The upcoming genetic divide?

I just finished watching the first three seasons of the 4400. It is yet another cheesy, low-budget sci-fi TV series. Or is it?

The premise is interesting. A scientific breakthrough has been made: we are now able to improve substantially human beings at the genetic level. Not all human beings are helped similarly by this technology however. A genetic divide is created. This quickly leads to an us against them mentality. A catastrophe occurs.

At this point, the writers took a shortcut and decided that human beings from the future would modify people in the past to avoid the problem. By carefully choosing who gets genetically improved, they hope that the catastrophe can be averted. The problem with time travel is that it becomes a deus ex machina. Some writers are better at handling time travel than others. Mostly, what writers do is put obstacles in front of the heroes so that changing the past to solve present-day problem is very difficult. To achieve this, the writers of the 4400 imagined that another group of human beings from the future are trying to make sure that the catastrophe still happens. It is vague and sometimes unconvincing.

I think that the idea of a genetic divide is very interesting. It is a metaphor for the fast-paced technological changes happening right now. Some are surfing the changes, but the vast majority is left reacting to the changes. The people who are making the changes happening have to fight the establishment. How do we reach a balance so that a catastrophe does not occur?

Moreover, I believe we are already able to induce significant changes in our bodies. The most obvious superpowers I can see are males with giant genitals and females with very large breasts. Hardly the first superpowers I would have thought about as a kid, but they would appear extraordinary to people a century or two ago. I do not think people will learn telekinesis, but some of us may become immune to cancer. We may not learn to read minds, but some of us may be able to control our hormones better. Body-modification technology is not dividing us yet, but it may happen in the near future. What if I am able to embed Wikipedia in my head? What if there is a whole class of people with Wikipedia embedded in their head? Would not these people form a separate class? If you do not like Wikipedia, just think about having an artificial photographic memory?

The technological singularity is often thought to occur when we can construct machines smarter than man. I believe that making some human being artificially super-intelligent could also cause the same effect — and some would argue that these are equivalent technologically.

I learned that the show was cancelled. I will still order season 4 as soon as it becomes available.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

One thought on “The upcoming genetic divide?”

  1. There is a basic contradiction in all the chatter going on about the “Singularity”, if it is truly to fit its definition no predictions can be made about its results.
    Yet the afficionados like Kurzweil keep blathering about it.
    It is much more likely than anything exponential within a bounded context will result in some sort of crash than in any “transcendence”.
    And as it has been highlighted by Ross Ashby and Gordon Pask building up complexity requires slowly evolving parameters from the environment, thus any abrupt changes are likely to destroy complexity rather than enhance it.
    Evolution took billions years for some reason…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To create code blocks or other preformatted text, indent by four spaces:

    This will be displayed in a monospaced font. The first four 
    spaces will be stripped off, but all other whitespace
    will be preserved.
    Markdown is turned off in code blocks:
     [This is not a link](

To create not a block, but an inline code span, use backticks:

Here is some inline `code`.

For more help see