This special episode is the second of 5 talks delivered on stage at StartWell’s Event Space on King St W in downtown Toronto on November 28, 2019 for a globally roaming annual series called Dark Futures.
This talk was presented by Oksana Andreiuk (https://canadianbiohacker.com/) and is titled “You’re already a cyborg and it’s about to get weirder.”
*Dark Futures is presented by globally renowned Futurist, speaker, researcher, and author Nikolas Badminton. (https://nikolasbadminton.com/)
[expand title=”Podcast Transcript”]
Qasim Virjee 0:18
Welcome back to this the 26th episode of the stairwell podcast. As always, I’m your host, Qasim Virjee, the CEO and founder of start well, and this episode is special. We have the second talk that was presented at dark futures y, y, z as part of a miniseries that we’re broadcasting over the internet on iTunes and Spotify. I hope you enjoy it. It’s a talk by Oksana and Dre, who has graced our stage at start well before talking about biohacking. This time, her title talk is you are already a cyborg, and it’s about to get weirder.
Oksana Andreiuk 1:00
Thanks, everyone. So I’m so excited to be talking to you today. First one up to tell you about the fact that hey, you’re a cyborg, and it’s about to get weirder a little bit about myself and my background is in genetics and biotechnology. I also founded the first and largest biohacking longevity group in Toronto. So if you’re interested in more talks like this, check out the group or follow me on instagram Canadian bio hacker where I share my personal biohacking tips, my learnings and product reviews. So without further ado, are we ready to hear about the super convergence of technologies? Yes, we’re gonna talk about what’s gonna happen when genetic biotechnology and AI collide. So some of you will think, you know, some of these things are so far out there, it’s not gonna happen within my generation. I don’t need to worry about this. But truth be told science fiction 15 years ago is possible today with products like stem cells, growing livers in pigs, and pacemakers. Simple enough. 15 years ago, that was a wild idea. Just this year earlier, a human got electrodes implanted in his brain along with a few other people in the clinical trial to test how we can reduce the effects of Parkinson’s disease. So there are going to be humans walking around with electrodes in their brain soon. Again, this is Toronto’s very own Rob Spence, who is a documentary filmmaker. This is from 2011. This is a while ago, almost 10 years ago, we had a person actually implanted bionic camera eyeball, into his eye, or in place of his eye. And earlier this year, again, another man who was blind actually got a real bionic eye that’s connected to his brain that allowed him to see the world. What’s next, scientists are working on injecting US soldiers to allow them to have night vision. Now we’re getting really bionic, because this is going beyond the what’s normal for humans to have right. Now, those are all medical, clinical procedures, they seem a little while they’re more on the medical side. What can we do as consumers though? Are there any products out there? Yes, we’re starting to see more and more consumer products hitting the market that allow us to surpass our natural human capabilities, products like Halo, neuro sport. So this is a tool in the fitness realm of things. So if you’re into fitness, you might be interested in something like this. So this device actually puts an electrical current into your brain into the areas that have to do with muscle memory, that allow you to train more effectively. So if it conjures up memories of, you know, 60s, scary neuro psychology experiments of electro shocking people and patients, well, now there are products on the market that allow you to do this to yourself, but safely. So you may be thinking, you know, those are all kind of out there, I’m not going to get stem cell injections, I’m not gonna put a bionic eye in places my real one, that’s not you know, I’m not really a cyborg. But the biggest human experiment, that is allowing us to see how technology can change our identity and how we interact with the world around us, is our very own cell phone. So all of us have this inner pockets, we all carry it around. And our cell phones are actually altering the way that we see ourselves, how our brain operates and how we interact with the world around us. So with cell phones, this is actually augmenting your own very self because without a cell phone, think about it. You with a cell phone, smart, knowledgeable, capable, without a cell phone. Who really are you? What can you do? And it’s gotten to this extent where losing your cell phone will actually probably cause very serious withdrawal symptoms on a physical level, because to your brain, and this is a great example of the brain’s ability to internalize external objects as part of its own self, if you lose a cellphone it for your brain is just as painful as losing a finger. So if you didn’t think you were a cyborg before, I hope you’re convinced now because we are all living in a society of cyborgs. If you have a Fitbit, if you have a fitness tracker, Apple Watch, we’re all tracking and measuring our health, or biomarkers, we’re stepping on our smart scales to check our body composition and storing that data in the cloud. We are cyborgs. And we’re using technology to optimize the lives of our lives and the lives of our loved ones as well. So more and more our lives have a tech narrative, and the way that science is accelerating, and our innovations and technology, the fusion of bio technology, with tech is only going to keep going. So things are about to get weirder.
