Tag Archives: biology

The First Genetically Modified Humans Have Been Born: Now What?

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When the USSR launched Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, it didn’t just kick-start the space race. It marked a major technological paradigm shift. From that moment forward, venturing into space wasn’t just some futuristic fantasy. It was real and it had major implications for the future of our species.

On November 26, 2018, a Chinese scientist named He Jiankui announced that the first genetically modified humans had been born. Specifically, two twin girls actually had their genetic code modified at the embryonic stage to disable the CCR5 gene to make them highly resistant to HIV/AIDS. In the history of our species, this moment will likely exceed the importance of Sputnik.

This man may have just upstaged Neil Armstrong.

To appreciate why this is such a big deal, consider the full ramifications of what Mr. Jiankui achieved. The change he made to the genome of those girls was impossible for them to inherent. This particular allele is a result of a mutation within a small population of Northern Europeans and is present in no other ethnic group. It is best known for providing significant immunity to common strains of the HIV virus.

This is of significant interest to China because they’ve been dealing with a surge in HIV/AIDS rates in recent years. Even though AIDS isn’t a death sentence anymore, the medicine needed to manage it is costly and tedious. These two girls, who have not been publicly named thus far, may now have a level of resistance that they never would’ve had without genetic modification.

On paper, that’s an objective good. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 35 million people have died because of AIDS since it was first discovered and approximately 36.9 million people are living with the disease today. It’s in the best interest of society to take steps towards preventing the spread of such a terrible disease, especially in a country as large as China.

However, Mr. Jiankui has caused more consternation than celebration. Shortly after he announced the birth of the two unnamed children, China suspended his research activities. Their reasoning is he crossed ethical boundaries by subjecting humans to an untested and potentially dangerous treatment that could have unforeseen consequences down the line.

Those concerns have been echoed by many others in the scientific community. Even the co-inventor of CRISPR, the technology used to implement this treatment and one I’ve cited before as a game-changer for biotechnology, condemned Mr. Jiankui’s work. It’s one thing to treat adults with this emerging technology. Treating children in the womb carries a whole host of risks.

That’s why there are multiple laws in multiple countries regulating the use of this technology on top of a mountain of ethical concerns. This isn’t about inventing new ways to make your smartphone faster. This involves tweaking the fundamental code of life. The potential for good is immense, but so is the potential for harm.

Whether or not Mr. Jiankui violated the law depends heavily on what lawyers and politicians decide. Even as the man defends his work, though, there’s one important takeaway that closely parallels the launch of Sputnik. The genie is out of the bottle. There’s no going back. This technology doesn’t just exist on paper and in the mind of science fiction writers anymore. It’s here and it’s not going away.

Like the space race before it, the push to realize the potential of genetic modification is officially on. Even as the scientific and legal world reacts strongly to Mr. Jiankui’s work, business interests are already investing in the future of this technology. The fact this investment has produced tangible results is only going to attract more.

It’s impossible to overstate the incentives at work here. Biotechnology is already a $139 billion industry. There is definitely a market for a prenatal treatment that makes children immune to deadly diseases. Both loving parents and greedy insurance companies have many reasons to see this process refined to a point where it’s as easy as getting a flu shot.

Even politicians, who have historically had a poor understanding of science, have a great many reasons to see this technology improve. A society full of healthy, disease-free citizens is more likely to be prosperous and productive. From working class people to the richest one percent, there are just too many benefits to having a healthy genome.

The current climate of apprehension surrounding Mr. Jiankui’s work may obscure that potential, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone. During the cold war, there was a similar climate of fear, albeit for different reasons. People back then were more afraid that the space race would lead to nuclear war and, given how close we came a few times, they weren’t completely unfounded.

There are reasons to fear the dangers and misuse of this technology. For all we know, the treatment to those two girls could have serious side-effects that don’t come to light until years later. However, it’s just as easy to argue that contracting HIV and having to treat it comes with side-effect that are every bit as serious.

As for what will come after Mr. Jiankui’s research remains unclear. I imagine there will be controversy, lawsuits, and plenty of inquiries full of people eager to give their opinion. As a result, he may not have much of a career when all is said and done. He won’t go down in history as the Neil Armstong of biotechnology, but he will still have taken a small step that preceded a giant leap.

Even if Mr. Jiankui’s name fades from the headlines, the breakthrough he made will continue to have an impact. It will likely generate a new range of controversy on the future of biotechnology and how to best manage it in an ethical, beneficial manner. It may even get nasty at times with protests on par or greater than the opposition to genetically modified foods.

Regardless of how passionate those protests are, the ball is already rolling on this technology. There’s money to be made for big business. There’s power and prosperity to be gained by government. If you think other countries will be too scared to do what a science team in China did, then you don’t know much about geopolitics.

Before November 26, 2018, there were probably many other research teams like Mr. Jiankui who were ready and eager to do something similar. The only thing that stopped them was reservation about being the first to announce that they’d done something controversial with a technology that has been prone to plenty of hype.

Now, that barrier is gone. Today, we live in a world where someone actually used this powerful tool to change the genome of two living individuals. It may not seem different now, but technology tends to sneak up on people while still advancing rapidly. That huge network of satellites that now orbit our planet didn’t go up weeks after Sputnik 1, but they are up there now because someone took that first step.

There are still so many unknowns surrounding biotechnology and the future of medicine, but the possibilities just become more real. Most people alive today probably won’t appreciate just how important November 26, 2018 is in the history of humanity, but future generations probably will, including two remarkable children in China.

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Improving Your Love Life And Your Sex Life (With Sleep)

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Maintaining a healthy romance is a lot like pursuing good sex. There’s no one right way to do it that works for everyone, but there are any number of wrong ways that can fail spectacularly. I’ve shared a few personal stories about my love life and even offered some insights on how to improve romance in the world of fiction. When it comes to real world advice, though, I try to be careful.

