The Future of Technology: Trends With Artificial Intelligence and CRISPR

Will we cross the line with AI and CRISPR?


Trower, NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is the Columbia Supercomputer used by NASA to simulate launch systems, supernovas, and more. This is an example of one of the most powerful forms of computing that we have. However, it may one day be overtaken by quantum computers.

The development of technology has always been the epicenter of human progression throughout every age, from our prehistoric human ancestors who built rudimentary stone tools to effectively hunt and gather, to the rising intellects of the Scientific Age, who rethought the world, and created all new forms of seafaring technology, to our current age where computers dominate every aspect of our life. The most powerful and comprehensive library of knowledge is available to everyone with a computer and WIFI. In our digital age, it’s undeniable that computers will continue to further technological innovation as a means of tackling the problems of our age. However, with this comes many ethical concerns. CRISPR, a genome editing tool, for example, could allow humans to change parts of their genes. One day, it could be very well possible to walk into a clinic and pick genes as you might items off a menu. However, the ethical concerns are far more nuanced than what is at face value. 

Artificial Intelligence

While AI has been a prevalent point of discussion since its inception in the 1950s, our increasingly technological endeavors have put one thing on blast for the world to hear: AI is dominating every industry, AI is getting more powerful, and AI is here to stay. Amidst the controversy over advancing AI at a staggering pace, and more recently its place in creative mediums such as art, people are beginning to fear the robot revolution that is undoubtedly inevitable should we keep developing AI. Should we pack our bags and move to underground bunkers while we still have time? I don’t think so. 

Truthfully, we are still far from giving AI an intelligence that matches that of humans. Can AI do certain tasks far better than humans and in a short time? Certainly. However, to truly emulate human intelligence, situational awareness, empathy, problem-solving, and the skills that come with being human, AI algorithms would need to truly model human intelligence — something we currently don’t and may never have the capability to do. 

Life is an intricate balance that is still far beyond our understanding. We are still learning more about the human body and mind, and as such, AI can’t yet replicate something we don’t fully understand. In its current form, AI doesn’t imitate life. It only imitates intelligence in a somewhat contained system, has some situational awareness, and can make decisions based on the environment, past experiences, algorithms, and learning models. Ultimately, all decisions are made through complex calculations.  

So while there is no imminent threat of an AI revolution, there may be some ethical concerns for the future. For example, self-programming AI will have the capability to recode its own programming, a process known as a neural network. This runs the risk of AI potentially having the power to change any part of the programming of its own volition. Essentially, by imitating the human brain, complex algorithms, and machine learning modes analyze vast amounts of data and make intelligent decisions based on that data. A self-programming AI that employs such a neural network runs the risk of bias present within the original set of data. Moreover, certain decisions that an AI makes may not have an objectively correct answer, therefore running the risk of making unethical decisions. In a dangerously coded manner, a self-programming AI does run the risk of being a safety concern, especially when it could make unethical decisions. 

However, it is also an extremely useful tool for programmers when coding, as the AI could solve potential errors on its own, and it could also vastly improve efficiency. With certain restrictions and the correct data to be trained on, a self-programming AI could be a crucial programming tool in the future. Perhaps programmers can teach AI to recognize a decision that doesn’t have an objectively correct decision. At such times, the AI could refer the user to make a decision instead. This would maintain the authority of the user while taking advantage of a powerful tool. 

Some of these programs could mean emotional AI that can check the mental state of humans, and more that all blur the lines of what is ethical for an AI to do. Ultimately, there seems to be a line that could be crossed but hasn’t yet. It’s up to future programmers to work around these issues and attempt to build fail-safes to work within ethical boundaries and promote the safe use of these tools. While asking ChatGPT about whether it is capable of feeling, or having opinions, ChatGPT constantly reminds you that while it is capable of responses that seem to be very human-like, it is in the end not “thinking” at all. It is simply using complex algorithms and a set of calculations to under a query and find a response. There is no true human intelligence backing the response, though it may seem like it. 

In a discussion I had with ChatGPT, I questioned at what boundary something like AI can be considered alive if at all. If a robot was made so indistinguishable from humans that it feels emotions, thinks, remembers, and acts like any other human would, is it really that different from a living human? Though it is made of mechanical parts and perhaps powered by electricity rather than food, if all of its cognitive functions were nearly identical to humans, it would be indistinguishable from a human. 