Oksana Andreiuk 5:57
Because let’s talk about biohacking. What makes us truly unique. What makes us truly unique is our DNA. Right? So our next stop is altering our DNA, let’s talk about it. When do we get our unique genetic code at the point of consumption, or production. So let’s start there. In 2050, sex will no longer be the primary means of reproduction. Hey, I didn’t say you’ll stop doing this, it just will no longer be the primary means of reproduction. Because think about it. As parents, you want the best for your kids, you want to reduce their health risks, you want them to be safe to be successful in life. And so what’s available today, something called PGT, or prenatal genetic testing, which allows new parents are expecting parents to receive a profile of the genetic status of the embryo growing inside the mother, which then allows them to make decisions based on the outcomes of that test, whether the test is positive for certain genetic abnormalities or certain diseases, they then have a choice whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. Now, this is common enough. And Iceland, Australia, China, Denmark, and UK, embryos testing positive for Down syndrome now have a termination rate of 90 to 98%. Turning things a little darker since this is dark futures. Let’s talk about the fact that it’s estimated that 9% of all PGT done in us is for gender selection, which is illegal in a lot of countries. But it goes to show that what’s illegal in one country isn’t necessarily illegal in another In fact, it can be more accepted and accessible. Now, that’s going to be a theme throughout this talk. So let’s put a fit on that. And talk about the fact that you know, why go through the painful process and decision making of terminating a pregnancy versus pre selecting a pre implanted embryo based on the statistical probability of its best possible health outcomes. So this is IVF in vitro fertilization, where consumption happens outside the mother. And since 1978, over 8 million babies have been born through IVF. So that’s a while ago, which means that there are adults and teenagers walking around amongst us who were born through IVF, or conceived outside the mother, and IVF. Of course, as they mentioned, certain countries, these things are more accessible than others. In North America, unfortunately, IVF is still considered quite expensive. Parents typically go through about three rounds of IVF for a successful pregnancy. In North America, or us specifically, it costs about 12 to 30,000 per round of IVF. That’s pretty expensive. And Poland, on the other hand, $1,200, you’re good to go. And Israel, it’s actually covered by the national health care plan for mothers, for women under 45. So again, certain countries, less accessible other countries is actually more so encouraged. Companies are also beginning to cover IVF as part of employee health care plans. Again, demand drives access. And what we’re going to see is, as more parents demand this, as more people come around to the idea of IVF and want this for their kids, the best and most competitive companies will start to cover this and offer this to their employees as a competitive perk. So bringing this back to the idea that in 2050, sex will no longer be the primary means of reproduction, because that will be seen as risky, and simply foolish. You know, your people are going to be saying, Hey, did you hear about John and Mary down the street? They actually chose to roll the dice on their child’s health and choose to not pre select the best possible outcomes for them through IVF. Do you want to be John and Mary? He probably is you’re not. And it goes to show that societal pressures definitely do play a point in technology adoption. So in 2050, parents will want children so you can see Outside the mother, so the embryo can be sequenced, selected, and genetically altered. So let’s start with genetic sequencing. The global consumer genetic sequencing market is huge, and it’s growing fast. Last year, it was over 800 million in 2028, it’s estimated to hit over $6 billion. How many of you know someone who has done 23andme? Or another consumer genetic test? Or have done this yourself? But show of hands? Yeah, quite a bit, um, you know, almost half close to half. Yeah. So the demand is growing fast. And if you think about it, 2028. That’s not even a third of the way to 2050, which is what I’m talking about. I feel like I’m taking a huge estimate, and in might even some of these changes might even happen before then.
