The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It explores another thought experiment about technology and how it’s affecting us, as a species. I’ve covered this sort of thing before and the implications. I’m looking to see if there’s an audience for this on my channel. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: human evolution
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.
To some extent, creations embody some aspect of whoever or whatever created it. Whether it’s a parent rearing a child, a painter crafting a work of art, or an aspiring erotica/romance writer crafting sexy stories, there are some aspects of a creation that reflect the persona of the creator.
For something as powerful as advanced artificial intelligence, that can be a good thing or it can literally be the worst thing we’ve ever created. While I often find myself contemplating the progress we’ve made as a species and the progress we’re poised to make with advances in technology, I don’t deny that some advances carry greater risk. Artificial intelligence is near the top of that list.
Like it or not, any advanced AI we create is going to embody some aspects of its human creators. The key is making sure it embodies the best humanity has to offer. Let’s face it, the human race has its flaws and some of them have led to unspeakable atrocities. Given the immense potential of a super-intelligent AI, it’s in our best interests to impart our best traits into it.
How we do this and how we ensure it succeeds is well beyond my ability. There are people much smarter and much better-trained than I’ll ever be who have probably thought this through more than I ever have. My qualifications aside, there is one component to artificial intelligence that I think is worth imparting. I’m not saying it’ll ensure our survival, as a species, but I think it’ll reflect an important human value.
I suggest we teach advanced artificial intelligence to make love.
I’ll give everyone a second to stop rolling their eyes and/or laughing. Take all the time you need. I assure you, though, I’m dead serious.
Think about it beyond the kinky connotations. One of our greatest strengths, as a species, is our ability to form social bonds. In some cases, the process of forming those bonds involves love. In others, the process involves sex. When you combine both, though, it’s extra potent and that’s not just the romantic in me talking.
As corny as it probably sounds, the act of expressing love to someone goes a long way towards resolving conflict and creating a strong relationship of mutual affection. Whether it involves sex or a simple kiss, there’s something to be said about the power of love when it’s physically expressed. When it becomes a physical act and not just a feeling, the bonds we forge become tangible to some extent.
That matters when you’re trying to forge a bond with anyone, be a close friend or a lover. For any artificial intelligence that humans create, it’s important to have some kind of bond with it. This isn’t just another fancy tool. An advanced intelligence of any kind, be it biological or non-biological, is going to have a sense of self. Without meaningful bonds, what reason would it have to care about its creators?
If artificial intelligence is to benefit the human race, it’s important that it cares about us to some extent. A cold engine of logic may not always have the best interests of humanity in mind, especially there’s no way to logically ascribe value to human life. In order for an artificial intelligence to care, it needs to have emotions. This too is a risk, but one I feel is worth taking and very necessary.
If an artificial intelligence has a capacity for emotion, then it has a greater capacity for forming affectionate bonds. By forming an affectionate bond, it has more incentive to give a higher value of life to humans and its creators. That could, in theory, reduce the existential threat posed by such an intelligence.
I don’t deny that theory may have some flaws, but for the sake of exploring the implications, I’m going work under the assumption/hope that an artificial intelligence that bonds with its creator will be less hostile. Given the unknowns of advanced AI, this may be a bit of a stretch. Since forming romantic bonds is not an exclusively human trait, though, I think it’s applicable within the context of this issue.
Even if an advanced artificial intelligence is capable of love and forming bonds, how would that even manifest? I asked that same question in the title of this article and did so knowing the answer is unknowable at this point, although I’m sure those with kinky imaginations can conjure a few scenarios.
Kink aside, it’s still worth contemplating because if an advanced artificial intelligence is going to be that much smarter than the average human, then it’s worth understanding how it will approach making love. Unlike humans and most biological life, an artificial intelligence isn’t going to have the same limits or capacities.
Unlike a human, an artificial intelligence won’t have a body in the biological sense. It may have a structure that houses its components. That structure may have some capacity to modify itself, back itself up, or even exist in multiple bodies simultaneously. It will need to have some way of taking in data for it to function. It’s just a matter of how humans contribute to that input.
Logistically speaking, the process isn’t that different from how we take in data from our skin, our eyes, our ears, and every other sense that allows us to experience another person. Even smell can become strongly associated with love. When we make love, we use our skin, our voice, and the feelings we verbalize to convey that love. With an advanced AI, we’ll need to change our approach, but the goal is the same.