I’m not a relationship expert or a licensed therapist. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer who shares weekly sexy thoughts and bemoans how love is portrayed in popular media. Sure, I’ll occasionally give my opinion on serious issues involving gender politics and trends in popular culture, but I try to avoid giving the impression that I’m qualified to give advice.

However, there are a number of things we can all do for our love lives, a sex lives, and everything in between that makes it better. There are personal experiences that demonstrate it and even scientific research that supports it. Some are just common sense, but anyone who is familiar with the Darwin Awards knows that’s not always sufficient.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer the wonderful readers of this site the simplest and easiest advice they’ll ever get. It’ll improve your relationship. It’ll enhance your sex life. It’ll make you feel better, overall. What is the magical method that does so much to help so many aspects of your personal life? It’s simple.

Get better sleep.

That’s it. That is a real, effective method for improving your relationships, be it with a long-time lover or a one-night stand in Las Vegas. There’s no need for expensive therapy. You don’t have to pay a guru or a life coach. For once, it really is that simple. Get better sleep and your love life will improve.

Now, in the interest of not sounding too obvious, there are some details here that are worth highlighting. In recent years, the importance of getting a good night’s sleep has been become more critical. A great deal of research has shown a long list of benefits that come with good sleep and an equally lengthy list of detriments for those who don’t get enough.

Good sleep helps you lose weight, alleviate illness, and recover from serious injuries. None of that is news to anyone, but I get the sense that people don’t appreciate the role sleep plays in a healthy romance and a good sex life. That role goes beyond work and afterglow, as well.

According to research published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, poor sleep can disrupt your emotions and not just in terms of being groggy in the morning. Managing and regulating emotions is core component of any functional relationship. Even those who don’t mind melodrama are going to get burned out from someone who can’t figure out whether they’re stressed, miserable, or pissed off.

It even goes beyond messy emotional exchanges. That same study also showed a link between poor sleep and depression. Considering how depression tends to dull passion of any kind, romantic or otherwise, it’s understandable how it can undermine a relationship.

It’s even more understandable in terms of how it hurts your sex life. In addition to depression limiting your capacity to get in the mood, it also creates situations where people use sex as a band aid instead of a basic emotional expression. I’ve seen this happen before with friends and relatives. They try to use sex as an anti-depressant. It can offer temporary reprieve, but it does little to resolve any actual issues.

Then, there’s the simple logistics that a lack of sleep will create. If your lover is on a different sleep schedule than you, then that makes spending time together a chore because one of you is going to be groggy. Whether it’s due to work schedules or one person being a night owl, love can only do so much when a couple is rarely rested at the same time.

This goes beyond just being restless and buying overpriced lattes. A lack of sleep can actually cause damage to the brain. Sleep is supposed to be the time when your brain heals and refreshes itself after a long, arduous day. If it never gets a chance to heal, then that could impact everything from your memories to your emotions to your genitals.

Yes, a lack of sleep does have sexual side-effects. For men, it lowers testosterone, the magically masculine hormone that drives a significant part of the male libido. It effects men whether they’re gay, straight, bisexual, or trans. When your hormones are off, your sex life will suffer. It can even lead to erectile dysfunction, which is sure to compound that nasty mood I mentioned earlier.

Women experience a similar effect as well. On top of research showing that well-rested women tend to have more sex, a lack of sleep can make it significantly more difficult to achieve orgasm. At a time when women are already already dealing with an orgasm gap, this certainly doesn’t help. Even with adequate sleep, a lack of orgasms can hurt any relationship.

Again, a lot of this is common sense, but for those looking to improve or maintain their love lives, it may seem too common. It goes against the standard romantic narrative that two people in love always have to be doing something. They always have to be off going on adventures, working hard every hour of every day to stay in love, have great sex, and grow together.

While there’s certainly a place for that kind of effort in a relationship, it doesn’t have to come at the cost of a good night’s sleep. If anything, a couple sharing a restful night in bed together should count as an act of genuine romance. It doesn’t even have to come after sex or even involve nudity, although couples who sleep naked do enjoy added benefits.

Ideally, good sleep shouldn’t just be a byproduct of a quality romance. It should be part of the process. It could be as easy as communicating with your lover how much sleep you need, when to do it, and what helps you feel most rested. It may sound mundane, but these are little things that real loving couples often overlook.

One of my old college roommates actually got sleep down to a science. He and his girlfriend made a genuine effort to line up their sleep cycles so perfectly that I could pretty much set my watch to when they would turn in. It wasn’t always romantic, but I can’t argue with the results. They were together that entire semester and I rarely saw them in a bad mood.

Most people, whether they’re in a relationship or not, are willing to put in the work to make romance work. They’re just as willing to listen to gurus, pop pills, and read sexy stories to improve their sex lives as well. While I try to do my part with the sexy stories I tell, I think it’s ironic that just getting better sleep rarely comes to mind.

Even if it makes too much sense, it’s probably the easiest way for anyone to improve their relationship. We already know how to sleep. Most of us relish the opportunity to get more. If more sleep means better sex and quality romance, then it more than warrants a higher priority in our intimate efforts.

After all, a good lover is a well-rested lover.

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Aging In A Society Where Nobody Ages

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We’ve all known someone who perfectly fits the profile of a grumpy old coot. Whether they’re a family member or a stranger, we can readily identify the associated traits. They’re bitter, angry, cynical, and exceedingly nostalgic for an era that has long since passed. Having to live in a frail, failing body certainly doesn’t help.

