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Playing with human genetics

You've probably heard the furor about Chinese scientists genetically modifying human embryos. Even if you aren't some religious nut who thinks we are usurping your god's territory, you probably have concerns about both the morality and the wisdom of messing with genetics. I share those concerns.

I do not not buy the argument that we'd be creating haves and have nots. We already have that situation. I do worry about tinkering with things we do not fully understand when the motive is profit. That's the same reason I object to GMO foods - if the companies doing such work couldn't patent or copyright their designs, GMO food wouldn't upset me at all, but I think mixing in profits is a recipe for real danger.

Mixing profits into human genome research is, I think, even more dangeous.

But if we don't experiment, we can't learn. It would be wonderful if we had computers powerful enough to process a genome and determine all the effects of removing this or adding that. We're a bit away from that, unfortunately.

Still, it is a computer problem. Biology is only highly complex chemistry and we are already designing materials with the help of computers. I have no clue how much computing power it might take to truly understand even the most simple bit of life, but I suspect it's much more than we can currently muster. And that scares me.



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Let us change our traditional attitude to the construction of programs: Instead of imagining that our main task is to instruct a computer what to do, let us concentrate rather on explaining to human beings what we want a computer to do. (Donald Knuth)





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