The scientist who co-created CRISPR isn’t ruling out engineered babies someday
JD: It doesn’t really make sense to me, [but] I’m pleased that we have our 45 issued patents, our 40 pending patents, all in the US. And our 30 European patents are unaffected by the ruling. And honestly, look, I’m carrying on with my research.
AR: I always thought the origin of the patent fight was not about money. My own reading of why it was so strongly fought was that it was not over commercial control but over credit—who did the science—and the truth.
JD: That’s your speculation. It’s hard to say, isn’t it? I don’t know what others’ motivations may have been, Obviously, it will be appealed. Obviously, we don’t agree with the decision. And obviously, 30 countries and the Nobel Prize Committee also don’t agree, if you’re talking about who invented what, at first.
AR: What does it tell you about how the patent system operates that there could be one person accepting a Nobel Prize but then the patent going elsewhere? Should that make sense to people?
JD: It doesn’t really make sense to me. I don’t know if it makes sense to other people. In the scientific community I don’t think there’s much question about what happened.
AR: You have been the subject of a book by Walter Isaacson, who also wrote biographies of Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci. What was it like to participate in your biography?
JD: Humbling and a little bit terrifying, if I’m honest. Although I have to say I felt fortunate that someone as talented as Walter was interested in the story, because he’s a wonderful writer. He did a great job of trying to capture the feeling we all had of being part of this incredible transformation that happened with CRISPR.
AR: You recently became the chief science advisor to a Wall Street firm called Sixth Street. What are you planning to do there, and why did you take on that role?
JD: I’m excited that at Sixth Street we can identify the right teams, the right opportunities, the right openings where financing could really accelerate the science and the business opportunities. One area where I think there’s a lot of potential is using machine learning to analyze data that are coming out of CRISPR. We know that one of the important opportunities with CRISPR in the future is to understand genomics, meaning the function of genes. And frankly not individual genes but whole sets of genes and pathways and different cell types comprehensively. The types of data that come from those efforts clearly contain a huge amount of information, much of it subtle. And so using machine-learning algorithms to mine those kinds of data sets, I think, will be very powerful. You could imagine using that type of strategy to understand the genetics of disease—our individual susceptibilities—and to identify new therapeutics.
AR: I always think of you as sort of a scientist’s scientist. I once saw a picture of you leaning over a student’s shoulder, and that’s who you are in my mind. But this is asking you to do something a little bit different. Why do you think you could be good at picking technologies for commercial investment, as opposed to the most intriguing scientific questions?
JD: I love science, and my best days are when I am leaning over a student in the lab looking at data. But I’ve come to appreciate that for CRISPR to have an impact in the next decade is going to require real capitalization of the right teams.
AR: A survey in Harvard Business Review found that only 2.3% of VC money was going to startups led by women. Were you shocked to learn that?
The Download: sleeping in VR, and promising clean energy projects
People are gathering in virtual spaces to relax, and even sleep, with their headsets on. VR sleep rooms are becoming popular among people who suffer from insomnia or loneliness, offering cozy enclaves where strangers can safely find relaxation and company—most of the time.
Each VR sleep room is created to induce calm. Some imitate beaches and campsites with bonfires, while others re-create hotel rooms or cabins. Soundtracks vary from relaxing beats to nature sounds to absolute silence, while lighting can range from neon disco balls to pitch-black darkness.
The opportunity to sleep in groups can be particularly appealing to isolated or lonely people who want to feel less alone, and safe enough to fall asleep. The trouble is, what if the experience doesn’t make you feel that way? Read the full story.
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting.
But as we knock out the easy climate wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions.
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) funds high-risk, high-reward energy research projects, and each year the agency hosts a summit where funding recipients and other researchers and companies in energy can gather to talk about what’s new in the field.
As I listened to presentations, met with researchers, and—especially—wandered around the showcase, I often had a vague feeling of whiplash. Standing at one booth trying to wrap my head around how we might measure carbon stored by plants, I would look over and see another group focused on making nuclear fusion a more practical way to power the world.
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting. But as we knock out the easy wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions. Here are a few intriguing projects from the ARPA-E showcase that caught my eye.
“I heard you have rocks here!” I exclaimed as I approached the Quaise Energy station.
Quaise’s booth featured a screen flashing through some fast facts and demonstration videos. And sure enough, laid out on the table were two slabs of rock. They looked a bit worse for wear, each sporting a hole about the size of a quarter in the middle, singed around the edges.
These rocks earned their scorch marks in service of a big goal: making geothermal power possible anywhere. Today, the high temperatures needed to generate electricity using heat from the Earth are only accessible close to the surface in certain places on the planet, like Iceland or the western US.
Geothermal power could in theory be deployed anywhere, if we could drill deep enough. Getting there won’t be easy, though, and could require drilling 20 kilometers (12 miles) beneath the surface. That’s deeper than any oil and gas drilling done today.
Rather than grinding through layers of granite with conventional drilling technology, Quaise plans to get through the more obstinate parts of the Earth’s crust by using high-powered millimeter waves to vaporize rock. (It’s sort of like lasers, but not quite.)
The emergent industrial metaverse
Annika Hauptvogel, head of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, making users feel as if they’re in a real environment; collaborative in real time; open enough for different applications to seamlessly interact; and trusted by the individuals and businesses that participate”—far more than simply a digital world.
The industrial metaverse will revolutionize the way work is done, but it will also unlock significant new value for business and societies. By allowing businesses to model, prototype, and test dozens, hundreds, or millions of design iterations in real time and in an immersive, physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally.
“The real world is very messy, noisy, and sometimes hard to really understand,” says Danny Lange, senior vice president of artificial intelligence at Unity Technologies, a leading platform for creating and growing real-time 3-D content. “The idea of the industrial metaverse is to create a cleaner connection between the real world and the virtual world, because the virtual world is so much easier and cheaper to work with.”
While real-life applications of the consumer metaverse are still developing, industrial metaverse use cases are purpose-driven, well aligned with real-world problems and business imperatives. The resource efficiencies enabled by industrial metaverse solutions may increase business competitiveness while also continually driving progress toward the sustainability, resilience, decarbonization, and dematerialization goals that are essential to human flourishing.
This report explores what it will take to create the industrial metaverse, its potential impacts on business and society, the challenges ahead, and innovative use cases that will shape the future. Its key findings are as follows:
• The industrial metaverse will bring together the digital and real worlds. It will enable a constant exchange of information, data, and decisions and empower industries to solve extraordinarily complex real-world problems digitally, changing how organizations operate and unlocking significant societal benefits.
• The digital twin is a core metaverse building block. These virtual models simulate real-world objects in detail. The next generation of digital twins will be photorealistic, physics-based, AI-enabled, and linked in metaverse ecosystems.
• The industrial metaverse will transform every industry. Currently existing digital twins illustrate the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training.