As annoying as their attitudes can be, it does raise a relevant question. Are they grumpy because they genuinely feel that everything in their world is awful or are they grumpy because their youth has become a distant memory? It’s a question that doesn’t apply to every old person, but it’s relevant to more than few.

Being old is not a pleasant experience for a lot of people. There are a lot of undesirable symptoms associated with it. Your skin gets wrinkled, your organs start to fail, your mind starts to slip, and you just don’t have the energy you used to have. On top of that, your sex life really suffers, regardless of your gender.

In that context, it’s not hard to understand why people get grumpier as they get older. They have plenty of reasons and plenty more excuses. It has always been a part of society. Like rebellious teenagers, their existence is an accepted part of life, so much so that it’s hard to imagine society without it.

This is where I take the same twisted mind that helps me write sexy stories and use it to propose a thought experiment. It’s also where I explore exciting new technology that will change the way society functions. It’s true that aging is part of our world. However, small pox, polio, and ridiculously flawed assumptions about the female body were once part of our world as well. That didn’t stop us from changing it.

In recalling the grumpy old coots I’ve known in my life, I often wonder whether they would act and feel the same way if they suddenly woke up in the body of their 25-year-old self. How much or how little would that change their attitudes? Would they be as jaded about the world if they were suddenly able to think, move, and hump like their younger selves?

Some might still be grumpy.

I even wonder this when recalling the elder individuals I know who aren’t grumpy and cantankerous. Those people do exist. Some of the happiest people I know are old, gray, and have a long list of health issues. They’ve lived good lives, have few regrets, and are content with their current state. Would that change for better or for worse if they were young again?

These are questions that will become increasingly relevant in the coming decades. While it’s currently impossible to just wake up in a new body like in “Altered Carbon,” the anti-aging industry is a burgeoning multi-billion dollar market. With demographics in the western world shifting rapidly, this market is poised to grow even more.

As it stands, there’s no comprehensive treatment that reverses aging for everyone. There are things people can do to improve longevity, but more often than not, someone’s ability to live comfortably into old age depends on factors they cannot control. The fact that Keith Richards lived beyond 1989 is proof enough of that.

That’s not to say we all just have to hope we have the same genetic fortitude as someone like Keith Richards. The current research into anti-aging is making significant strides. We understand aging a lot more than we did 20 years ago. In essence, it’s largely a matter of cells not being able to repair themselves as well as they used to. If we can fix that, then we fix aging.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. However, unlike some of the other advanced technologies I’ve discussed, there’s no need to prove the concept in the real world. We know it’s possible for organisms to live significantly longer than humans. Lobsters, turtles, and even whales have been documented to live centuries and function on the same level as their younger counterparts.

How they do this and whether it can be applied to humans is still uncertain, but there’s a great deal of research into this field. There’s also a huge incentive to perfect anti-aging treatments on a large scale. The first company that does that will likely be a trillion-dollar company. Whether or not it happens in my lifetime is difficult to surmise, but given the pace of technology, I believe it will happen eventually.

When it does, that raises a whole host of questions that are difficult to answer. What does a society where people don’t age even look like? How does it even function? I doubt our current system could support it. Countries like Japan are already dealing with significant problems associated with their rapidly-aging population. That issue will likely get more complicated as anti-aging technology improves.

What will it mean to retire in a world where people live for centuries rather than decades?

What will it mean to have a career?

What will it mean to have a family?

What will it mean for rearing and caring for children?

Think of how multiple generations function together at the moment. For a while, my family had four generations living at once. I had my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents alive at one point. That made for a robust, but sometimes convoluted family structure. Just keeping up with family affairs could be tricky since my family moves around a lot.

Now, imagine having even more generations alive at once. Imagine dealing with parents, grandparents, and great-great-great-great-grandparents. As individuals and as a society, we’ve never dealt with that kind of dynamic. What would the roles be for that many living descendants? What would that do to custody, inheritance, and just basic overall functioning?

It’s difficult to imagine, but it gets even more complicated than that. Another major aspect of anti-aging research doesn’t just involve extending the human lifespan. It also involves reversing aging and preserving youth. Animals like turtles already do it. They get to a certain age and basically stay that way. Ideally, we want to provide something similar in humans.

That means our parents, grandparents, and great-great-great grandparents wouldn’t just live longer. They wouldn’t look a day over 30. On top of that, they would still be perfectly capable of having more children. People could have siblings who are decades younger than them. They could also end up with uncles and aunts of all ages.

Imagine some of these people being older than your grandmother.

Then, there are the nearly limitless number of half-siblings they could have. Even in our current state of aging, a good chunk of the population lives within a step-family where they’re only related to one parent biologically. In a world where people never age out of their sexual prime, it’s more than likely this will increase.

It may get to a point where age really is just a number. That won’t just be a cute euphemism or a creepy R. Kelly song. If we’re able to effectively rewire and repair our biology, then it would be nothing more than a legal designation on our birth certificate. It would have no further bearing on our lives.

That could cause all sorts of issues for our love lives. Imagine walking down a busy street and not seeing anyone who looks older than 30 years old. It would be like walking through a college town everywhere you went. You wouldn’t know if that cute girl at the bar or that handsome guy on the bus is just out of college or of they’ve got five living grandchildren. How would flirting even work?

Guy: Hey there, cutie. You want to go get some coffee?

Girl: I’d love to, but I’m picking my granddaughter up from her retirement party. Maybe tomorrow?

That could really affect how we see romance, sex, and relationships. The whole concept of “Till death do you part” could suddenly become a major complication. Sure, there may be couples who manage to stay married for centuries. They’ll make for great stories, as many long-time spouses do today. Chances are they’ll be the exceedingly-rare exception and not the norm.

