Could This Be Humanity’s Last Century?

OK, quick: Name a few important things that happened in the 11th century.

If you’re not tenured in medieval studies, that may be tough, although several modestly notable events took place in those hundred years – for example, the Battle of Hastings and the launch of the Crusades. When we look back a millennium, even the highest parapets of history become hard to discern. Nonetheless, those long-ago happenings dramatically altered the future.

But what about the 21st century? What will your kids and grandkids do that will still be important a thousand years from now?

Let me suggest that they may trump every previous generation. They may go beyond simply changing society, and possibly usher in the last act for Homo sapiens.

That may strike you as a less-than-sunny prospect, but only because you’re missing the big picture. I’m not talking about the various self-destructive threats of the moment – the ones that fill the papers and spark pontification on the nightly news. Yes, both terrorism and climate change are serious matters, but the former is manageable and frankly, so is the latter. Alleviating environmental catastrophe requires modifications of behavior. Hard, sure, but we’re not talking about violating physics.

No, the three big things that I believe will take place in the 21st century are more profound, and not necessarily bad.

To begin with, we’re finally going to understand biology at a molecular level. DNA’s double helix was discovered a mere six decades ago, and now – for hardly more than a kilobuck – you can sequence the genome of your yorkie or yourself.

The relentless interplay of science and technology ensures that genomic knowledge will spawn a growing number of applications. Curing disease is one of these, and it’s obviously desirable. But our efforts won’t be limited —> Read More