The Lab (Ch. 34) – Bionic Bug Podcast Episode 034

Hey everyone, welcome back to Bionic Bug podcast! You’re listening to episode 34. This is your host Natasha Bajema, fiction author, futurist, and national security expert. I’m recording this episode on December 9, 2018. 

First off, a quick personal update. I’m now in the editing phase for Genomic Data, Book Three of the Lara Kingsley series. If you’re enjoying Bionic Bug thus far, you can order Project Gecko. I’m offering print versions on Amazon and the ebook version on Kobo or Walmart. Also, I’ve selected a professional narrator to produce the audiobook for Bionic Bug. I expect that will become available in February or March of 2019.

Let’s talk tech. Two headlines for this week:

  • Last week, I talked at length about the CRISPR baby controversy. This week’s headline is “Despite CRISPR baby controversy, Harvard University will begin gene-editing sperm” published on November 29 in MIT’s technology review by Antonio Regalado.
    • This article highlights a critical dilemma surrounding many emerging technologies, the many benefits they offer to society. Of course, these are juxtaposed with risks and ethical gray areas. What troubles me most is the lack of discourse and awareness beyond the scientific communities who are concerned with the research. Do we want to prevent genetic diseases from birth? If so, under what conditions?
    • At Harvard University, scientists will use CRISPR to edit the DNA of sperm cells in order to reduce the risk of Alzheimers. Unlike the controversial experiment in China, this research will not produce embryos or the birth of genetically modified babies.
    • We’re getting closer to the reality in which we can alter the DNA of children before they are born to enhance their health prospects. But should we?
    • This article raises some important questions: “What if a new killer virus arises and sweeps the world? Maybe there will be no vaccine but some people will be able to resist it thanks to their genes, as some fared better with the Black Death in medieval times. Wouldn’t we want to then give the genetic antidote to all members of the next generation?”
  • My next headline is “The coming cyberwar: China may already be monitoring your electronic communications,” an opinion editorial published by Morgan Wright on The Hill on December 4.
    • Over the course of this podcast, I’ve talked a lot about China and its appetite for data. I’ve also spoken about some of its predatory technology transfer practices. In fact, this is a running theme in the Lara Kingsley series that starts in Project Gecko, the second book.
    • This op-ed highlights yet another example of China’s activities designed to support its “Made in China 2025” strategy. And it shows how we’re missing the big picture. 
    • In the article, Mr. Wright discusses how U.S. subsidiaries of Chinese transportation companies are competing for contracts in the United States. In fact, they’ve “won four contracts valued at $2.5 billion.”
    • For example, one of these Chinese-owned companies won the bid for producing 254 subway cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The bid was half the amount of the next highest bid. How’s that possible? The Chinese government offered the company massive subsides to give it the upper hand in the competition. 
    • If you’re upset about this, then you’re really missing the big picture. The real issue is the technology installed on these subway cars: “Wi-Fi. Surveillance cameras. Automatic passenger counters. Internet-of-things (IoT) technology. And Chinese software and hardware.” All of this allows China to gather data.
  • It’s time for a soapbox moment. I don’t think we value data in this country. Most of us, myself included, offer up massive amounts of data about ourselves to private companies, in exchange for free services. What we fail to understand is that the future runs on data.
  • Take CRISPR for example. Without data about the genomes of living organisms and gene sequences and what functions they code for, CRISPR is a hammer without a nail. People get up in arms about the ability of CRISPR to modify embryos, but don’t even blink at the notion of sending their DNA away to a private company to learn about their ancestry.
  • Artificial intelligence is another area where people get more excited about the prospect of supermachines than the fact that machine learning tools run on data being collected by private companies and used to make decisions. Often, this data simply reflects today’s reality; it is biased. We don’t see it, but we’re becoming prisoners of our own data.

Let’s turn to Bionic Bug. Last week, we left Lara receiving a tour of Fiddler’s beetle farm. Ooh, scary. Let’s find out what happens next.

The views expressed on this podcast are my own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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