Technology Is for Sinners

Technology Is for Sinners

Envy is a really stupid sin because it’s the only one you could never possibly have any fun at. There’s a lot of pain and no fun. Why would you want to get on that trolley?” – Charlie Munger


Recently I saw a book called Evil By Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation and it reminded me how history is a series of cycles. Nothing is ever new, just a recent manifestation of an old truth. Since the earliest years of mankind we’ve known what is seductive to the human mind. While modern psychology and neuroscience are reaffirming and refining our understanding, much of what we are now “discovering” was known to common, curious minds throughout history. St. Augustine, with his razor-sharp wit, codified the most powerful human motivators into the Seven Deadly Sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

What makes something a sin? While we could write thousands of pages on this issue, it pretty much boils down to: A sin is anything that is easy or natural for us to do that hurts the functioning of the community. It’s easiest to see this with wrath. Attacking someone out of extreme anger is surely going to negatively impact one’s family and community. However, the same dynamic is present in the other sins. For example, lusting after another person’s spouse is likely to sow discord and, potentially, wrath — leading to conflict and communal issues. Each of the sins generally leads to another sin in a devilish feedback loop.

Each sin also tends to feel good. The only exception to this is, perhaps, envy. Intense jealousy is a nauseating and painful emotion, though it can also lead to revenge, which, as the popular phrase goes, “is sweet.”

If we look at the most popular technology products that have come out in the last decade, we can see that each of them is closely tied to a deadly sin. Tinder is a product driven by lust. Facebook is a product driven by envy, pride, sloth, and (sometimes) lust. Twitter is built on pride and sloth. Uber, in the early days, was built on sloth and pride (since it started with Black Cars), but now primarily is running on sloth. LinkedIn and Instagram are both built on pride and envy, with a dash of sloth thrown in for good measure.

I realize that some of these are a bit of a stretch. Yes, Uber is built to conserve energy and effort (sloth), but that’s generally a good thing. It would take way too much effort for people to walk or bike everywhere. In this case, one could argue that sloth is not a sin but a virtue — since laziness in transportation allows us to expend energy on more important things, like spending time with our families. Technology can be defined as anything we create that allows us to be slothful (by making our daily activities easier and faster). Therefore, one could make a compelling argument that technology inevitably leads to an increase in vice. The Luddites, I’m sure, would agree. I wouldn’t go that far, but I will say that every successful product makes sure to take advantage of our evolutionary urges for pleasure, in forms both good and bad. If you see an app soar to popularity, you can bet that lurking in the shadows is a Deadly Sin. But, as billions of smartphone users will tell you, being bad never felt so good.

Image: Paul Chaloner

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Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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