As we turn the page on the calendar, there seems to have been a flurry of applications for new(ish) technologies.
Firstly, the U.S. FDA approved the first treatment using CRISPR on Dec. 8. One of the developers of the gene editing technique, Jennifer Doudna at University of California at Berkeley described in a news story the approval of the treatment for sickle cell disease as moving at “light speed,” since the technique was pioneered 11 years ago. The FDA followed regulators in the U.K. in approving the treatment developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
The sickle cell treatment is the easiest application of CRISPR via a single gene and the mechanism behind it is understood, according to Gayle Woloschak, who is a microbiologist and leader with the faith/science community as president of the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science. “It is noteworthy because it is the first and may open the door to more in the future,” she added.
The use of CRISPR editing was met with concern among some for its large-scale implications for the human genome and was also an example of the scientific community largely policing itself from an ethical standpoint.
On the other side of the coin, artificial intelligence has touched off fear from some in the tech community of a technology that could go rogue or perhaps spark an existential crisis. This month, fourth-year seminarian Thomas Johnston reviews a book on the topic of AI and our relationship with it going forward written by computer scientist Noreen Herzfeld.
The book analyzes our complex relationship with technology from a variety of angles, which he outlines in depth.
We also put together a list of other books being released with faith and science themes. Together they reveal where much of the dialogue has been as of late — astrobiology, climate change and AI. The shift is notable and shows that together we are considering implications for our technology to help us explore our cosmos, save the planet and just make our lives easier.
Yet, we still may feel that greater complexity rather than clarity has landed in the light of the generative AI revolution that is upon us. Much more to dive into in 2024, but in this month’s issue we explore a bit where 2023 has left us in pondering ourselves, our faith and our world.
Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.