TED2009: Juan Enriquez


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.