TED2009: Juan Enriquez

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Here at TED2009, Juan Enriquez, chairman and CEO of Biotechnomy, a life sciences research and investment firm, talked about our lousy economy and how three technologies — cell engineering, tissue engineering, and robotics can make he world a better place.

First, he showed a graph of US government spending: 21% military, 21% medicare, 21% social security, 10% other mandatory spending, 9% interest. That leaves 18% for everything else, and that amount could quickly get swallowed up.

He says advances in biotech and robotics will give rise to a new species of human, homo evolutis.

Here's a paper he wrote about homo evolutus:

After the daughter of one of my friends tore her tendons horseback riding, doctors told her they would have to harvest parts of her own tendons and hamstrings to rebuild her leg. Because she was so young, the crippling procedure would have to be repeated three times as her body grew. But her parents knew tissue engineers were growing tendons in a lab, so she was one of the first recipients of a procedure that allows natural growth and no harvesting. Today she is a successful ski racer, but her coach feels her "damaged" knee is far stronger and has asked whether the same procedure could be done on the undamaged knee…

As we regrow or engineer more body parts we will likely significantly increase average life span and run into a third track of speciation. Those with access to Google already have an extraordinary evolutionary advantage over the digitally illiterate. Next decade we will be able to store everything we see, read, and hear in our lifetime. The question is can we re-upload and upgrade this data as the basic storage organ deteriorates? And can we enhance this organ's cognitive capacity internally and externally? MIT has already brought together many of those interested in cognition—neuroscientists, surgeons, radiologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, computer scientists—to begin to understand this black box. But rebooting other body parts will likely be easier than rebooting the brain, so this will likely be the slowest track but, over the long term, the one with the greatest speciation impact.

Speciation will not be a deliberate, programmed event. Instead it will involve an ever faster accumulation of small, useful improvements that eventually turn homo sapiens into a new hominid. We will likely see glimpses of this long-lived, partly mechanical, partly regrown creature that continues to rapidly drive its own evolution. As the branches of the tree of life, and of hominids, continue to grow and spread, many of our grandchildren will likely engineer themselves into what we would consider a new species, one with extraordinary capabilities, a homo evolutis.

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  1. Doesn’t speciation require divergent populations that can’t or won’t produce fertile offspring together? We live in a world where Chihuahuas still knock up Great Danes, and it took thousands of years of deliberate selective breeding to make them so different.

    Our grandchildren will doubtlessly find incredible ways to distinguish themselves but that doesn’t mean they’re about to stop doing the nasty.

  2. I could be wrong about this, but my understanding is that evolutionary “success” is measured by the ability to reproduce successfully (and have those offspring live long enough to reproduce themselves). So, a person who lives to be 30 and has 10 kids is more sucessful that one who lives to be 100 with no kids.

    I guess my problem is with the statement that a “significantly increase[d] average life span” is somehow connected to “a third track of speciation.” This alludes to Lamarck’s whole notion that we inherit acquired traits, which is not the case.

  3. Our grandchildren will doubtlessly find incredible ways to distinguish themselves but that doesn’t mean they’re about to stop doing the nasty.

    Yeah, I’m thinking today’s hentai is tomorrow’s biomorphic blueprints.

    We’re going to be exhibiting vestigial ape qualities for some time to come.

  4. Soon we will be able to live outside our brain. In fact, it might be that as we choose a new nose or chin, we trade in our brain for one that is happier/fresher/smarter. What worries me is when robotics learn to emote. Properly emote. Yikes.

    1. Okathleen,

      You’ve had several warnings about linking to your blog in comments. Please contact me if you want your account reinstated.

  5. I don’t understand how this is an evolutionary advantage yet. Are people with access to Google significantly genetically different from other people? Do they grow to adulthood and reproduce more than people without Google?

    This tissue engineering, like Google or any learned behavior, doesn’t seem to be linked with any unusual heritable trait–unless there’s actual genetic engineering of gametes going on, or selection of some kind. It sounds like some people’s grandchildren will look different on the outside, but still have the same basic homo sapiens’ programming.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution

    “There is a great difference between selective adaptation and acclimatization. Adaptation occurs over many generations; it is a gradual process caused by natural selection. Acclimatization generally occurs within a single lifetime and copes with issues that are less threatening.”

  6. There are quite some bugs in human DNA. What about starting tackling those? E.g. repair the bug in ascorbate biosynthetic pathway?

  7. all this Ted stuff is really interesting but of course you can’t go unless you are rich, famous or have rich/famous friends … not like 99.99% of us could ever afford to go … so thanks for keeping us unwashed masses in the loop

  8. This whole idea supposes that mankind will escape the robopocalypse. Our inevitable metallic masters will never allow this future to occur.

  9. Burpchick above has it right. (#3) People with access to Google do not have a SELECTIVE advantage over people without. Yes they have advantages within SOCIETY, but to state such ideas in Darwinian terms shows a profound misunderstanding of what Natural Selection is and how it works.

  10. He knows that Battlestar Galactica isn’t real, right?

    Sorry, ever since I read a book that he wrote, I have a hard time taking him seriously.

  11. I think it is more that access to google indicates access to a lot of other things- healthcare, education, etc, that will impact the number of possible children and their survival rate.

  12. all this Ted stuff is really interesting but of course you can’t go unless you are rich, famous or have rich/famous friends … not like 99.99% of us could ever afford to go … so thanks for keeping us unwashed masses in the loop

    Wait a minute. An isolated subgroup with clear advantages over the rest of the humanity… oh my God! TED is causing speciation!

  13. how come this guy didn’t get the starburst halo effect like all the other TED post people did? Is he not in the gang?

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