It may be the case that marriages and family bonds become subject to time-frames. People may just get together to raise a family, but once those kids reach a certain age, they go their separate ways, possibly to do it all over again with someone else. If their bodies don’t age and they remain healthy, what would stop them?

That assumes a lot about what people will even want if they live indefinitely and maintain their youth. Again, we have no precedent for this. We’ve never lived in a society where everyone is young, healthy, and immune to the rigors of time.

There may very well be effects that go beyond our personal lives. Even if our bodies never age beyond 30, our minds certainly will. Aging does have an impact on the human brain and I’m not just referring to the effects of dementia. Just living longer affects how we perceive the world. It even affects how we perceive time. A year to a 10-year-old means something very different to someone who is 95-years-old.

Even if we could maintain a high level of brain function for centuries, there’s still the possibility that we’ll struggle to function as a whole. Many major social movements throughout history occur because older generations that retained entrenched prejudices died off. How will we advance civil rights in a society where the old traditionalists never died off?

Still not over the Civil War.

Then, there’s the boredom issue. I’ve mentioned before how powerful boredom can be, even without living forever. What do we do with ourselves if we can live for centuries and never lose our youth? How would we keep ourselves occupied and entertained? Would the boredom drive us mad? Would it turn us into sociopath super-villains like Vandal Savage?

It’s impossible to know for now, but it’s a possibility that we should take seriously. We’re already dealing with the serious effects of overpopulation. How will our civilization and our planet cope if people stop aging?

Future currency could be the ability to stretch your arms.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t pursue this technology. I’ve seen what aging does to people. I’ve seen how it effects people very close to me. We all probably know someone who endures endless hardship and discomfort because of their age. We should help them and the burgeoning anti-aging industry is poised to do just that.

We should also seriously contemplate what kind of society we’ll be creating if and when we cure aging. It will require a complete re-imagining of what it means to live, love, and be part of a family. Chances are people today will think it’s crazy. In a world where everyone stays young and sexy, it’ll just be life.

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Biotechnology And The Future Of Gender

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With each passing year, it seems gender-driven conflicts are becoming more and more heated and less and less rational. Every time I bring them up, which is distressingly often, I feel like I have to walk through a minefield while juggling chainsaws. I know it doesn’t take much to start a controversy these days and I’d rather not add fuel to that fire.

The current state of gender conflict is pretty intense. I expect it to get worse before it gets better, but I don’t want to dwell on that too much for the moment. Instead, I’d like to do what I often do when I discuss emerging technology and contemplate the future. Moreover, I want to focus on the potential for a better future between the genders.

Yes, I realize the situation is pretty hectic now. I also don’t deny that trends in feminism and the associated backlash make it difficult to be optimistic. I’m still going to try because I believe we’re getting close to a point where the barriers that hinder a truly egalitarian society will eventually fall. It’s just a matter of developing the right tools.

Chief among those tools are those emerging in the field of biotechnology. It’s a subject I’ve highlighted before, primarily in terms of its potential to treat disease and provide better contraception. Those kinds of advances are just stepping stones, though. The true potential of biotechnology goes much further.

With respect to gender, I think most won’t deny that there’s room for improvement in terms of the current dynamic. Whether you’re a man, woman, or something in between, most people don’t have to think too hard to surmise imperfections in the current system. I’ve mentioned a few, but they’re worth scrutinizing.

If you’re a woman, those imperfections take a fairly direct toll and not just in terms of being the gender that bears children. Beyond the burdens that facet of womanhood has incurred historical, there are still some fairly substantial gaps between women and men today. Regardless of whether or not you’re a feminist, the data is pretty clear. Women are not on a level playing field with men.

If you’re a man, that’s just as true. Men may not bear children, but they also bear plenty of burdens. They are expected to fight in bloody wars, making up 97 percent of all war deaths. They work harder, more dangerous jobs that disproportionately kill them. They’re also expected to be okay with having their genitals mutilated as babies. By those metrics, men are not on a level playing field, either.

Things get even more unequal when you put transgender issues into the mix and I’m not just talking about which bathrooms they have to use. Transgender individuals face a unique brand of issues, ranging from housing discrimination to healthcare access. Regardless of how you feel about transgender issues, and some question whether it’s even real, these people are struggling under the current dynamic.

It’s a dynamic that, for most of human history, has been heavily influenced by the limits of biology. Like it or not, we’re very much at the mercy of what evolution has wrought. Even if you’re among the crowd who thinks gender is entirely socially constructed, it’s impossible to get around hard biology, at least for now.

The hard data is fairly clear. Human beings are sexually dimorphic, which means there are intrinsic physical differences between men and women. Since one gender bears children while the other doesn’t, that kind of has to be the case. Considering how well our species has thrived over the past several thousand years, you could make the case that these dynamics have worked fairly well.

However, there’s still room for improvement. In the tradition of the Doug Stanhope principle, it’s worth asking a simple question about our current gender situation. If the current dynamic didn’t exist, would you invent it that way? If you were working from scratch, would you create a species in which half the population had to bear children for nine months while the other half had part of their genitals hanging outside their bodies?

I’m not saying the human body, in its current form, isn’t a beautiful work of nature, but there’s no denying its flaws. As long as those flaws remain in place, the amount of progress we can make towards a truly egalitarian society will be limited. With the emergence of biotechnology, though, there may come a time when we may not be subject to those constraints.

When you get right down to the differences in muscle mass and endurance, much of it is driven by genetics. There’s only so much we can do with hormones and supplements, as female body builders have shown, before genetics comes into play. We’re only just starting to hack some of those genes, but there’s still room for refinement.

