I’m trying to finish every episode of the wonderful science and culture podcast/radio program Radiolab this year and during my quest, I came across a quote from their 2008 episode titled “My So-Called Life” about the boundaires of science, morality, and bioengineering. They quote theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson‘s 2005 speech at University of Michigan where he outlines the future of bioengineering: games!:
Genetic engineering, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the big corporations prefer. Designing genomes will be a personal thing?a new art form, as creative as painting or sculpture.
The final step in the domestication of biotechnology will be biotech games. Designed like computer games for children down to kindergarten age but played with real eggs and seeds rather than images on a screen. Playing such games, kids will acquire an intimate feeling for the organisms that they are growing. The winner could be the kid whose seed grows to be the prickliest cactus or the kid whose egg hatches the cutest dinosaur.
When they are grown up those kids will be at home in the new world of biotechnology. They will be ready to put their skills to use, designing new species of termite with a taste for heavy metal to chew up old automobiles and designing new species of trees with silicon leaves to make liquid fuel out of carbon dioxide and sunlight.
His other “heresy” in the speech is that global warming is over-stated, so there’s that too, but his future of household bioengineering is prescient (Spore wasn’t out just yet) but also a bit terrifying (as Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich also point). A healthy dose of our brave new future just in time for the new Prometheus trailer…