CNN Future Summit: The panel
'Of Man and Machine' airs June 15
By CNN's Michael Bay
If we want science to progress and people's quality of life to improve, we have to deal with some very serious issues that are happening at the moment
-- Alan Colman
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ATLANTA (CNN) -- The panel for the first CNN Future Summit program is set. Originating from Singapore, the one hour program will focus on the long-term impact of research into the fields of robotics, cybernetics, genetics and stem cells.
The panel includes Alan Colman, who is working with stem cells to treat patients with diabetes and heart disease. Jay Keasling is working to synthesize a microbe that will provide an inexpensive source of a life-saving drug. Jun Ho Oh is building humanoid robots in South Korea. Joanne Pransky's work is focused on preparing us for the day when robots are a much greater part of our lives. And Daniela Cerqui studies the convergence of technology and humanity.
We've asked our panelists to share some of their insights into the impact of research into robotics, cybernetics, genetics and stem cells.
Alan Colman is the Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Scientific Officer of ESI in Singapore. His team is working with stem cells to treat diabetes and heart disease. "These are big unmet clinical needs," Colman says, "and we believe these are needs which can be met by stem cells in the next few years."
Colman is widely known for his work on cloning Dolly the Sheep in 1997. "I think the cloning of Doflly led to a paradigm shift in our views of what adult stem cells could and couldn't do," he says. "I think before Dolly we believed that they were frozen in a state where their genetic programs were fixed and couldn't be altered. I think Dolly indicated that you could, if you like, re-write the disc. If you imagine that the genetic program is like a hard disc on a computer, you could re-write that and you could train them to do other things and of course, this underpins what we hope to do in regenerative medicine, which is change what cells do, to actually effect cures."
Colman says the revolutionary advances in genetic and stem cell research will ultimately lead to "people having longer lives and higher quality lives in their terminal years." The impact on society will be, in part, economic. "There will be more people after fewer jobs," Colman says. Longer life spans will impact pensions and health care. "Although they will have a higher quality of life, the fact is there will be more of us around and we will be older."
"If we want science to progress and people's quality of life to improve, we have to deal with some very serious issues that are happening at the moment," says Colman. He cites the search for a renewable, non-polluting energy source as an example. "Nations just have to realize that if they ignore what's happening in the world at the moment, there will just be no nations left to actually make consensus politics about anything."
Joanne Pransky has spent the last 20 years studying the implications robotics research will have on society. "Autonomous, thinking robots living and coexisting with us on a daily basis will dramatically change our world," Pransky says. Billed as the world's first Robotic Psychiatrist, she's observed the development of robotics, and serves as a consultant for organizations and companies around the world.
"I believe the most important technological development of the last 20 years has been the personal computer," says Pransky. "Mass acceptance has led to dependency, which will eventually culminate in the merger of machine and human intelligence, the next species of humankind.
"Though technology may be beneficial in many ways," says Pransky, "and we humans may adapt both intellectually and physically, I question our ability to emotionally, socially, and psychologically acclimate at the same exponential rate."
That exponential rate of change means that at today's rate "a hundred years of progress will be made in 25 years," says Pransky, "and the 21st century will feel like 20,000 years of technical progress."
"How are we humans to adapt to change that rapidly?" asks Pransky. "Will society use the new technologies properly? What will the modified-human relationships with technology be like, and what will become of the quality of the human-to-human interpersonal relationship?"
"I believe that the biggest contributions that technology can make are to better the lives of people in the developing world," says Jay Keasling. Keasling is working to solve a problem facing millions of people around the world: genetically designing a new microbe to produce an inexpensive version of life-saving drug.
The Founding Director of the Synthetic Biology Department at the University of California at Berkeley, Keasling and his team are taking genes from three different species to produce Artemisinin, a key to fighting malaria. Artemisinin is found naturally in the wormwood tree, but extracting it is expensive and time consuming. The CDC estimates up to 2.7 million people around the world die every year from malaria. Keasling's solution could provide a cheap alternative source of the drug.
"Effective yet inexpensive healthcare, clean and inexpensive energy, and healthy food and clean water are some of the greatest needs for technology," Keasling says. "What the world needs to figure out is how to harness these relatively expensive technologies so that they will be put to use in the developing world."
Daniela Cerqui is a cultural and social anthropologist teaching at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. The focus of her work is the effect of the convergence of society and technology. "All these technologies should not be understood as separate fields," says Cerqui. "They are currently converging for improving humankind.
"In my view, the problem is that we are not 'just' trying to improve our quality of life, or to fight against disease," says Cerqui. "We are more and more fighting against human nature itself, as it seems that we don't accept longer our human boundaries: as we can transcend them with science and technology, we think that we must do it."
The result of this research, Cerqui believes, will be people living much longer, healthier lives. "As individuals, almost all of us are happy if technology can help in case of problem, but we have to stand back and wonder what it means for a society if everyone is able to replace every failing elements in his or her organism. That means, at a social level, that we have to redefine our whole structure in terms of employment, insurances, and pension funds.
"More fundamentally," Cerqui continues, "radically modifying ourselves also means that we might evolve into a new species, defined as anything but human!"
Jun Ho Oh
Jun Ho Oh is a professor at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He was instrumental in the development of HUBO, a humanoid robot who will be featured on CNN Future Summit: of Man and Machine, in June.
"Robot technology can provide many things to solve daily needs," he says, "from simple home care, cleaning, nursing and tutoring to personal assistance."
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