Hear This Idea
Hear This Idea
Aug 12, 2022
#51 – Kevin Esvelt and Jonas Sandbrink on Risks from Biological Research

A full writeup of this episode is available on our website: hearthisidea.com/episodes/esvelt-sandbrink.

Kevin Esvelt is an assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab, where he is director of the Sculpting Evolution group, which invents new ways to study and influence the evolution of ecosystems. He helped found the SecureDNA Project and the Nucleic Acid Observatory, both of which we discuss in the episode. Esvelt is also known for proposing the idea of using CRISPR to implement gene drives.

Jonas Sandbrink is a researcher and DPhil student at the Future of Humanity Institute. He is a fellow at both the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and with the Ending Bioweapons Program at the Council on Strategic Risks. Jonas’ research interests include the dual-use potential of life sciences research and biotechnology, as well as fast response countermeasures like vaccine platforms.

We discuss:

  • The concepts of differential technological development, dual-use research, transfer risks in research, 'information loops', and responsible access to biological data
  • Strengthening norms against risky biological research, such as novel virus identification and gain of function research
  • Connection-based warning systems and metagenomic sequencing technology
  • Advanced PPE, Far-UVC sterilisation technology, and other countermeasures against pandemics potentially worse than Covid
  • Analogies between progress in biotechnology and the early history of nuclear weapons
  • How to use your career to work on these problems — even if you don’t have a background in biology.

You can read more about the topics we cover in this episode's write-up: hearthisidea.com/episodes/farmer.

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