“Shouldn’t I be?” I reply. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Unfettered access to all of that personal citizenry data. Zero privacy requirements. This is a total treasure trove, ripe for analysis a thousand different ways, every data scientist’s absolute dream. But from a moral and ethical standpoint, it’s pretty much a slam dunk, one-way, guaranteed ticket to hell.”
Up close I see Shu is classically beautiful in the way that is popular in China these days: Light, creamy complexion, long curly bangs, round face, and large green eyes. They’re a light, ocean-green, entirely unnatural and knockout gorgeous. China is currently the only country in the world that allows CRISPR techniques to be used on developing fetuses (unborn babies), though the allowable genetic edits are still limited.1
Anyway, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that she is the marketing guru of the group. Selling is all about appearances. And with a face and body like that (also most certainly genetically or surgically altered, I’m pretty sure), you’re already halfway there.
“I think there’s another way of looking at it that perhaps you’re not considering,” Shu says. Her voice is soft, supple, persuasive. “A more optimistic interpretation of the task.”
“Oh? Enlighten me.”
“You are in a privileged position to shape the very course of human history,” Shu says. “You know it; I know it; we all know it. This is the Chinese Century. And you’re, right now, at this very moment, on the ground floor, at the very beginning. What happens in China this next decade is where it all begins.”
“That’s… a bold statement.” is all that I can say.
Chopra, who’s been sitting next to me on his barstool the entire time, listening, speaks up. “What makes you think China’s going to be the new global superpower? The only thing the Chinese has ever excelled at is leading from behind.” Chopra sits up a bit straighter in his barstool and begins gesticulating with his hands, going into full-on professor-mode. “China’s good at sitting back, seeing what works everywhere else in the world, and then shamelessly copying those successes wholesale.” There’s definitely more than a hint of disdain in his voice as he says this.
Shu turns to look at Chopra. “And what’s so wrong with that?” she asks. “Didn’t that great American, Steve Jobs, whom you all idolize so much, once say that ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’?”
“That was Picasso actually,” I say. “And also– we don’t all idolize Jobs. That guy was a total ass.“
“The problem with stealing,” Chopra says patiently, “is that it’s not leading. Any idiot can steal. You just look at what works and then copy it. How difficult can that possibly be?“
“Uh, pretty difficult?” I say. “The path to success it littered with a long line of corpses. You need to climb over each and every one of them to get to the top.”
Apparently sensing an opening, Shu smoothly changes gears.
- At least, legally. The aftermarket for unapproved CRISPR edits offers considerably more selection but are substantially more dangerous as well. Once CRISPR went mainstream in China, rich Chinese parents went wild. Skin tone and eye color are two of the most popular edits. (It’s also possible to add up to another 10cm of height or so, though that edit is significantly steeper, price-wise.)