ChatGPT said this: “This is a complex question and the answer may depend on one’s philosophical views on what it means to be “alive.” Some people may argue that the presence of cognitive processes and human-like behavior is not sufficient for declaring a machine “alive,” while others may argue that it is. From a scientific perspective, “life” is typically defined by certain characteristics, such as the ability to grow, reproduce, respond to stimuli, maintain homeostasis, and metabolize. Ultimately, whether we consider a robot with human-like cognitive processes to be “alive” may come down to personal beliefs and values, rather than scientific or objective criteria.” 

ChatGPT’s response was a well-thought-out and intelligent one, by all metrics — one that takes into account that personal belief may closely connect with how one perceives life as a whole. It even had the intelligence to realize that I had prompted a somewhat difficult and complex question. Within this, ChatGPT critically considers what are the conditions of life and whether AI can ever fit this mold and argues that it comes down to personal belief. Such a comprehensive response may be the reason people begin to fear AI. It was not only a defensible argument, but perhaps even a good one. However, the actual process that prompted the response remains the same regardless of how good a response it is. As such it can be thought of as a really comprehensive Google search in the end. 

Ilias Papageorgiou ’23 explains, “I think the main issue lies in how people utilize AI to fuel their unethical goals. For example, AI art blatantly steals other people’s art without giving any credit and passes it off as its own. It’s also scary how AI could be used in the upcoming presidential election to spread misinformation and further bolster polarization amongst the American people.” 


Another technology that has immense potential but ethical concerns is CRISPR. CRISPR is a genome editing technology used to change the germline, the string of genetic information that is passed down, within a human. It can be a critical tool for curing genetic diseases such as diabetes and can be an effective way to attack cancer as it is a genetic mutation that results in cells replicating without end. 

Just like AI, CRISPR comes with a similar moral dilemma because there are potential implications for its use for further generations. People can simply change their traits to “desirable” versus “undesirable” traits. It can be used in cosmetology which would allow people to pick and choose characteristics on the genetic level. 

It’s unsettling thought to think that one day someone could walk into a certain clinic and order genes-like menu items for themselves. Removing something so close to individuality like the genes you inherit from your parents, and rid yourself of such history and heritage to conform to a certain beauty standard seems wrong. However, one must wonder whether gene editing is all that different from current cosmetology such as plastic surgery that allows you to change aspects of your physical being. It isn’t a change on the genetic level, but the end result can largely be the same. For example, wearing colored contacts 100% of the time versus genetically changing your eyes to the same color while using drastically different means, achieve the same end, changing the color of your eyes. 

In the case of CRISPR, the ability to cure diseases like cancer is incredibly powerful. For example, when the technology gets powerful enough to actually rid people of such diseases relating to genes, it may even be unethical to not use such a process on a child inflicted with Cystic Fibrosis. Using CRISPR could be a chance to change the individual’s life for the better and save them from the lifetime of suffering that most genetic diseases inflict. 

As Tiankuo Zhang ’23 argues, “CRISPR-style genome editing suffers from the fact that there’s a very thin and hardly visible line on what is a helpful medical procedure and what is eugenics.” While it is undeniable that once a change has been made it spreads throughout the human race, some changes are for the better – especially when they can increase the standard of living for all humans. No one complains when a genetic disease has been eradicated. It becomes problematic once certain genes are considered favorable over others and even worse when considering the monetary aspect of “getting” new genes. Even if people decide to edit their genes for cosmetology purposes, the net benefit of destroying disease may outweigh the choice individuals make for themselves. 

As with AI, the moral dilemmas that CRISPR presents aren’t easily solvable. They both pioneer into unknown territories. In the case of CRISPR, it changes people on a fundamental level which can be uncomfortable and scary to internalize. However, when used ethically, both are powerful tools that are capable of enhancing human lives to an extremely high degree. As time passes, the lines of what is now uncomfortable will be pushed as with all new technology. 

Zhang continues, “AI, at its highest degree, being fully sentient and capable of self-improvement, will not face the moral and logical dilemmas that we face because it is more capable than we are. As a machine, it has no hunger for power or greed, for it has no purpose to be unethical.” It can take some getting used to before the final verdict of whether it is good or not can be made. Until then, we can keep a watchful eye and be optimistic about the future; we are pushing the boundaries of technology and are constantly at the cusp of enhancing human life. AI and CRISPR, like all powerful tools, need to be used ethically by future generations before they can promise a higher standard of living. 

We can keep a watchful eye and be optimistic about the future; we are pushing the boundaries of technology and are constantly at the cusp of enhancing human life.