Oksana Andreiuk 10:54
So, genetic sequencing, we’re talking about genetic sequencing for yourself, oops, this is a choice that you’re making right now. Right? Do you want to genetics, at least sequence yourself? Do you want to buy 23andme? Do you want to know about your status? What about picture yourself as a child or as an adult who was born, but your parents chose to genetically sequence you at birth, and they’ve been making life decisions for you, based on that, from the very beginning, you did not have a choice whether or not you got your gene sequence. This is exactly what’s happening in China, where, you know, fairly competitive country. Children’s genetic testing is a booming market in China, so much so that a Boston based genetic sequencing company actually chose to launch their my baby genome, baby gene genetic sequencing product in China’s their first market, and it costs about $1,500 to get this done. It’s a booming market. Chinese parents want this to ensure that they learn about their children’s talents, and nurture those talents accordingly. This is another company, Matt, my gene, it’s a Malaysian company. And this is an example of some of the messages that parents in Malaysia are receiving about genetic sequencing. I know this is all print, so I’ll read it out to you. They can give the child the Headstart, no more guessing games, no more trials and errors, just focus on their talents that they have discovered zoomin and develop it and maximize it to the fullest potential. So you have normal parenting, and then you have genetic leveraged parenting, which one of those do you want to be normal parenting is starting to be seen as a waste of time, and resources, and money. Because why guess what your child is going to be talented at what they’re going to succeed in, when you can map their genome, find out what their predispositions and talents are, and then nurture and invest in those talents from the get go to give them a step up in life, right from the start. Back stop genetic engineering, we talked about genetic sequencing, let’s take it up a notch. So genetic engineering. Last year, we already had twin baby girls born in China, that have been genetically engineered to make them resistant to HIV. Now, this caused the huge splash in the scientific community around the world. Because this was done without university or government supervision by the scientist at hand. This was a big uproar, you know, all over the news, people thought, Alright, it’ll quiet down. And we won’t hear about this again, wrong. China was awaiting the birth of a third genetically engineered baby earlier this year. So the headline is, we as a species need to come to terms with this kind of technology, because these things are happening, and you can’t, once the baby’s born, you can’t just unborn the baby, it’s there, it’s in the world they’re living, these genetically engineered babies are going to grow up to be humans. And what’s happening is scientists around the world are now coming out with the fact that hey, they too, are working on genetically engineering embryos. This is happening in us in Russia, and I’m sure we’re gonna keep seeing these headlines pop up until it becomes the new norm. So what are countries doing in response to this? Well, it seems like people are really coming around to the idea that they want to genetically engineer their kids. Now, I only have 15 minutes for this talk. So I can only pick up certain headlines and comments for you. But this is an example of the UK where in 2017 a survey showed that nearly half of the survey responders were in favor of genetically engineering to enhance human abilities like intelligence. So we’re no longer talking about medical conditions, or you know, reducing the risk of certain diseases. We’re talking about enhancing superficial abilities. Like halogens have fast you run your personality, your creativity, things like that. And the UK ethics body is approving of this. And you may not be able to see, but according to the bioethics Council in the UK, they see it as morally permissible, if this is in the child’s best interest. So they’re not talking about medical conditions here. They’re leaving it fairly vague loophole if I’ve ever seen one, what’s in the child’s best interests? Right? Is it only from a medical standpoint? Or can you argue that intelligence is also in the best interests of a child? Now, again, I mentioned that all of these changes will become the norm by 2050. But some say that designer baby revolution could be less than two years away and is ethically justifiable. So you may as well get on that bandwagon because it’s coming roaring towards you.
