Nearly 50 years ago, a group of the world’s leading scientists — a generation that grew up in the shadow of the atomic bomb — came together to discuss the ethics and safety of the newly emerging field of genetic engineering at a time when little was known about the potential hazards of this promising new technique. This “Asilomar” meeting, as it became known, was a landmark moment in the history of science and of science policy. Ever since Asilomar, scientists, scholars and policymakers have debated whether the meeting was paradigmatic or exemplary and have questioned whether future determinations about promising but potentially hazardous research are best conducted by experts behind closed doors or by some other more collaborative mechanism that affords meaningful public input or oversight.
Today we are faced with provocative questions about the future of a new generation of genetic tools (including CRISPR) that promise to transform our health, our bodies and our world. And we also are faced with novel challenges related to machine-learning, computer technologies, and the uses of data and surveillance. Our world is also careening to an ever-intensifying climate crisis, calling out for innovations in governance and science-society relations. While the technologies and circumstances may have changed, some questions remain perennial: What does scientific research, technological development, and public interest and governance look like in these brave new worlds? How can thinking with the past — those legacies we grapple with every day — help us navigate the shoals of our difficult present toward those futures we desire? And most importantly: Who decides? During the two-day conference, we will explore these themes through a series of lively interventions and debates by scientists, scholars and artists.