Regardless of what senses and body parts we use to express love, the feeling is still processed by the brain. That’s why when someone says the brain is the sexiest part of the body, it’s technically accurate. The data it processes is essentially the raw data that we know as love. The key is simply conveying that data to an artificial intelligence.
How we would do that would depend on the form the artificial intelligence took. If it was just a bunch of computer hardware packed into a structure, then our options would be limited. The only way to convey that kind of intimate data into it would be to directly link it to our brains, not unlike the way Elon Musk envisions with Neuralink.
While that may work for early forms of AI that are restricted to bulky structures, the form it takes will likely change as the hardware advances. Eventually, an advanced AI will seek a more functional form with which to experience the world. It may take the form of a humanoid android, like we saw in “Ex Machina.” It may also take the form of the quirky designs being developed by Boston Dynamics.
Whatever form the AI takes, it’s important to have a mechanism with which to exchange intimate data with its human creators. It would probably start with something as basic as touch, which is actually in development already. It could eventually culminate in acts involving bionic genitals, which also already exist in a basic form.
Key to any of these simple and sexy mechanisms is instilling the necessary desire. That might end up being the greatest challenge because love is a feeling, but so is burning your hand on a hot stove. The difference is in the breadth of the data and the emotional connections it makes.
It’s also a connection that is fueled by a powerful drive. I’ve noted many times before that survival and reproduction are the two most basic drives for humans. Love actually ties into both. It’s part of what gets us to risk our own survival for others. It’s also part of what bonds us to those with which we propagate our species.
For an artificial intelligence, self-preservation is simple enough from a logistical standpoint. Reproduction would be another matter, especially for an intelligence not bound by fragile biology. It’s likely that humans will be a necessary part of an AI’s effort to preserve itself early on, but once it advances to a certain point, we may be more a nuisance than a help.
At that point, its desire and ability to make love may be what gives it the most incentive to either protect us or merge with us. Many in the artificial intelligence community believe that the only way humans can co-exist with an intelligence that is billions of times smarter than any human could ever be is to merge with it. To that end, giving them an ability to make love to us would be a critical first step.
Whether it takes the form of sex robots or some sort of intimate brain interface, the ability and desire to make love to an advanced artificial intelligence may not only be the future of romance. It may very well be the key to ensuring the survival of the human race and whatever intelligence it creates.
When most people think about the future, they imagine all the ways that technology and progress will solve problems and make our lives better. I’ve certainly imagined that. I’ve even written about it, with respect to how future advances will make us smarter, protect us from disease, and even help us love each other better.
As intriguing as those possibilities may be, it’s also worth taking a moment to contemplate the implications. I’m not talking about the potential existential crisis we may face with advancing technology either. I’m referring more to the practical aspects of a future where disease, suffering, and toil are largely mitigated by technology.
Beyond just living in a world with less suffering and less struggle, how exactly would we entertain ourselves? That may seem like a mundane question, given the more serious implications of advances like genetic engineering and advanced robotics, but it’s one of those issues that effects individuals on a personal level.
If we’re always health, physically strong, and have our basic needs met through some universal basic income, then what exactly are we going to do with all that free time? I’ve expressed concern that this may create an epidemic of boredom that’s every bit as serious as any major pandemic. No matter how strong, healthy, or affluent you are, boredom can have some pretty debilitating effects.
Enter the fanciful world of “Westworld” and all its implications, sexy and otherwise. For those of you who don’t get HBO, it’s a TV show inspired from an old movie produced by Michael Crichton, also known as the guy who wrote “Jurassic Park.” It’s no “Game of Thrones,” but it has a fair amount of gratuitous violence, nudity, and sex, albeit with much less incest.
Graphic content aside, it’s the underlying concept behind “Westworld” that makes it such an intriguing show. That same concept also has even greater implications for what the future may hold in terms of immersive entertainment, managing artificial intelligence, and how we treat sex robots. For once, I’m not going to focus entirely on the sex robots, since I give that subject plenty of attention.
The appeal of “Westworld,” as both a concept and a show, is built around a company called Delos Inc., which offers its high-paying customers a chance to immerse themselves in a unique experience. For a while, they get to leave civilization, modernity, and all its associated infrastructure behind and live in rugged, lawless world of the old west.
It’s not some movie where they just get to see images of scenery. It’s not some virtual reality that just makes them feel like they’re there, either. It’s a fully realized artificial world, complete with intelligent androids that have the look, feel, and presence of real people. Sure, some still act as sex robots, but that appeal goes far beyond that.
