the drug ice. If flash, dazzle, roar and sprint is what we want, we have it in abundance everywhere we look.
But in this mad dash toward the bright lights, we’re getting tired and bored. There’s no new food trend that hasn’t been posted 23,000 times on Instagram. We’ve listened to music so loud it made our ears hurt, we’ve seen light shows so bright they’ve blinded us and drunk so much our brains are “pickled.”
What we haven’t done is listen to the silence. Savour the serene. Let our minds and our bodies inhabit the natural pace of our planet. We’ve forgotten not just how to pray, but how to wait in those precious minutes after prayer, for God to answer us and bathe us in His presence.
After we’ve pushed every button up to 11, there will come a time when dialling it all the way back to 0 will take off. Not as a loud, noisy trend. 0 doesn’t work like that. But as a growing, satisfying return to the substance of subtlety.
At least that is the trend I am hoping to cultivate. In my life. And in the life of my family. Because life lived at 11 is not a satisfying, serious life. There’s no place for the soft touch, the genuine friendship, the heartfelt smile. And the noise deafens the most important voice we can hear: the still, small voice of God, whispering not shouting; quietly knocking, not barging in.
Jesus says in Matthew 25, how we treat others is how we will be judged. So let’s make our lives one where we write our story in love, care and compassion for others. And do our best to remain connected to God so that we can thrive in the storm.