25 Visions for the Future of Our Species

edited by Jane Metcalfe
and Brian Bergstein

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We now have the tools to transform ourselves and our species. Greater health and longevity, enhanced brains, and engineered fertility are in the works. What’s just over the horizon is even more astonishing. We call this the neobiological frontier.

Coeditors Jane Metcalfe and Brian Bergstein are your scouts, identifying some of the most daring, inventive, and thoughtful people and ideas in this new territory.

Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species is a collection of 25 essays, interviews, and works of fiction and art offering a big-picture perspective on the profound changes made possible by the merging of biology and technology. The book brings together today's smartest and most creative inventors, thinkers, and scientists to tell us their vision of the future.

This book is a time capsule for future humans.

What's Inside

NeoBook Intro Spread

Proto.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species covers these powerful new biotechnologies and ideas in non-technical language, with beautiful full-color images and a fresh design by National Design Award winner Jennifer Morla. This book makes a compelling foundation for the discussions we’ll be having about these technologies for years to come, and as one observer said, it is definitely coffee table worthy, no matter which planet that table is on.

Meet George Church, one of the most prodigious bioengineers of our time, in conversation with Ramez Naam, a computer scientist, clean tech investor, and science fiction author. George maintains a list of genes that could be edited to make humans healthier or more suited to future environmental conditions, including life off-planet. He’s also got an idea to send a single-cell biological probe to faraway worlds that could be programmed to beam information back to Earth.

Consider neuroscientist David Eagleman’s ideas about how embryo selection could change the way we parent our children.

Dive into an imagined future with inventor Danny Hillis as he guides you through the possibilities and pitfalls of designing your child from scratch using gene editing technology. Will you “supersize” them, or give them an extra appendage? If you bestow a color or pattern, keep in mind that it might be trendy today but look dated 10 years from now.

Discover filmmaker and artist Lynn Hershman Leeson’s ideas about identity in her antibody-as-art project that will change how you think about life-science technologies.

Hear from Osh Agabi, the Swiss-Nigerian roboticist-neuroscientist who’s built a brain on a chip, literally blending silicon and neurons. He envisions using his technology to allow us to connect our consciousnesses together in a sort of giant empathy web.

Read Juan Enriquez, who has been thinking and writing about self-directed evolution for a long time. In his creative brief, he imagines a future with a far greater diversity of human species, and considers the implications.

Ponder the risks and ethical implications of this new frontier with CRISPR scientist and film producer Samira Kiani, who outlines the safety checks she’s developing to control gene edits. And hear from biosecurity policy expert Megan Palmer, who shares how her experiences led to social responsibility programs for synthetic biologists.

And there’s so much more!

Why Now?

Because we manifest what we imagine. So perhaps we should imagine a future we actually want to live in. This book is designed to spark the conversations that can guide our species as we decide which technologies to develop and deploy.

We asked some of today’s most knowledgeable and creative researchers and artists to outline a future we can rally for rather than fear. This book captures their moods, dreams, and aspirations. We hope that it will encourage people to think about what is possible, from eliminating genetically inherited diseases to preserving our memories as we age to having the perfect orgasm. We invite readers to try these ideas on, and talk about how they feel. Because the choices we make now will determine how our god-like tools will be used in the future.

And no matter what operating systems or platforms will be operational 25 years from now, this book will remain as a physical artifact, a testament to our hopes and dreams about where these tools can take us.

I read all the Neo.Life book the other night. What an extraordinary collection of interviews, thoughts, and ideas. Truly exceptional.

–Nicholas Thompson, CEO, The Atlantic

Who We Are

proto.life tracks the people, companies, and technologies that are transforming our bodies and our minds. Our beat includes the frontiers of genetics, neuroscience, longevity, synthetic biology, biohacking, future food, sex, and more. We feature journalism you can trust from writers who have the experience to understand the science and the technology, and take the time to get it right. We offer a unique perspective that looks out across multiple disciplines, and also includes the worlds of food, science fiction, and cultural developments. You can find all this published in our newsletter, on our website, and through our social feeds. We also host events. This is our first book.

Coeditors Brian Bergstein and Jane Metcalfe
Coeditors Brian Bergstein and Jane Metcalfe.

Jane Metcalfe is the founder and CEO of proto.life. She is probably best known as the cofounder (with Louis Rossetto) of Wired magazine, the legendary media company that wrote the first draft of the history of the digital revolution. Under Jane and Louis’s leadership, the magazine grew to an internationally renowned brand and a diversified media company featuring U.S., U.K., and Japanese editions, a book division, and a television show. In addition, Wired launched HotWired, the first online original content featuring Fortune 500 advertising, inventing the advertising banner along the way (no we didn’t patent it, yes we did talk about it). There was also HotBot, which at the time was the fastest search engine in the world. The Webbys recently acknowledged Jane and Louis with a Lifetime Achievement Award for their vision and impact.

After selling the company to Condé Nast and Lycos, Jane served as president of TCHO Chocolate which got her thinking about the effects of theobromine on the brain and heart, sacred plants, nutraceuticals, organic farming, food systems, etc. When family members experienced mental illness and the diseases of aging, she turned her attention to health matters, researching the latest science and technologies that can alter the course of those diseases.

proto.life Visions Book Page Flipping

Brian Bergstein is the deputy opinion editor of the Boston Globe and proto.life’s founding editor. He was, for many years, the executive editor of MIT Technology Review. Before that he worked for the Associated Press, as its national technology correspondent and then the technology and media editor. He completed a Knight Fellowship for Science and Technology Journalism at MIT, and earlier journalism studies at Northwestern University. Brian has an extensive network of writers to tap and a unique overview of both life sciences and technology.

Our book designer is National Design Award winner and AIGA medalist Jennifer Morla, an accomplished designer, graphic artist, and author, with clients including Apple, Design Within Reach, Levis, Stanford University, and Williams Sonoma. She taught at California College of the Arts for many years and lectures all over the world. Her book Morla: Design was published in 2019.

Book Details

  • Edited by Jane Metcalfe and Brian Bergstein
  • Features 25 essays, interviews, stories, and artworks
  • Designed by Jennifer Morla
  • Hardcover, 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches
  • 160 pages, 25 color illustrations
  • Smyth sewn, with silver Litho foil-stamped cover

Thank you to all of our contributors: Oshiorenoya Agabi, Christina Agapakis, Siranush Babakhanova, Seth Bannon, George Church, Emma Conley, Zoe Cormier, Zack Denfeld, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, David Eagleman, Juan Enriquez, Kristen Fortney, Joel Garreau, Daisy Ginsberg, Danny Hillis, Samira Kiani, Cathrine Kramer, Becky Lyon, Hannu Rajaniemi, Lux Alptraum, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Ramez Naam, Megan Palmer, Nicola Patron, Robert Plomin, Steve Ramirez, Sissel Tolaas, Bowen Zhao, Changle Zhou.

Proto.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species

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