Biotech is big business, or as Trump would say, “very, very big.” Now a giant called Celgene is investing in biotech’s future by buying Impact BioMedicines with a possible $7 Billion ante up. Good investment? Well, biobucks are hotter than Bitcoin, long term. Just watch any network news report, the second half of which is all pharmaceuticals, with side effects. Development takes years and millions, and the payoffs are big, and losses also. Drug patents expire, rivals vie for space, with mergers and acquisitions the ultimate power play. Trump is trying to deregulate everything from the EPA to the DEA. It’s a “go big or go home” strategy. The cancer drug Jakafi is a huge seller for two other pharmaceutical giants, and Celgene wants to compete. They want in. On the ropes with their own drug expiring soon, they have little choice. The CEO touts the future of using genetic engineering to attach genes to molecules, similar to what Ron Howard’s show Breakthroughs reported last year in which a neutered HIV targeted cancers past the blood/brain barrier. Meanwhile, supplements like Nugenix is being hyped to athletes to improve testosterone. (The Dan Patrick Show advertises it NBCSN. Wink, wink.) Is there a dark side to biotech? “CRISPR” (pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which are the hallmark of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. It may soon be possible to eliminate certain diseases genetically, to change the eye color (and more) of babies, and to lengthen the lifespan of humans. Many strides have already been made, such as the means to fight cancer using gene therapy. To some, this is all “playing God,” while to others it is progress: the “search for better explanations, leading to discoveries,” as David Deutsch put it in “The Beginning of Infinity.” Whatever one’s beliefs, there are problems with all technologies, as discussed in the new book on social media interfaces: “Dawn of the New Everything” by Jaron Lanier. In my novel “The Methuselah Gene” a neutered HIV is used, not as a cancer therapy, but to implant a longevity gene taken from a bristlecone pine tree past the blood/brain barrier, and extend human life by decades. A pill to do something like this is now in the works, and may be here within a decade. How much would such a pill cost, and will only the super rich be able to afford it, not the “Young, Dumb and Broke?” In the New Rules governing culture, before our young icons can acquire near immortality via science, what if nefarious forces tested it on a small town without their knowledge or consent…and discovered that there were side effects?
Mostly not. It can improve reaction time, and foster cooperation and competition. But there is a Dark Side. Players who become addicted lose track of friends in the real world, and enter a kind of Virtual Reality of combat, where everyone who doesn’t look like “us” (whoever the “us” is) are seen as an enemy worthy of dying. Kinda like the ISIS view of US. Or North Korea. A few younger kids who are bullied at school may take their parent’s weapons to exact revenge. The NRA would rather have automatic weapons in wide circulation, with kids being killed by police, as the kids kill others, than to upset the 2nd Amendment…which never imagined such weapons in hands of kids. In some video games you can kill kids and cops with flame throwers, chop up women you don’t like—alive—and then piss on your victims. All “just a game,” they say. No effect whatever? Science not conclusive? Ask Lt. Col Dave Grossman, an FBI and CIA trainer, about that. He wrote for Psychology Today. What about the kids who kept notes taken from violent first-person shooters, and posted messages with direct quotes from games before they went to shoot up a school? Why do we need to have machine pistols for sale at Cabelas? What are you going to hunt with a machine pistol—snipe? Forget about guns, what about the deadening of young player reaction to violence, of older players not wanting to get “involved”…of concentrating on selfies posted to Instagram of fitness “goals?” Half of American culture is a big middle finger raised to anyone trying to “stop them,” whatever that means. Who is trying to stop you, and from what? From climbing a bell tower with a sniper rifle? Currently, few would succeed in stopping you doing that. The police rely on tips, since it’s hard to track lone wolf shooters. What if a shooter or bomber is “off the grid?” What if they are using gaming consoles to communicate, as they did in the Paris attacks? What if they know more about social media than your average bear? …What if they believe in fate and luck, not science…or their own brand of whacked-out religion (sports is also a religion, with concussions affecting the brain, and obsessive attention to “winning,” whatever that means.) All things in moderation, is one quote that comes to mind. Another is from the book “The Beginning of Infinity,” the best science audiobook I’ve ever heard, by a quantum computer pioneer who debunks bad science so well that the NY Times called it a masterpiece. “Differences in degree constitute differences in kind.” That’s one of the laws of logic. Being obsessed, as many are, and addicted to screens instead of the natural world and real friends, is a problem also mentioned by Nicholas Carr in “Utopia is Creepy.” Technology is only great if it remembers that we are still human, while in the meantime the abusers of technology (The Four) are trying to turn us into robots before our time.
One of my novels, “Fame Island,” was narrated by a Star Wars gaming (and movie) actor. He has appeared in many TV series, from The Rockford Files to Law & Order, and the second edition of The Twilight Zone. He is heard as HK-47 on in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Currently he directs Hallmark movies. Met him in L.A., at the Audie Awards.