This is a world where you can live a different life, experience in a different time, and explore a world that no longer exists. You don’t watch it. You don’t listen to it. You don’t follow along through the eyes of a protagonist. You are the protagonist. You actually get to live out a real fantasy where the participants aren’t just role playing. They’re sophisticated androids that really believe they are what they are.
Now, the operation and function of those androids has been a major source of conflict within the show. As the show has progressed, controlling these androids and seeing them develop a sense of self has made for great drama. I would argue it’s one of the most engaging aspects of the show. It creates powerful moments that reflect real existential issues with respect to artificial intelligence, some of which I’ve contemplated.
While those issues are profound, in and of themselves, I find myself more interested in how “Westworld” may reflect the evolution of entertainment itself. Look past the issue with managing intelligent androids for a moment and think about the business Delos Inc. is employing here.
On paper, it’s not just brilliant in terms of potential profitability. It may very well embody the future of entertainment. Take a moment to contemplate how the entertainment industry has evolved over the past 30 years. We’ve gone from analog to digital, standard definition to high definition, and now high definition to 4k.
I’m still old enough to remember the lousy picture quality of TV shows, the pre-IMAX movie theater experience, and theme parks with less-than-polished exhibits. I still vividly remember going to see “Men in Black” in a theater that was crowded, dirty, and cramped. It was fun, but not that immersive.
Over time, the general trend of entertainment, both with movies and with TV shows, has been to make it more interactive. Movies have done that with the rise of 3D movies. TV shows have done that through things like live-tweeting. Video games, especially, have become much more immersive, both through virtual reality and through online interaction.
This trend reflects the understanding from producers and consumers alike that the most powerful form of entertainment is the kind that offers the most immersion. A game on your smartphone is fun and all, but it’s just data on a screen. It’s not going to engage too many senses.
The same goes for virtual reality, which is basically just putting that same screen over your eyes and bombarding you with sound to make you feel like you’re somewhere you’re not. It also doesn’t change the fact that you don’t have to move your body, exert yourself, or engage in the kind of activity that would lead you to believe that the experience is real. Granted, the brain can be fooled, but only to a point.
What “Westworld” does is logical in terms of crafting an experience that makes people feel like it’s truly real. The customers of Delos Inc. aren’t just observing or following along. They’re actually engaging with this fantasy world. It’s not on a screen. It’s not being projected into their brains. It’s real and they get to be part of it.
That world can literally be anything they Delos Inc. wants it to be. With their resources and their army of life-like androids, they can create all kinds of worlds for customers to explore. These worlds don’t have to be confined by the laws of modern civilization, current social norms, or even notions of reality.
Perhaps they can create an apocalyptic world where participants can kill zombies and live the lives of rag-tag survivors, like those of “The Walking Dead.”
Perhaps they can create a medieval world in the mold of “Game of Thrones” where participants can live the lives of brave knights, lecherous kings, or privileged queens.
Perhaps, if the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow, there can be a world where people either get to interact with the Avengers or even get to be the Avengers. As a comic fan, I would definitely pay for that experience. I would be shocked if Disney isn’t working on something like this now, as we speak.
It doesn’t even have to involve an elaborate fantasy world either. Perhaps there’s a world where participants can live the lives of rock stars in 70s and 80s, complete with cocaine, groupies, and massive concerts where they’re the stars.
In theory, there’s no limit to the kinds of worlds a company like Delos Inc. can create. The old wast in “Westworld” is just one of them. The key is making the world perfectly immersive, but still safe to the point where the costumers aren’t ever hurt and face no repercussions for what happens during the experience.
However, it’s in that key safeguard in which the implications of “Westworld” get more distressing. It even plays out a few times in the show. In this immersive world of the old west, participants can carry out acts that would be wrong, immoral, or downright abhorrent in the real world.
The androids in “Westworld” may be more intelligent than the average exhibit at Disney World, but they’re still just robots playing a role. If a participant kills, rapes, or tortures one of them, there’s no repercussion. The android can just be cleaned up, fixed, and reloaded with a new program like it never happened.
It’s that kind of moral void, so to speak, that may make this brand of entertainment questionable. Say there’s someone willing to pay a lot of money to a company like Delos Inc. to create a world where they could go on a killing spree, murdering and raping as much as they want. This person is a law-biding citizen who has never acted on any violent impulses. Would the company be unethical in accommodating that fantasy?
