I read a lot of near-term, hard science fiction. Hard doesn’t mean difficult. Hard means that it’s a realistic view of how technology could evolve in the near future, which is any time within the next 50 years.
A consistent theme in these books revolves around artificial intelligence. Specifically, it’s the threat posed by a runaway, super-intelligent AI that would threaten humanity’s existence. While the stories are fiction, the threat is real. Numerous technologists have warned about it, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.
Another technological threat that doesn’t get as much attention is genetic editing. The technology is more commonly referred to as CRISPR. In simple terms, CRISPR gene editing involves changing the genetic structure of a living organism, humans included. While there are numerous positive uses for genetic editing such as vaccine development, the technology can also be used for nefarious purposes.
In his book Change Agent, author Daniel Suarez explores a near-future where gene editing technologies such as CRISPR are readily available. It raises a myriad of ethical questions. Should people be able to select and determine the personalities and capabilities of their children? What happens when the genetic structure of a person is changed, especially if it happens without their permission or knowledge?
The main plot of the book centers around Kenneth Durand, an Interpol agent who helps identify and shutdown black market gene editing facilities. Durand’s success makes him an obvious target of the crime syndicates behind these underground operations. The criminals exact their revenge on Durand by injecting him with a serum that alters his genetic structure without his knowledge or consent. The twist is that Durand’s genetic structure is changed so he resembles Interpol’s most wanted man. It sends Durand on a mission to restore his original genetic structure before Interpol catches up with his altered, mistaken identity.
Change Agent is an eye-opening look at the ramifications of CRISPR technologies. Suarez shows how the technology has both positive and negative elements. It raises the question of how society will deal with the moral and ethical dilemmas presented when humans can alter both their own and their offspring’s genetic make-up.
Although Change Agent is primarily focused on gene editing, Suarez weaves it together with other technological advances to paint a realistic vision of the future. Technologies such as augmented reality glasses, self driving vehicles, and advanced artificial intelligence are all present. It makes the story both believable and plausible.
I highly recommend Change Agent and have put it on my Must Read list. I like the focus on gene editing technology . More importantly, I like how it raises the ethical considerations of a future where one’s identity is no longer fixed.