A small group of scientists and scholars sat around a coffee table recently, balancing lunches on laps while discussing the prospects of greatly extending human life using new genetics tools and nanotechnologies. The group included a Johns Hopkins University cancer biologist, a Yale University philosopher, the executive director of an Oakland, Calif.-based advocacy group focusing on genetics and society, a Washington lobbyist, and various others.

The talk, about the societal implications of life extension, was occasionally difficult—and not just because of the divergent views. The discussion was taking place under the 105-foot dome of what once was the main reading room of Columbia University's Low Library (now an administration building). The cavernous space, designed precisely to quiet stray noise, made conversations across the coffee table difficult.

Moreover, nearly a dozen similar groups were scattered about the floor and adding to the general susurration as they discussed topics such as the...

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?