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🤯🤯Biology and Tech: reading employees minds and gene editing.

Yesterday I got talking about the five biggest areas that are transforming society in the years ahead
🤯🤯Biology and Tech: reading employees minds and gene editing.
By Connected Paths (Riaz Kanani) • Issue #66 • View online
Yesterday I got talking about the five biggest areas that are transforming society in the years ahead and biology/health tech was one of them. This week looks at whats happening and it turned out more shocking than I had expected.
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Cheers - Riaz

Gene editing people and food
I have spoken about CRISPR before - it allows a much easier way to edit genes and has  huge practical and ethical impact on society. 
What I found interesting this week though is that non-biologists are getting involved and using techniques from the world of tech to accelerate innovation in this space. 
Synthego, run by former engineers at Elon Musk’s Space X is building a platform that allows you (academic and companies today) to design and edit the genes of around 5,000 organisms and identify the best way to implement it. They then deliver the kit to your door. 
This extends to human cell lines as well and potentially allows for potentially life saving medicines (and what else?). 
Wired has more on the company and the potential. They aren’t answering the question around how they restrict access to these technologies though.
Food is also a huge opportunity with CRISPR, which makes it even easier to edit crops. The EU is working on its approach to CRISPR and food (more here) but the US which has been more open to genetically modified foods in the past, is allowing CRISPR to be unregulated as long as it could have been bred in a plant (more here). 
Stopping the next pandemic
Bill Gates talked last week on the threat of a pandemic from a new deadly disease. He points out that we remain unprepared for it spreading rapidly around the world. Further he suggests this could not just rise naturally but be engineered by ever smaller groups. More here.
Bill Gates Thinks A Flu Epidemic Is Near And 30 Million People Could Die - YouTube
Bill Gates Thinks A Flu Epidemic Is Near And 30 Million People Could Die - YouTube
Learning from nature
We generate huge quantities of data in our digital lives and it is outstripping our abilities to innovate in storage and retrieval. 
Scientists have been turning to DNA as a way to overcome this but we are still a long way off. Theoretically, we could fit 215 million gigabytes of data in a single gram of DNA which dramatically reduces the space and energy requirements required. 
Data stored today also degrades relatively quickly. Romans did not build our data storage systems! DNA though can last 10,000 years. 
Today, the major challenge is speed but this is slowly being overcome and with it comes the possibility of more biologically orientated computers. More on the techniques here.
Reading your team's brains
We have had a few examples over the years of being able to read directly from people’s brains. 
Back in 2011, UC Berkeley scientists showed off the rather blurry capability. More recently, in 2018, neuroscientists from the University of Toronto Scarborough developed a way to visualise the faces you are thinking about. Still quite blurry though markedly better than 2011.
That is often what we think about when reading people’s brains. But there are plenty of other things that can be monitored.
Rather scarily, workers in a Chinese company are wearing caps which monitor people’s emotions and mental activities in the workplace - nominally to increase efficiency by varying the frequency and length of break times. 
South China Morning Post suggests this is in widespread use around the world - though it later suggests that its use in the US is limited to archers trying to improve their performance. Not quite the same thing.
It has been supposedly been rolled out to more than a dozen factories and businesses in China. 
There was push back and fear from employees initially before they eventually got used to wearing the caps.
Clearly, regulation is needed to prevent abuse in the workplace. Transparency with employees is key and giving access to the same information employers see would also help. 
This is dangerous territory though. I would be surprised if it is as widespread in the Western workplaces as is suggested without there being a major outcry. Full article here.
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Connected Paths (Riaz Kanani)

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