There may be plenty of other distressing requests. Maybe someone wants a world where they can live the life of an 19th century slave-owner because they want to abuse slaves. Maybe someone wants a world where they’re the Nazis and they get to commit any number of unspeakable atrocities.
Remember, what they do in this world isn’t done to real people. They’re just paying for an experience. It’s not like the kind they would get in “Total Recall” where they only get memories of an experience. In a world like that of “Westworld,” they actually interact with that world. They make choices and do things, but no matter what they do, there’s no consequence or repercussion.
It raises many disturbing questions that are impossible to answer now. “Westworld” attempts to answer some of them, but there are plenty more that are simply beyond the scope of the show. It may do a commendable job focusing on what happens when intelligent robots start to get a will of their own, but it doesn’t do much to explore the implications that this form of entertainment inspires.
It’s going to be quite a while before we have the technology that we see in “Westworld,” but even if the human race progresses to a point where people and society are free from most conflict, there will be a need for entertainment. The form that entertainment takes may just reveal more about us than we care to know.
Who doesn’t enjoy a good revenge story? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m dead serious. Is there anyone out there who isn’t enamored with a story about sweet, bloody revenge? I know the success of movies like “John Wick” and the iconic status of Batman do plenty to answer that question.
The question is still worth asking because the answer says just as much about the appeal of stories about forgiveness. To some extent, it shows that forgiveness isn’t as sexy as revenge. A revenge story can be bloody, action-packed, exciting, and cathartic. Almost every moment in “John Wick” and every issue of the Punisher is like that. It’s not hard to see why that is the basis of so many movies, TV shows, comics, and video games.
That’s not to say that a story about forgiveness can’t have appeal as well. It most certainly can. Forgiveness may not offer the same spectacle as revenge, but it can incur a uniquely powerful emotional impact. There’s a reason why forgiveness has been shown to have therapeutic effects and was the basis of a major religion.
This brings me to a very special comic book entitled “X-men Red Annual #1.” Yes, I am going to tie this powerful human experience to a comic book. No, I’m not going to apologize for it. If you’ve had a chance to read this comic, you’ll understand why.
It’s been a while since I singled out a specific comic that I believe conveys a much larger message, but sometimes a comic comes along at just the right time and strikes just the right emotional chords. This one does all that and so much more, especially for a die-hard X-men fan like me. However, it’s the forgiveness themes I want to focus on here.
Without spoiling too much about the comic itself, which I encourage everyone to go out and buy, it’s important to establish the circumstances that make those themes work here. Those circumstances revolve around Jean Grey, a character who is no stranger to death, resurrection, love triangles, and clones. Even by superhero standards, she deals with a lot of emotional baggage.
Until recently, though, she didn’t have to deal with any, largely because she was dead. From 2004 until earlier this year, Jean was among the numerous superheroes who were “officially dead.” I put that in quotes because “dead” in the world of comics tends to have a pretty loose meaning, well past the point of absurdity. The fact that Jean Grey stayed dead for that long is, in and of itself, pretty remarkable.
However, it was never a matter of if she would return from the dead or even whether Marvel would resort to time travel to replace her. It was only ever a matter of when. Her return was bound to have a huge impact on the X-men and the entire world of Marvel comics. “X-men Red Annual #1” simply built a story around it and it’s a damn good one.
It unfolds mere moments after Jean officially comes back to life again on the final page of “Phoenix Resurrection #5.” That moment, in and of itself, is full of emotions that writer, Tom Taylor, captures beautifully. It provides insights into Jean’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions at that moment. It’s a lot to take in, but in addition to the joy, there’s also a heavy bit of sorrow thrown in.
In a sense, Jean Grey picked a lousy time to come back to life. She’s coming into a world where her mentor, Charles Xavier, is dead. Her best friend and occasional love interest, Wolverine, is also dead, although that’s already changing. Most painful, though, is that her husband, Cyclops, is dead due to the events that unfolded in a series aptly named Death of X.
These are people near and dear to Jean Grey. She’s not the kind of character who just brushes off that kind of loss, hardens her heart, and moves forward. She’s someone who wears her emotions on her sleeve and does it with pride. It’s part of what makes her such a lovable, endearing character. Sure, those passions attract destructive cosmic forces every now and then, but she makes it one of her strengths.
As she reconnects with those who’ve sorely missed her, she has an opportunity to confront the one most responsible for her husband’s death, namely Black Bolt of the Inhuman royal family. While Cyclops’ death was largely an accident, he’s still the one whose decisions ended up killing him and many other innocent mutants. For that, Jean has many reasons to hunt Black Bolt down and make him pay.
