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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Gregory Stock

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

We are at a transitional moment not just in human history, but in the history of life itself. Two unprecedented revolutions are underway: The first is the silicon revolution: the telecommunications, computers and related technology reshaping our lives. In essence, we have begun to breathe into inert sand -- the silicon at our feet -- a level of complexity rivaling life itself, and our world will never be the same.

The second is the revolution in genomics and molecular biology. As we unravel the workings of life, we are seizing control of our evolutionary future. The emerging technologies in the life sciences that I explore in my work will do much more than bring dramatic shifts in medicine and healthcare. They will change the way we have children, alter how we manage our emotions, and even modify the human lifespan. These technologies will soon take us to the very question of what it means to be human.

The extraordinary new possibilities being ushered in by developments in genomics, proteomics and regenerative medicine will evoke public enthusiasm and angst, and a host of regulation, litigation and political conflict. The next frontier is not space, but our own selves, and my work is an attempt to elevate public discussion and debate about this coming exploration. I accomplish this in several ways:

I put together select meetings and symposia targeting cutting-edge issues like human genetic modification, anti-aging medicine and healthcare policy. These provide a vision of the context of present developments in biotechnology. Without such a context, it is hard for policy makers to develop coherent policies, and it is easy for debate about tangential issues like cloning to take center stage. I am among only a relative handful of ethicists focused on these issues, and I offer a unique and influential vision.

I speak to academic, business and community audiences, and engage in public debate with key figures about issues of science policy and the consequences of rapid progress in genomics and the life sciences in general. These exchanges have had an impact on the tone of the current policy debate here and abroad. Finally, I write papers and books on technology and its impacts on society, with a particular focus on genomics, reproductive biology and anti-aging medicine.

I have articulated a cogent alternative view that is more practical and pragmatic than the conventional wisdom these days, more cognizant of the many benefits attending technological development, more willing to grapple with nitty-gritty real-world challenges emerging, and more accepting of the inherent inevitability of these advances in the biological sciences.

I try to expose how theological arguments are increasingly cloaked in secular garb, and how our yearning for consensus (which is probably impossible in these value-laden areas that depend so much on culture, history and politics) is distorting policy. I try to bring more risk-reward analysis into public discussion and show how a fear of minor, but dramatic accidents can lead us to forego important beneficial possibilities. I try to show how much the lines between the natural and the artificial, between therapy and enhancement, and between need and want have blurred. I argue against the resurgence of the Precautionary Principle. As I see it, the excessive caution embodied in this “principle” falsely maintains that stasis is an option in today’s world and denies that the inaction it worships is but one of many choices, none of which comes risk free. To me, this argument has become a bludgeon of fear and ignorance, wielded by fantasy and deception in the service of religion and ideology.

Brief Biography

Dr. Gregory Stock is the Director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at UCLA’s School of Public Health. In this role he explores critical technologies poised to have large impacts on humanity’s future and on the shape of medical science. His goal has been to stimulate a broad, intelligent public debate on these technologies and their implications, and thereby to catalyze wiser public policies surrounding their realization. Of particular interest to him are the implications for individuals, for society, and for healthcare of the human genome project and associated developments emerging from today’s revolution in molecular genetics and bioinformatics. Recent symposia he has convened and moderated -- The Storefront Genome, Enhancing the Human, and Nurturing Our Nature -- have drawn wide media attention. His 1998 look at the possibilities of manipulating the genetics of human embryos, Engineering the Human Germline, was the first major public discussion of this issue among distinguished scientists, and set in motion a vigorous global debate on this then taboo topic.

A prolific author and recognized authority on the impact of new technologies on human society, Professor. Stock’s 2002 book, Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future with Houghton Mifflin, won the Kistler Book Prize for Science books and was nominated for a Wired Rave Award. Among his other books are Engineering The Human Germline for Oxford University Press, Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism, for Simon & Schuster, and the best seller, The Book of Questions, which has been translated into seventeen languages, and is now in its fifty-seventh printing. Sequels to that book include The Book of Questions: Business, Politics, and Ethics.

Dr. Stock has been an invited speaker to numerous academic, government, and business conferences, sits on the editorial boards of the American Journal of Bioethics, The Journal of Evolution and Technology, Rejuvinenation Research, and the International Journal of Bioethics. He makes regular appearances on television and radio, including CNN, PBS, NPR, Bloomberg, and the BBC, where he has been a strong and reasoned advocate of developing a more pragmatic bioethical dialogue that starts by acknowledging the immense technological advances now occurring in the life sciences, attempts to understand the real challenges these developments will pose, and tries to develop policies that will minimize the risks ahead without greatly slowing the benefits emerging in this realm. In the process of articulating this vision, he has debated biotech policy with Jeremy Rifkin, Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama, Bill McKibben, George Annas and other prominent voices who would rein in biomedical research.

Gregory Stock has a Doctorate in Biophysics from Johns Hopkins University and an MBA from Harvard University. He currently is a visiting professor at UCLA’s School of Public Health, a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, and the CEO of Signum Biosciences, a biotech company developing therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease.