Practically every science fiction movie puts forth its own idea of what the future will look like, and most of the time they’re way off base. For instance, I don’t think apes are ever going to evolve and conquer the world like in Planet of the Apes. Nor do I think Manhattan will be turned into a giant prison like in Escape from New York. And we already saw the poor excuses we had for hoverboards in 2015 compared to what Back to the Future II promised. But one sci-fi movie that was reasonably accurate in its predictions was the ’90s cult favorite Gattaca…..
Before you watch Gattaca on COMET this weekend, you should realize that its vision of the future was so spot on, we might even be living it today.
In case you’re unfamiliar, the plot of the 1997 film revolves around a future where the practice of eugenics is common. When conceiving a child, well-to-do parents are able to select the qualities they wish their children to have, from their physical appearance and intelligence to their likelihood of avoiding health issues, and essentially create a perfect child using preimplantation genetic screening and in vitro fertilization. Children who are born this way, called “Valids,” have their genetic makeup on record, and are given the upper hand in all aspects of life; while children who are born naturally and with less-perfect genetic profiles, “Invalids,” are forced to live on the bottom rung of society. And while it may seem far-fetched, the technology of the film already exists.
The term “designer babies” has been around for a while now, and it essentially describes the parenting process of Gattaca. Although we’re not yet to the point where genetically-altered babies are screened and given priority for high-profile jobs like in Gattaca, we are already living in a world where parents can pick certain traits they wish their baby to have before giving birth. Perhaps the most prominent case of this controversial process occurred just last year, when it was revealed that celebrity couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen chose to have a female embryo implanted in Teigen while she was undergoing in vitro fertilization; ensuring that they would have a baby girl. And while the couple didn’t go so far as to select other physical traits of the child, as far as I know, they technically could have.
A debate is currently raging over the idea of designer babies among scientists, with some focusing on the benefits of manufacturing healthy babies, while others pointing to the potential of that option being limited to a ruling upper class, who could then potentially create a race of genetically superior people who could dominate over everyone else. In other words, these scientists are worried about the world of Gattaca coming true.
In his book Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World, Dr. Lee Silver — who co-founded the company GenePeeks as a way for parents to reduce their children’s odds of inheriting genetic diseases — puts forth a vision of the year 2350 that mirrors the plot of Gattaca almost exactly, though he uses the terms “GenRich” and “Naturals” instead of “Valids” and “Invalids”:
“The GenRich — who account for 10 percent of the American population — all carry synthetic genes. Genes that were created in the laboratory… The GenRich are a modern-day hereditary class of genetic aristocrats… All aspects of the economy, the media, the entertainment industry, and the knowledge industry are controlled by members of the GenRich class… Naturals work as low-paid service providers or as laborers… [A]s time passes, the GenRich class and the Natural class will become the GenRich humans and the Natural humans — entirely separate species with no ability to cross-breed, and with as much romantic interest in each other as a current human would have for a chimpanzee.”
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it? And the future of Gattaca may not be so far off. The technology for selecting various different traits for your unconceived baby already exists, if you’ve got the money for it, and there are no laws against doing so. There is, however, a law against genetic discrimination — the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 — which prevents health insurance companies and employers from examining one’s genetic makeup to deny coverage or employment, but there was also a similar law in Gattaca that was simply ignored. Now that I think about it, it’s possible we may already be living in the early stages of a Gattaca-like society — I guess we’ll know for sure if in a few decades Chrissy Teigen’s daughter suddenly becomes our overlord.
Get a peek at your possible future when Gattaca airs as COMET’s Friday Night Feature on April 21 at 8/7C, with an encore performance the following night.