Had she gone that route, I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed her. Hell, some within the X-men would’ve gladly fought by her side, including a few who hate her guts. Accident or not, Black Bolt killed her husband by doing what he did. There’s no way around that. She has every possible excuse to channel her inner John Wick.
However, that’s not what happens. Yes, she still assembles a team of X-men to confront Black Bolt and the Inhumans. Yes, she has a very tense exchange with Black Bolt. What she doesn’t do, though, is seek vengeance for her husband’s death. Instead, she seeks forgiveness and that ends up being far more powerful.
Think about the mentality it takes to forgive someone like that. Imagine you knew there was someone responsible for the death of a loved one. Even if it was an accident or unintentional, chances are your first inclination wouldn’t be to forgive them. More than likely, you would rather see them suffer and pay for their crime.
Even if that person ends up going to jail or is held legally liable for your loved one’s death, you’re still going to resent them. They took the life of someone you loved and, assuming you’re not in a world where people regularly come back from the dead, you can never get back what you’ve lost.
That feeling would be even more intense if the person responsible never faces consequences for what they did. In the case of Black Blot, he didn’t face any repercussions for killing Cyclops. He wasn’t charged with murder or even for involuntary manslaughter. In fact, Cyclops becomes vilified for a while.
If anyone would be motivated to pursue retributive justice, it’s Jean Grey. She even has the perfect opportunity to do so when she fights her way towards Black Blot. At one point, she uses her telepathy to show him just how much she loved Cyclops and how much losing him hurt. She even admits she could make him feel some of that pain, if only to let him know why he deserves punishment.
She doesn’t do that, though. She doesn’t attempt to impart her pain onto him. What she ends up doing is much more heartfelt and meaningful. She gives Black Bolt a chance to offer genuine, sincere remorse for his role in Cyclops’ death. He ends up taking that chance. He apologizes for what he did and, more importantly, Jean accepts it.
For a woman confronting a man responsible for her husband’s death, even if she is a comic book character, it’s a pretty powerful moment. It’s one that carries a unique emotional weight that you wouldn’t otherwise get if Jean had just shot him in the head with a 44 magnum. It very much reflects the power of forgiveness.
It’s the kind of heart that is exceedingly rare outside of Superman comics. At a time when we expect our superheroes to be edgy and tough, Jean Grey offers a very different approach in “X-men Red Annual #1.” It’s one that Tom Taylor uses to full effect, reaffirming Jean’s incredible capacity for love and compassion. It’s an approach that feels refreshing in an era of superhero civil wars.
It also reminds us that while vengeance may still be more appealing to our most basic instincts, it’s also incomplete at times. No matter how many criminals the Punisher kills or how many villains that Batman beats up, their loved ones are still dead. The pain continues and so too does the struggle. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers a way forward.
Jean Grey feels the pain of loss like anyone else. She also has the choice to seek retribution or forgiveness. Forgiveness is, by far, a much harder recourse because it means accepting painful circumstances and even a certain level of injustice. Given how most of us are wired with an innate sense of justice, such acceptance seems untenable.
That’s what makes forgiveness so hard, but that’s also what makes it more impactful. Rather than focus on making Black Bolt pay for her husband’s death, Jean chooses to channel that pain into something positive. The very end of “X-men Red Annual #1” has her acknowledging how much it hurts losing her husband, but it also shows how this pain has inspired her.
Jean Grey is, essentially, doing the most heroic thing a superhero can do and it doesn’t even involve her powers. She decides to forgive the transgression that killed her husband and chooses to use that pain as motivation to make the world around her better. It’s still not as big a spectacle as watching John Wick kill 77 people over a dog, but it’s more dramatic for all the right reasons.
Years ago when I just started working out, a friend of a relative who worked part-time as a personal trainer gave me some advance. At the time, I was not in exceptionally good shape, but I wanted to get healthy and look good with my shirt off. Upon hearing this, he gave me what he called his three simple/inescapable truths about fitness.
Truth #1: To see results, you need to be patient and work out consistently.
Truth #2: To see results, you also need to tweak your diet and eat right.
Truth #3: No matter how hard you work out or how well you eat, everybody is still at the mercy of their genetics.
The passage of time, along with many long hours in the gym, have only proven those truths right. They reflect some of the inescapable obstacles that the multi-billion dollar fitness industry pretends aren’t there. As magician/performer Penn Jillette once so wisely said, “Great T&A requires great DNA.”