That refinement will come as the technology matures, just as we’ve seen with refinements to in vitro fertilization and LASIK eye surgery. It won’t happen all at once, but there may come a point when we have a sufficient understanding of the human genome and how to change it at the genetic level with tools like CRISPR.

Once we have that knowledge, then there’s no reason why we couldn’t modify individual genomes to a point where men and women are completely equal in terms of strength, stamina, and overall physicality. In that situation, there’s no reason why a woman couldn’t carry out the same physically demanding tasks as men.

For the mental side, though, that may end up being trickier. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the brain in general, let alone the innate differences between men and women. Most current research seems to suggest there are some differences, but the extent of those differences aren’t really clear. There’s evidence that there could be even more differences in the brains of transgender individuals.

Even if those differences are biologically innate, they can still be manipulated with the right tool. Some of those tools are already in development in the form of brain implants, such as those being developed by Neuralink. Whether it’s problem solving or emotional intelligence, there’s no reason why any gender-based difference can’t be resolved with a properly-calibrated implant.

Put all these advances together and the future of gender may render our current conflicts obsolete. I believe that if it is the goal of society to create a truly egalitarian structure for men, women, and everything in between, then the necessary tools to do so will make that possible at some point. The only question is whether or not that will actually be the goal.

I can’t speak for everyone who has ever argued for a certain gender-based issue. Being a man, I don’t deny that my perspectives on gender are limited by my experiences. However, if we’re going by what has worked best from an evolutionary perspective, a species that can effectively cooperate, communicate, and share knowledge has a huge advantage.

Reducing gender disparity at a genetic and physical level has plenty of benefits on paper. Add artificial wombs to the mix, effectively removing the burden of child-rearing from half the population, and suddenly our entire species is on a level playing field. That opens the door to entirely new manifestations of gender, as we know it.

I can’t predict what form that will take. Once we start manipulating our genes and our looks, by default, then the line between what is feminine and what is masculine may blur. While I don’t think it will disappear entirely, I think there will be some adjustments. It may even lead to entirely new gender-driven conflicts in the short term.

In the long run, though, I think the future of gender will arc towards greater equality overall. There may come a time where every individual born has the same physical and mental potential, regardless of their gender. Women will be as physically strong as men. Men will be able to multi-task like women. They may still look distinct, but their abilities will be truly equal.

A society full of those individuals will require an entirely new dynamic, one built around a host of new tools that we’re just starting to develop. It could just as easily go in the opposite direction with various gender gaps widening as a result of those tools. However, I believe that the benefits of equality will win out, albeit for purely pragmatic reasons. A future with that level of equality will likely result in the greatest potential for everyone.

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The (Other) Implications Of The Technology In “Jurassic World”

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Movies and TV have a long and colorful history of predicting future technology. The predictions made by “The Simpsons,” alone, are as uncanny as they are creepy. Even when they get the basic laws of physics horribly wrong, they can provide insight into the trends that may very well define our future.

On the spectrum of movies that envision future technology, the “Jurassic Park” franchise occupies a strange part of that spectrum. The original movie, as beloved and successful as it is, did a poor job of predicting the potential of genetic engineering. The entire plot of the movie hinged on the ability of scientists to find sufficiently intact DNA from a 65-million-year-old mosquito and use that to recreate dinosaurs.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of math and the half-life of DNA knows that’s just not possible in the real world. No matter how well-preserved a fossil is, the bonds holding DNA together dissolve completely after about 7 million years so the scientists in “Jurassic Park” wouldn’t even have fragments to work with.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to bring back an extinct species. If you have intact DNA, and we do have it for extinct animals like Mammoths, then there’s no reason why science can’t recreate a creature that no longer exists. The only challenge is gestating the animal without a surrogate, but that’s just an engineering challenge that will likely be solved once artificial wombs are perfected.

Even with that advancement, it would be too late for dinosaurs. Technically, if you had enough working knowledge of how DNA works and how to create an animal from scratch, you could create something that looked like a dinosaur. In fact, it’s already a popular fan theory that none of the animals in “Jurassic Park” were actually dinosaurs. It’s one of the few fan theories that might have been confirmed on screen.

Those theories aside, it’s the the technology on display in “Jurassic World” that has far greater implications. By that, I don’t mean it’ll bring back dinosaurs or other extinct species. It may actually do something much more profound.

Unlike the original movies, both “Jurassic World” and the sequel, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” don’t stop at just bringing back dinosaurs. These movies take place in a world where that spectacle isn’t that exciting anymore. As a result, they start splicing the DNA of other dinosaurs together to create new species, namely the Indominous Rex and the Indoraptor.

While this creates for great action scenes and plenty of dinosaur-driven combat, the true implications of this technology are lost in the spectacle. Take a moment to consider what the science within these movies accomplished. Then, consider what that means for the real world and the future of the human race.

These dinosaurs were not the product of evolution. Evolution works within some pretty rigid limits. It’s a slow, clunky, arduous process that takes a lot of time and a lot of extinction. On top of that, the basic laws of heredity and the inherent limits of hybridization ensure that the transmission of certain traits are next to impossible through natural means.

However, as Dr. Wu himself stated in “Jurassic World,” there’s nothing natural about what what they did. Essentially, the scientists in that movie used the genetic and evolutionary equivalent of a cheat code. There were no barriers to combining the DNA of a T-Rex with that of a Raptor. They just cut and pasted DNA in the same way you would cut and paste text on a word document.

That should sound somewhat familiar to those who have followed this website because that’s exactly what CRISPR does to some extent. It’s basically the cut function for DNA and it exists in the real world. The paste function exists too, although it’s not quite as refined. To that extent, “Jurassic World” is fairly accurate in terms of the technology they used to create the Indominous Rex and Indoraptor.