Oksana Andreiuk 15:56
In 2050, generic engineering won’t be affordable for all leading to genetic inequality. Let’s talk about this, because you may be getting excited about genetic engineering. And some of you may be going, oh my gosh, that’s absolutely horrible. Why would we change you know who we are as humans. But the truth is, technology has an adoption curve, there will always be early adopters. And early technology is always usually expensive, and not affordable to all. So what you’ll see with genetic engineering is certain people will jump right on the bandwagon. they’ll invest in this for themselves and their future children. And you’ll have the laggards way behind generations down the road. So what could happen if that is the case? Well, you’ll have the wealthy and the advantaged, investing in genetically engineering, and enhancing their children, who may then come to rural society because of their real or perceived enhanced abilities. And those who can afford genetic editing may be able to actually select from a whole menu of trades. And as I mentioned, convergence of genetics, biotechnology and AI, we are utilizing AI to find the best possible genes and traits that correlate with certain traits listed here, such as general intelligence and IQ, specific intelligence like math skills, pattern recognition, special senses, no sense of smell, if you can select from it, why not? personality traits? Like, is your kid going to be introverted or extroverted? Are they going to be creative? Physical characteristics? Can they run fast, what’s their skin pigmentation, their eye color, their height, their stamina, their power, their athleticism, all of these things, you may be able to select from down the line. And what happens if enhancements are allowed? While again, as I mentioned, genetic inequality happens gradually, but also kind of quickly. With each generation of an advantaged family. They could become that much more enhanced and advanced versus their disadvantaged peers until the differences become unbridgeable between the two types of humans, which then leads begs the question of what is the human race? Are we going to have two different types of humans walking around because of these compounding changes in our DNA and genetic enhancements?
Oksana Andreiuk 18:22
Definitely a dark question, I think, at least. So what happens as a result of this? Well, you know, your, your kids might need jobs, they will probably need insurance, you know, the typical life stuff of adults that we have to worry about? Well, if certain people are walking around genetically enhanced and certain people simply can’t afford it. As employers, you might want to select against the candidates who were not genetically engineered. Because if someone was genetically engineered to have a brilliant math skills, and it’s a job that requires you to have a strong math background, you will likely select the candidate who was genetically engineered to be amazing at math. Why not? Insurance companies likely will also be selective, who will they insure or give special premiums too. And that is the dark side of genetic engineering. And since we’re going really dark here, and we’re at a dark futures event, let’s round this off by saying in 2015, the government will also own your DNA. So think about genetic testing right now, who owns that data? Sure. And certain companies, they make clay the claim that it’s anonymous, that you have all the rights to it, but where is it stored? Which country? Is it stored in? And what are the regulations around genetic data in that country that stores your data? You have to think about these questions. Countries are already developing genetic sequencing databases have their populations. This is already happening, and has been happening for quite some time in 2014 was Becca Stan announced integration of genetic testing into their national sports program. 2018 Chinese athletes hoping to compete in 2022 Winter Olympics, were required to have their genome sequenced. Because if you’re a country with a national Olympics program, you’re going to want to invest in the best possible outcomes for your athletes. If you’re gonna invest in training an athlete and nurturing them, and pushing them forward into the international competitions, you’re gonna want the best of the best represent you. So you may as well select from the best genetics that you’ve got. Now, that’s Olympics and athleticism. Let’s talk about healthcare. In 2018, a hospital in San Diego, US launched a state funded pilot for the whole genome sequencing of sick babies. In 2019, the UK National Health Service announced a plan to sequence the DNA of every baby born in the UK, starting with a pilot, every baby. Now, this is starting from ground zero, essentially, you know, they’re not genetically sequencing anyone right? Now. They’re going to start sequencing every new baby that’s born. But what about sequencing everyone? Does anyone doing it? Yes, they are. So China is actually working to develop the world’s largest genome DNA database in the world. They’re sequencing everyone the police can get their hands on essentially. And not only that, but think about the number of genetic sequencing companies that are based in China, and are storing genetic data in China, selling their genetic tests to anyone around the world. Think about what where that data is stored. So I’ll leave you with four key points. I know the best practices to leave you with three but couldn’t help myself. Yeah, so number one, sex will no longer be the primary means of reproduction in 2050. Genetic engineering will not be affordable to all three if you’re not genetically engineered, employers and insurance are likely to reject you. And last but not least, you do not own your DNA. Thank you so much, everyone. I thank you for your attention. Again, my name is Oksana. Have a great evening