Imagine a world in which authors can write books in days, not months, using only the power of their minds. This hands-free future could be around the corner: scientists have created software that hooks up to your brainwaves and transcribes whatever you’re thinking.
Brain-to-Text is the software behind this futuristic, sci-fi-style concept. It has the potential to transform the lives of those who have lost the ability to communicate effectively. Stephen Hawking, for example, often has to scroll through letters of the alphabet one at a time while typing out messages. As you can imagine, the process is slow and laborious. Software like Brain-to-Text could therefore be life-changing.
Such modifications could affect every cell in an adult human being, including germ cells, and therefore be passed down through the generations. Many organisms across the range of biological complexity have already been edited in this way to generate designer bacteria, plants and primates. There is little reason to believe the same could not be done with human eggs, sperm and embryos. Now that the technology to engineer human germlines is here, the advocates for a moratorium declared, it is time to chart a prudent path forward. They recommend four actions: a hold on clinical applications; creation of expert forums; transparent research; and a globally representative group to recommend policy approaches.
The hour is late. His scientific papers were published years ago, filled with equations wrought by the energies of a younger man. But at 69, theoretical physicist Ron Mallett still goes to work every day to build a time machine based on his most elegant construct: At the other end of the equation, he believes, is his father.
Boyd Mallett died when Ron was 10. Like Telemachus out for Odysseus, he vowed as a boy to sail back through time in a device to warn the older Mallett of the heart attack that would take his life on the night of his 11th wedding anniversary.
A University of Connecticut research professor who for years taught in the classroom, Mallett immersed himself in the mysteries of time and space, crafting equations derived from the work of Albert Einstein.
This year is a milestone for both his heroes: the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s general theory of relativity that made time travel a serious topic among today’s theoreticians and the 60th anniversary of his father’s death.
“My whole existence, who I am, is due to the death of my father,” Mallett says, “and my promise to myself to figure out how to affect time with Einstein’s work as a foundation.”