That’s not to say it’s possible to create the exact same creatures depicted in the movies. There are various anatomical limits to how big, fast, or smart a creature can be, even if there are no genetic barriers to contend with. I don’t know if the creatures created in “Jurassic World” could function in the real world, but the science for making them does exist, albeit in a limited capacity.

That, in and of itself, is a remarkable notion and one that makes the original “Jurassic Park” seem slightly more incredible. If anything, the original movie underestimated the progress that science would make in genetic engineering. That movie just had science rebuilding life from the remnants of existing creatures. We’ve already progressed to the point where we’re starting to make synthetic life from scratch.

This kind of technology has implications that go far beyond bringing extinct animals back from the dead or creating new ones that make for great fight scenes in a movie. It actually has the potential to circumvent evolution entirely in the struggle for survival. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” even explores this concept, but only to a point.

Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, this movie builds on the same genetics technology that “Jurassic World” introduced with the Indominous Rex. However, it isn’t just applied to dinosaurs. The sequel dares to contemplate how this technology could be used on humans or to supplement human abilities.

It’s not that radical a concept. Humans have, after all, used technology and breeding techniques to domesticate animals that have aided our efforts to become the dominant species on this planet. That process is still hindered by the hard limits of biology. The process in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is not bound by those limits.

In this movie, dinosaurs go beyond a spectacle at a theme park. They suddenly become a potential asset to further augment human abilities. Some, such as Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm, would argue that such creatures pose a risk to humanity’s survival. I doubt I’m as smart as Dr. Malcolm, but I’d also argue that he’s underselling just how dominant human beings are at the moment.

Maybe if dinosaurs had come back 1,000 years ago when humans were still using swords, spears, and arrows to fight animals, we might have had a problem. Today, humans have access to machine guns, tanks, and combat drones. Even the apex predators of the Jurassic don’t stand a chance.

I would further argue that the same technology that the scientists in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” used to make the Indoraptor is even more valuable in terms of how it can affect humans. After all, if you can copy and paste desirable traits into a dinosaur, then you can do the same to a human.

Doing that might cause plenty of ethical issues that Dr. Malcolm has articulated before, but there’s one factor that overshadows all those arguments and that’s the survival of our species. Let’s face it, the human has its limits. We can’t breathe underwater. Our skin is soft and vulnerable. Our immune system has room for improvement.

There are other mammals out there who can survive extreme cold. There are animals whose immune systems are much more effective than ours. There are even some animals that don’t even age. Nature has already solved many of the problems that hinder the human species today. It’s just a matter of taking those solutions and integrating them into our own biology.

If the technology in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” can create a creature as advanced as the Indoraptor, then there’s no reason why it can’t also create a human who has the muscle strength of a mountain gorilla, the immune system of an alligator, and the longevity of a tortoise. That kind of application is far more impactful than creating fancy zoo attractions.

I imagine that Dr. Malcolm might still warn about the use of this technology, but it may actually be an even greater risk to not use it. Again, it comes back to survival. Eventually, the Earth is going to die, either by the destruction of our sun or some other external force. If we’re to survive beyond that, we need to be able to survive outside one planet.

As it stands, the human species just isn’t built for that. It shows in how poorly our bodies react to space travel. It also shows in how much we struggle to survive in certain environments. To some extent, we must use the technology in “Jurassic World” to improve our survival.

Whether that involves tweaking our genetics with traits from more robust animals or creating pet raptors that help protect us, this technology has uses that are both profound and necessary. There’s still plenty of danger, although it’s doubtful any of that danger entails someone getting eaten by a T-Rex. However, it’s a danger we’ll have to confront whether the Ian Malcolms of the world like it or not.

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Natural Contraceptive App Blamed For Unplanned Pregnancies (As Expected)

Pregnant woman standing outside on a sunny day

There’s no question that advances in contraception have had a profound impact on our society. Some applaud it. Some resent it. Either way, there’s no uninventing it. Contraception, be it male or female, is a big part of our society and further advances promise to have an even bigger impact.

I’ve talked about the future of contraception before, as well as the potential impacts of those advances. There are a lot of things in development, as I write this, that men and women alike should get excited about. Between better IUDs and more birth control options for men, we’re quickly entering an age where we have unprecedented control over our fertility.

It’s for that very reason that it’s necessary to take a step back and remind ourselves of the existing flaws we have with the current state of contraception. There’s a reason why those advances I mentioned are in development to begin with. What we have now is pretty good, relative to older, more archaic forms of birth control. However, there are a few shortcomings that tend to lead to dramatic, albeit predictable failures.

One of those shortcomings/failures made the news recently and left several dozen women very disappointed, to say the least. According to a story from TheVerge, a recently-developed contraceptive app called Natural Cycles is being blamed for 37 unwanted pregnancies. Anyone who knows anything about pregnancy, female biology, and nature in general probably isn’t surprised.

That’s because the app in question basically made something like this inevitable. According to the article, the Natural Cycles app is supposed to help women who rely on more natural family planning methods. In terms of the actual process, these are the basics:

The app uses an algorithm and measures factors like temperature to determine the period when a woman may be fertile. It’s a popular alternative to hormonal contraceptives like the pill because it lacks side effects.

It’s pretty basic, but the principle makes sense on paper and isn’t based on radically new ideas. The concept of a woman tracking her fertility to determine the times of month when she’s most likely to conceive a child is fairly well-known. It’s most commonly called the “Rhythm Method” and according to the Mayo Clinic, it takes a lot of preparation.

To use this method, a woman needs actively track her menstrual cycle, accurately determine the parts of that cycle where she’s most fertile, and plan her sexual activity around those time-frames. It takes a great deal of physical awareness, as well as a certain measure of discipline, which some people are better at than others.

