George Church and Ramez Naam on the limitations of evolution, the power of matchmaking, and why we should send single-cell computers into deep space.
George Church is a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, but that title undersells him. He is very much an engineer, having developed technologies for sequencing DNA, editing genes, and manipulating stem cells. He’s also a beguiling prophet of radical biological change who urges caution even as he reminds people how tantalizing it all might be.
Where is all this stuff heading? To draw Church out on such questions, NEO.LIFE turned to Ramez Naam, another creative thinker who defies easy categorization.
Naam is the chair of energy and environment at Singularity University and author of More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, and the much-admired science-fiction trilogy Nexus. So you can see why we figured he and Church would have a lot to talk about.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Ramez Naam: George, you’re a pioneer in genome sequencing and in thinking about editing the genome. And you have been less knee-jerk than most people in rejecting some ideas that people find pretty far out. When news came from China last year that a scientist had edited the embryos of two girls in an attempt to make them resistant to HIV, there was a wave of condemnation. And you said…
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