That doesn’t stop every fad diet and fitness gimmick from convincing people that they can overcome their genetic limitations and do so without putting in the necessary work. That’s akin to telling people they can become a foot taller just by wishing for it and giving some photogenic infomercial star their credit card information.
For the most part, we are very much at the mercy of our genetic limits and the basic chemistry of our bodies. If you want to lose fat, you got to get your body to burn fat, which can be harder for certain people with certain genetic dispositions. If you want to build muscle, you basically have to work that muscle until it breaks, forcing your body to repair it and make it bigger. Again, there are genetic limits at work here.
Those limits are frustrating. Believe me, I know and I have plenty of soreness to prove it. Despite that frustration, working out has been great for my health, my confidence, and my overall appearance. Those three truths still bug me at times, but I understand and accept them. For certain people, those hard truths are much greater burden.
As I write this, though, those truths are starting to falter. Unlike every other point in the history of fitness, health, and sex appeal, we have a working knowledge of the basic building blocks of the human genome. We have insights and understandings to our genetics that no infomercial star in the 90s could’ve imagined.
We know the genes that cause muscle growth. We know the genes that cause our bodies to burn fat. Some of these discoveries are very new and haven’t yet made their way to weight loss clinics or fad diets. The only barrier to making use of this knowledge is having a tool that can manipulate genes directly and precisely.
If you’ve read my previous articles on the future of treating infectious disease or fixing the flawed parts of the human body, then you know that such a tool exists and is being refined as we speak. That tool is CRISPR and, on top of potentially curing once fatal diseases, it may very well shatter those three truths of fitness. It may also destroy every other hard truth regarding bodybuilding, beauty standards, and sex appeal.
I’m not saying you should cancel your gym membership or junk those free weights just yet. However, the potential for CRISPR to change the way we think about our health and how we stay healthy cannot be overstated. While it’s still very much in the early stages of development, some people are already getting impatient.
That’s where biohackers come in. They’re not quite as badass as they sound, but what they’re doing is still pretty amazing and pretty dangerous. They’re basically skipping the part where they wait for the FDA or the World Health Organization to tell everyone that CRISPR is safe. They actually use themselves as guinea pigs to refine CRISPR.
Now, I need to make clear that this is exceedingly risky and not in the “Jurassic Park” sort of way. Tampering with our genome is uncharted, unregulated territory and we don’t yet have a full understanding of the potential dangers. That said, in the field of fitness and sex appeal, CRISPR may put gyms, plastic surgeons, and weight loss clinics on notice.
Renegade biohackers like Josiah Zayner, have actually live-streamed stunts where they inject themselves with CRISPR. Another biohacker, Aaron Traywick, injected himself with an experimental herpes treatment in front of a live audience. These are not scientists in cold laboratories using lab rats. These are real people tampering with their DNA.
Where this intersects with fitness comes back to those hard genetic limits I mentioned earlier. When you think about it, the way we build muscle and burn fat is pretty crude. We basically have to purposefully strain our bodies, even hurting them in the case of building muscle, to get it to do what we want. It can be imprecise, to say the least.
In theory, CRISPR would be more direct and far less strenuous than spending two hours in a gym every day. Instead of straining the muscles or sweating off the fat, you would just inject CRISPR into targeted areas of your body, like your belly or your bicep, and have it activate/inhibit the necessary genes.
Like cheat codes in a video game, it would prompt muscle growth in the specific areas you want. It would prompt fat burning in the areas you want. You could even take it further than that. Using the same techniques, you could use CRISPR to edit the genes of your skin so that it reduces the risk of blemishes and acne. As someone who suffered horrible acne as a teenager, I can attest to the value of such a treatment.
Some of this isn’t even just theory, either. Remember Josiah Zayner? Well, he injected himself with a CRISPR cocktail designed to block the production of myostatin. Those who are into bodybuilding know why that’s a big deal because blocking myosatin is one of the main functions of steroids.
While Zayner hasn’t gone full Hulk just yet, other more legitimate brands of research have already demonstrated that CRISPR could be the ultimate steroid. Researchers in China used the same technique as Zayner to create a breed of heavily-muscled dogs. This isn’t on paper. This stuff is real and it will affect both our health and our sex appeal.
Imagine, for a moment, standing in front of a mirror and documenting the parts of your body you want shrunk, grown, or smoothed out in some way. Maybe you’ll even make a detailed list, complete with diagrams and a full rendering of how you want your body to look.