The Natural Cycles app is supposed to supplement those principles by aiding in that tracking process. It even tries to provide the woman with more data so that she has a better understanding of her body while tracking her cycle. In theory, having perfect knowledge of her biology will ensure a woman knows when she is or isn’t fertile.

natural-cycles-5

It’s that exact theory, however, that makes this news about a surge in unplanned pregnancies so unsurprising. There’s a good reason why this sort of approach to contraception is rarely practiced by anyone other than committed couples and is often discouraged as a general form of contraception.

As with so many other theories, the actual practice of the method doesn’t always work in the real world. That’s because the real world is a lot more chaotic, varied, and unpredictable than concepts on a piece of paper. That applies even more to human biology, male and female.

Now, the appeal of natural family planning like the one Natural Cycles promotes is undeniable. You don’t need to take a pill. You don’t need to have something inserted into your body. Plus, it gives you a chance to really know and understand the workings of your body. For both sexual health and general health, that’s has many benefits.

Unfortunately, the human body is not known for being that transparent. It does not come equipped with a USB port or a wireless interface that provides us with accurate, real-time data about our insides, although that’s one advancement science is working on. Absent that data, natural family planning, even with the aid of Natural Cycles, is going to be either incomplete or flawed.

I don’t doubt that the use of Natural Cycles helps in the process, but there’s a good reason why the same Mayo Clinic that so thoroughly lays out the process of natural family planning also identifies it as one of the least reliable forms of contraception. This is what they had to say about the risks associated with this method.

Using the rhythm method as a form of birth control doesn’t pose any direct risks. However, it’s considered one of the least effective forms of birth control. How well the rhythm method works varies between couples. In general, as many as 24 out of 100 women who use natural family planning for birth control become pregnant the first year. Also, the rhythm method doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections.

Given this information, the fact that some of those using the Natural Cycles app ended up pregnant should surprise no one. The shortcomings of natural family planning are well known and, for the moment, no app is capable of circumventing those shortcomings.

It’s not just that even the most basic activities of the human body are so difficult to quantify and track. Doing so and trying to plan around it assumes all those involved behave with perfect discipline. While I still believe that most human beings are inherently good at heart, I don’t doubt that human beings can also be erratic, irrational, and just plain stupid at times.

There will be moments when a woman misjudges or mistimes her fertility over the course of her cycle. There will also be moments when the passions between a woman and her lover will override whatever discipline they had promised to exercise during that time of the month. Even when people aren’t stupid, they can be overwhelmed by a moment.

That’s the ultimate flaw of natural planning and apps like Natural Cycles. It’s not just prone to human error. It relies on the absence of human error in order to work perfectly. That’s not just flaw. Those are unreasonable expectations that no population of healthy human beings can hope to meet.

It’s sad that several dozen women had to learn this the hard way, even if the outcome was fairly predictable. If nothing else, it should remind us just how much work we need to do on improving contraception, women’s health, and our overall understanding of our biology.

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The (Uncomfortable) Questions We’ll Have To Answer With Human Enhancement

In general, I tend to be optimistic about the future. I know that seems crazy, given our current political climate, but I try to look beyond the petty grievance’s and focus on the bigger picture. By so many measures, the world is getting better. The human race is on an unprecedented winning streak and we’re only getting better.

A great deal of this improvement is due, largely, to our ability to make increasingly amazing tools. As I type this, countless people who are far smarter than I’ll ever be are working on advances that will keep us healthier, make us smarter, and help us transcend our physical and mental limits by orders of magnitude.

This is all exciting stuff. We should all look forward to a future where we never get sick, we never age, and we have the physical and sexual prowess of an Olympic athlete on meth. The aspiring erotica/romance writer in me is giddy with excitement over the sexy possibilities.

Like all advancements, though, there will be a cost. Even the greatest advancements mankind has ever made in science, technology, and sex have come at a cost. It’s just the nature of the chaotic world we live in. Nothing is ever smooth and easy when there are so many chaotic forces that we can’t always make sense of.

That’s why for some of these advancements, such as CRISPR, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence, we have to be extra proactive. We’re not just talking about tools that makes it easier to defend ourselves against a hungry lion. These are tools that will fundamentally change what it means to be human.

They’ll take the caveman logic and tribalism that has guided the human race for its entire existence and throw it out the window. They’ll completely rewrite the rules of human nature, crossing lines and redrawing them in ways that even a kinky mind like mine can’t imagine. It won’t just be an overwhelming transition. For some, it’ll be downright traumatic.

Given that there are over seven billion humans on this planet, there will be a lot of moving parts to this transformation. Before we can even think about taking the first steps in that process, we need to ask ourselves some serious, unsexy questions. As much an optimist as I am, I cannot deny the need for caution here.

That’s why I’ll take a step back, keep my pants out, and ask some of these unsexy questions. I understand this won’t exactly get everyone in the mood, but given the rate at which our technology is advancing, we need to be extra proactive. That way, we can get through the hardest parts of the process and get to the sexy parts.


Uncomfortable Question #1: Who (Or What) Gets To Decide How Much We Enhance Ourselves?

This will probably be the most pressing question once the technology becomes refined enough for the commercial market. Most technology goes through a progression. We saw it with the development of cell phones. At first, only business tycoons and drug lords could afford to use them or even have a use for them, to begin with.

That model might have worked for cell phones. It’s not going to work for something like CRISPR or smart blood. That’s because, unlike cell phones, the poorest and the impoverished are the ones most in need of these tools. They’re also the ones that stand to benefit most, in terms of quality of life.

Historically speaking, though, the government has not treated the poor and impoverished very well. Use the same approach with cell phones and the rich and well-connected will be the only ones to benefit. They’ll also further widen the gap, so much so that they might be even less inclined to share.

