Falling Walls Conference highlights part 3

Selections from the writings that shaped Falling Walls 2016

 

Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Hull

Most people, when they confront the shocking realities of modern slavery, seek to understand slavery by defining the actions of slaveholders as evil. ‘How can anyone use violence in such a regular and dispassionate way merely for economic gain?’ they wonder. Indeed, the cases of horrific abuse, even torture, that abound in my own research are enough to send one searching for a way to disassociate oneself from slaveholders. Young men from Mali are enslaved on the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast, those that try to escape are whipped, and some are killed. Teenage girls are locked into brothels in Thailand, used by 10 to 15 men each night and then dumped when they contract HIV. How can I, and a slaveholder capable of such cruelty, both be called human?

Read more: Slavery and the human right to evil

Françoise Baylis, Professor of Bioethics & Philosophy at Dalhousie Medical School

In 2012, two researchers, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, pulled all the pieces of the crispr/Cas9 puzzle together into a functioning module that could guide the scissor-like action of Cas9 to target not just viral DNA, but any specific DNA sequence.

Then, in early 2013, Feng Zhang and George Church published back-to-back papers in the journal Science in which they showed that this process could be made to work in living mammalian cells at a startlingly efficient rate. Genes can be cut, deleted, added to, and altered using mechanisms similar to the editing functions on a word processor.

And so the race began. Scientific reports of new crispr/Cas9 uses are now exploding. Gene-editing companies are proliferating. Patent battles are taking shape. And clinical trials for treating diseases using somatic-cell gene editing are underway.

It is impossible to predict what the ­limits of this technology might be. The time to consider the ethical implications of ­human germ-line gene editing is now.

Read more: This CRISPR Moment (co-authored by Janet Rossat)

Gregory Crane, Professor of Digital Humanities at Universität Leipzig

The great challenge for the rising generation of scholars is to build a digital infrastructure with which to expand our intellectual range. We seek to advance two effects already enabled by the digital infrastructure at hand. On the one hand, we are extending the intellectual range of individual scholars, enabling them to pursue topics that require analysis of more primary sources or more linguistic materials than was feasible with print….At the same time, we want to increase the complementary effect and further extend the audiences that the products of particular cultures can reach.

Read more: Tools for Thinking: ePhilology and Cyberinfrastructure

Karsten Danzmann, Director, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

Read more: Landmark announcement of discovery of gravitational waves, 2016 (Max Planck Gesellschaft)

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