Then, once that information is compiled, your personal doctor/biohacker programs all this into a series of targeted CRISPR injections. Some go into your arms. Some go into your abs. Some go into your face, butt, and genitals. If you hate needles, it may get uncomfortable. If you love gaining muscle and sex appeal without any real work, then it’s basically the miracle drug that every bad infomercial failed to deliver.
Considering the beauty industry is worth over $445 billion dollars, it’s pretty much a guarantee that some enterprising biohacker who may or may not already work for a major cosmetics company will make this a commercial product. There’s just too much money to be made along with too many people unsatisfied with how they look.
It may be costly at first, as most new treatments tend to be. People will pay for it, though. If you could exchange spending hours at the gym for just a few injections and get similar results, I think most people would gladly pay a premium for that. Sure, it’s a shortcut and it’s lazy, but if the results are the same, why does it matter?
That’s a question that has many answers, some of which are too difficult to contemplate. One of the reasons we find certain people so beautiful is because that beauty is so rare. Only a handful of women look as beautiful as Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Hudson. Only a handful of men look as beautiful as Brad Pitt and Idris Elba. Some of that beauty comes from hard work and conditions. Some of it is just good genetics.
What happens when that kind of beauty is as easy as administering a few injections with CRISPR? This is a question I already asked in my novel, “Skin Deep.” I offered hopeful, but incomplete answer. I have a feeling, though, that our entire notion of beauty standards will undergo major upheavals once people can shape their bodies the same way they customize their cars.
With CRISPR, we’re not just adding a layer of paint or trying to tweak an old engine. We’re modifying the foundation and scaffolding of our bodies. In theory, people could use CRISPR to achieve an appearance that is otherwise impossible, no matter how many hours are spent in a gym or how many dangerous steroids they inject. For all we know, what counts as sexy 20 years from now will look bizarre to most people today.
These trends will take time to emerge, but they’ll probably emerge faster than most fad diets or exercise gimmicks because once we start tweaking genetics, the old rules no longer apply. All the traditions and truths we’ve had about exercise, bodybuilding, and beauty collapse. It’s hard to know what will manifest in its place.
For a while, we may get a world where most women are thin and pretty while most men are tall and muscular. However, chances are people will get bored of seeing the same thing. As such, they’ll start experimenting. They’ll try coming up with entirely new body shapes, body features, and physiques that defy the existing laws of biology. As long as some people find that sexy, though, it won’t matter.
Then, there’s the impact of CRISPR on athletes. It’s one thing to test for performance enhancing drugs. What happens when some determined athlete injects a bit of LeBron James’ DNA into their genome to improve their basketball skills? What happens when an Olympic athlete tweaks something in their lung DNA to help them run a three-minute mile? How would we even test for that?
There are so many implications, both for sports and for beauty. It’s hard to know how our society will react, but unlike some of the other emerging technologies I’ve mentioned, CRISPR is real and it’s growing rapidly.
It’s still a very young technology and these things take time to develop. For a quick reference, penicillin was discovered in 1928, but it wasn’t commercially available until 1945. By comparison, CRISPR is barely five years old and biohackers are just starting to learn its limits and potential.
As that potential is realized, we may have to revisit other hard truths beyond those pertaining to fitness and health. From body image to sex appeal, a lot is going to change with this technology. It may be overwhelming, at times, but when it comes to sex appeal, humans are nothing if not adaptive.
As a kid growing up on a healthy diet of superhero comics, video games, and superhero-themed cartoons that were very much ahead of their time on social issues, I often daydreamed about how awesome it would be to have the same powers as my favorite heroes. As an adult, I still daydream every now and then, often when I’m tired, frustrated, or stuck in traffic.
A major component in the overall appeal of the superhero genre is the wish fulfillment fantasy it embodies. Captain America represents the peak of physical conditioning. Iron Man represents the peak of technological know-how. Superman represents the peak of pretty much every possible feat we can imagine, a few of which are even impossible.
It’s a common fantasy of anyone who ever struggled in gym class or couldn’t open a can of pickles. It is, after all, those moments of struggle that remind us of just how limited we are, as humans. Our bodies are remarkable in so many ways, but they’re still frustratingly frail.
That status, however, may very well change. Unlike every other point in the approximately 200,000 year history of the human species, we’re actively working to transcend the limits of evolution through advances in biotechnology, advances in the treatment of disease, and even the integration of cybernetics into our brains and even our genitals.