That’s why the default answer to this question can’t just be the government or rich business interests. I’m not going to pretend to know who the authority will be or how they’ll even go about distributing these advances to people in a fair and just manner. I just know that our current method will not be sufficient.


Uncomfortable Question #2: How Do We Stop Certain Human Enhancements When They Go Wrong?

When your computer freezes, you reboot it. When the sound on your speakers starts making noises, you turn it off. It’s a beautiful, but underrated thing, having an off-switch. I’m sure we’ve all had people in our lives whom we wish had an off-switch. It’s a necessary fail-safe for a chaotic world that we can’t always manage.

Putting an off-switch on dangerous technology, especially something like artificial intelligence, is just common sense. It would’ve made “The Terminator” a lot shorter and a lot less confusing. With other advancements, especially those involving CRISPR and biotechnology, it’s not as easy as just installing an extra switch.

How do you turn off something that literally rewrites our DNA? How do you stop someone who has grown used to having superhuman abilities, by our standards? That’s akin to asking someone to make themselves sick or hack off a limb because the technology has some side-effects. That’s going to be a tough sell.

Again, I am not smart enough to imagine how a fail-safe for that sort of thing would work. It can’t just rely on blind faith, magical thinking, or whatever other tactic that used car salesmen exploit. It has to be in place and up to speed as soon as this technology goes live.


Uncomfortable Question #3: How Independent/Dependent Will Human Enhancement Make Us?

Smartphones, running water, and free internet porn are great. However, they do require infrastructure. People today are at the mercy of whoever pays their cell phone bill, whoever knows the wifi password, and whoever can stop their toilets from overflowing with shit. To some extent, we all depend on certain institutions to keep our lives and our society going.

In a future of enhanced humans, who have been imbued with traits and abilities that way beyond the scope of our current infrastructure, how dependent or independent can they be in the grand scheme of things?

If they rely on a regular injection of nanobots or need to recharge every other day, then they’re going to have to rely on some form of infrastructure. That may help keep enhanced humans from becoming super-powered Biff Tannens, but it will also give a lot of power to whoever or whatever is supplying those resources.

In a sense, it can’t be one or the other. If enhanced humans are too independent, then they have no reason to interact or aid one another. If they’re too dependent on certain resources, then those controlling those resources become too powerful. There needs to be a healthy balance, is what I’m saying. There will be costs, but we have to make sure that the benefits far outweigh those costs.


Uncomfortable Question #4: How Much Of Our Humanity Do We Keep?

Let’s not lie to ourselves. There’s a lot about the human condition we wish we could change or drop altogether. Personally, I would love to never have to go to the dentist, never have to clip my toe nails, and never have to sleep, which is an advancement that’s closer than you think.

Humanity has has a lot of flaws, which is a big part of what drives the development of these tools. However, there are certain parts about humanity that are worth preserving and I’m not just talking about the health benefits of orgasms. Change too much about our bodies, our minds, and everything in between and we cease to become human. At that point, why even care about other humans?

Maintaining a sense of humanity is what will separate enhanced humans from overpriced machines. Our sense of humanity is a big part of what drives us to live, love, explore, and understand. If we lose that, then we’re basically a very smart rock that’s only interested in maintaining its status as a rock.

To really expand our horizons, we need to preserve the best of humanity. Humans do amazing things all the time that reminds us why humanity is worth preserving. When we start enhancing ourselves, we need to save those traits, no matter what we become.


Uncomfortable Question #5: How Will Society Function In A World Of Enhanced Humans?

We’ve built a good chunk of our society around our inherent flaws, as humans. We form tribes to cooperate and survive in ways we can’t do on our own. We seek leaders who are capable of guiding us to functional, stable society. Granted, sometimes those efforts fail miserably, but the goal is the same.

With human enhancement, the rules aren’t just different. They’re obsolete. So much of our society is built around the idea that we’re still a bunch of cavemen with fancier tools that we really don’t have a concept of how we’ll function beyond that context. We have nation states, national identities, and various tribes to which we bind ourselves.

Those are all still products of our inherent drive towards tribalism. That’s still our default setting, as a species. What happens when we start tweaking those settings? Will things like nation states, government, and social circles even exist? When society is made up of a bunch of superhuman beings who can live forever and never need a sick day, how do we even go about functioning?

This is well-beyond my expertise, as an aspiring erotica/romance writer. It may be one of those things we can’t contemplate until after some of these advances take hold. At the very least, we need to put this question at the top of our to-do list when that time comes.


Uncomfortable Question #6: How Will Human Enhancement Affect Our Understanding Of Family And Love?

This is probably the most pressing question for me, as an aspiring erotica/romance writer. I’ve already highlighted some of the flaws in our understanding of love. Once humanity starts enhancing itself, it may either subvert those flaws or render them obsolete. In the process, though, it may create an entirely new class of flaws to deal with.

What happens to a marriage when the people involved live forever and don’t age? That whole “death do us part” suddenly becomes an issue. What happens when having children is essentially uncoupled from romance, through tools like artificial wombs? What will love even feel like once we start enhancing our brains along with our genitals?

Since all love and passion still starts in the brain, which we’re already trying to enhance, any level of human enhancement will necessarily affect love, marriage, and family. Chances are it’ll take on a very different meaning in a world where marriage is less about tax benefits and more about new forms of social dynamics.

Human enhancement will change a lot about our bodies, our minds, and our genitals. It’ll effect so much more, including how we go about love and family. It’s still impossible to grasp since we’re all still stuck with our caveman brains. However, once that changes, this is just one of many issues we should contemplate if we’re to make the future better, sexier, and more passionate.

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