Can We Engineer Social Ecosystems?

Kevin Esvelt

Might our fraying socioeconomic institutions and cultural ecosystems be victims of evolved parasitic strategies? If so, how might we repair them? Kevin Esvelt, the head of the Sculpting Evolution Group at the MIT Media Lab, describes why ecosystems aren’t optimized by natural selection, why institutions fail to adapt to changing conditions, and how antiquated closed-door science renders us vulnerable to discovering technologies that could threaten civilization.

Kevin Esvelt

Kevin Esvelt is an Assistant Professor of the MIT Media Lab, where he leads the Sculpting Evolution Group in exploring evolutionary and ecological engineering. In 2013, he was the first to identify the potential for CRISPR “gene drive” systems to alter wild populations of organisms. Recognizing the implications of an advance that could enable individual scientists to alter the shared environment, he and his colleagues chose to break with scientific tradition by revealing their findings and calling for open discussion and safeguards before they demonstrated the technology in the laboratory.
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