Artificial Intelligence and gene editing are two of the most rapidly growing technologies in the world because of their amazing potential to transform humanity. However, combining AI with gene editing not only offers the potential of an incredible future where every human being is “perfect,” but also raises some serious ethical questions that are tough to address.
The amazing potential
The greatest impact area of AI-driven gene editing will be in the field of personalized medicine. As per estimates, this is expected to be a US$87 billion market by 2023. Personalized medicine will enable drug manufacturers to create medications that are aimed at a specific individual or group of people who share genetic similarities. Until now, research into the area was considered too expensive.
AI systems can be used to sort through millions of datasets to determine the exact medication required by an individual. This might actually be done in such an economically viable way that the personalized medicine industry could end up experiencing a rapid boom.
In fact, Google has already developed an AI called DeepVariant that is capable of generating an accurate picture of a full genome and differentiating between small mutations from random errors. “DeepVariant transforms the task of variant calling, as this reconstruction problem is known in genomics, into an image classification problem well-suited to Google’s existing technology and expertise,” according to Google AI Blog.
Deep Genomics from Canada feeds an AI thousands of examples of mutations, with the aim of enabling the AI to learn from the examples so that it eventually becomes capable of analyzing a mutation and predicting its impact. This would help medical practitioners select the right kinds of drugs for patients.
The uses of AI and gene editing do not stop at personalized medicine. In the future, we may be able to edit out genes that are identified with specific diseases. And this is where technology starts breaching the boundaries of human ethics.
Once we start editing out “disease” genes, it’s inevitable that we will start looking into editing genes in embryos that we consider undesirable.
“If AI can help with understanding how genetics leads to disease, then AI may be able to use our current knowledge about genetics to predict what combination of genes would make the healthiest human imaginable. Perhaps AI could even give recommendations on where to use CRISPR to edit human embryos. Experts could review those recommendations and use it to guide the actual editing process — ultimately helping doctors to create an ‘optimized’ child,” according to As We Think Now.
Prospective parents might start asking for babies who are stronger and smarter out of a desire to have prodigies as offspring. This might lead to a situation where the richer sections of society will keep improving while the poorer sections will be left producing natural children who will always be inferior, creating an almost unbreakable class system.
Among religious believers, there is the underlying belief that it is a higher power that creates and maintains social order. When man plays God and discards the process given for procreation, then the resultant entities that are created could well be against this social construct. This might lead to a rebellion among non-believers and destruction of long-established moral codes.
As we know from history and current circumstances, man cannot coexist peacefully with other men and will seek to impose his will over others given an opportunity. Without even reaching a stage of harmonious coexistence, how could he think about editing embryos to create a “perfect” life?
Such ethical concerns are why countries have restrictions on gene editing and related technologies.