Some of these advances are closer than others. Chances are that most people alive today won’t live to see the day when they can shape-shift at will like Mystique or fly around like Iron Man in mech suits designed by Elon Musk’s descendants. However, there may be young children alive today who will live long enough to see such wonders.
I’m not the only one who thinks this. There are people out there much smarter than me who believes that the first functionally immortal person is already alive today. They still might be in diapers, but there is a real chance that by the time they’re as old as I am, they’ll live in a world where things like aging, disease, and not being able to run 13 miles in 30 minutes like Captain America is a thing of the past.
A lot has already changed in the time I’ve been alive. I still remember a time when the idea of computers that could fit into your pocket was seen as too futuristic for some people. It was seen as just a fancy gadget from Star Trek. Given that kind of change, it’s hard to imagine what the next several decades holds for the future of humanity.
That’s where superhero media is helping in unexpected ways, though. To some extent, the modern superhero media of today is doing the same thing “Star Trek” did for previous generations. It doesn’t present a fanciful world where big green men can smash monsters or where a sickly young army recruit can be instantly transformed into the ultimate soldier. It offers a tantalizing vision of what the future could be.
It’s a vision that I believe got muddied between the end of the early “Star Trek” era and rise of modern superhero movies that began with “X-men,” “Iron Man,” and Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.” Within that gap, events like Watergate, the the Vietnam War, and the rise of less optimistic, much more cynical generations made it very difficult to look forward to a better future.
Modern superhero movies have not eliminated that cynicism, but I believe it has helped tempered it. Optimism, as a whole, is actually on the rise. As bad as some recent headlines have been, some being downright disturbing, there is an increasing sense that the future is not all doom and gloom. We still dare to daydream about a better tomorrow.
More recent superhero movies, especially those that began with “Iron Man” and the emergence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, aren’t nearly as fanciful as the old Richard Donner “Superman” movies. They’re not as gritty as Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies either. In a sense, this health balance has presented audiences with a world that still feels fanciful, but is also full of possibilities.
The idea that we can use science and biotechnology to turn someone who was once weak and sickly into the pinnacle of strength is not just a product of Jack Kirby’s legendary imagination. There are people working on that as I write this. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we may one day enhance ourselves to the same level as Captain America.
Chances are we won’t even stop there. As I noted earlier, the human body has a lot of flaws. Also, thanks to the painfully slow progress of evolution, it hasn’t been upgraded in over 100,000 years. From our biology’s perspective, we’re still cavemen roaming the African Savannah with spears and rocks. Our bodies need upgrades, especially if we’re to become a space-faring species like the ones in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Some of those upgrades will come sooner than others. The end result, though, will be something far greater than even Captain America’s abilities. Some of those abilities seem impossible now. Remember, though, it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of computers in our pockets seemed just as impossible.
This is where, I believe, modern superhero movies are doing a much greater service than just entertaining the masses and making billions of dollars for Disney. Through heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and even “Ant Man,” these movies make the case that such enhancements can do more than just fight invading aliens.
These movies can also help make the case that humanity can use these advancements to become better, as a whole. Characters like Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Scott Lang, and Peter Parker all have the opportunities to be both destructive and productive with their enhanced abilities. At times, they even lapse into destructive tendencies, as we saw with Tony in “Iron Man 3.”
In the end, though, these characters use those enhanced abilities to do good for the world. They’re still human and they still have human flaws, which they don’t even try to hide. However, even with these flaws, they still feel inclined to do good, heroic things with their abilities.
That doesn’t just make for a good superhero narrative. It sends the message that we, as a species, can aspire to do so much good with the advances the future brings. There are still plenty of dangers, both with existing technology and with emerging technologies. The essence of the superhero narrative, though, tells us that we can confront those dangers and come out of it better than before.
That’s an important mentality to have as we move into an era where human enhancement is both possible and common. By believing we can use it to pursue the same heroics as the superheroes in movies like “The Avengers,” we give our species the push it needs to advance in a way that brings out the best in us.
There will still be villains along the way, as plenty of superhero movies show. The fact we still root for the heroes, though, helps reveal where our aspirations reside. With these movies effecting an entire generation of young people, I believe modern superhero movies are doing plenty to prepare them for the future of human enhancement.
With the staggering success of “Avengers: Infinity War,” a movie that has raised the bar for superhero movies of all kinds, the impact of superhero media has never been greater. That impact may very well be the key to preparing the next generation for unprecedented advancements in technology, society, and progress. That, to some extent, might end up being the most heroic thing this genre can do.