Physicist Stephen Hawking's final prediction before his death seven months ago was that the human race will diverge - with wealthy, genetically engineered "superhumans" dominating the "unimproved."
Hawking, who died in March, left a collection of articles and essays on what he called “the big questions”, in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday. In Brief Answers to the Big Questions he suggests that wealthy people will soon be able to choose to edit their own and their children’s DNA to create superhumans with enhanced memory, disease resistance, intelligence and longevity. -The Times
"I am sure that during this century people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression," wrote Hawking. "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."
"Once such superhumans appear," Hawking added, "there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete. 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.
Hawking was referring to DNA-editing techniques such as Crispr, a six-year-old technology which allows scientists to manipulate genes to discard harmful traits or add new ones.
Crispr technology is already in use - as London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children is using the gene editing technoque to treat an otherwise incurable form of leukemia.
Some scientists love the idea
"Humans have arguably reached a critical moment," said Climate Science professor Chris Rapley of University College London. "We have moved beyond affecting the planet at the landscape scale to interfering with its very metabolism at the global scale. All the indications are that the limitations of our brains, both individually and collectively, leave us incapable of addressing the challenge. On this basis the future looks desperately gloomy."
Perhaps scientists will genetically engineer a circulatory system that can survive in a low oxygen environment once the phytoplankton die off?