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Tired of the Same Small Talk? Try These 4 Topics

Fascinating conversation starters for your seasonal gatherings.

Holiday gatherings. Family celebrations. Business dinners. For good or bad, this time of year brings frequent opportunities for conversation. But with the news so volatile, many of the more obvious topics are probably best avoided in a party atmosphere.

Lest you think that you are left to suffer with small talk, think again: There are many fascinating things happening in the world today that deserve our attention. These topics have the power to change lives and even the course of humanity. Here’s your starter: “I just read the craziest thing on Psychology Today..."

CRISPR and Gene-Editing

You don’t need to understand the biological complexity of CRISPR to appreciate where this technology is capable of heading. Currently, scientists have primarily used CRISPR to genetically modify agriculture and animal farming. However, the technology will soon exist to modify groups of genes such that scientists could increase the odds that a human child is born of higher-than-average intelligence, or with superior athletic ability.

The moral and ethical implications that will follow from these possibilities are mind-boggling. For example, countries will likely enact laws about what they deem as appropriate and ethical uses of this technology. It’s likely that countries will have different ethical perspectives on the genetic modification of babies.

Some countries with more lenient legal codes may offer opportunities for medical tourism. Thus, if you have enough money, there’s a reasonable chance you, or someone you know, will be able to create a “designer baby” somewhere in the world, if not in the U.S.

Further, it’s conceivable that individual governments could enlist this technology to create a subset of intellectually or athletically superior citizens. Finally, if genes are edited early enough in the age of an organism, in what is called germ-line editing, these genetic modifications will be passed on to future offspring, thus permanently modifying the human genetic code. Are we ethically and morally ready for this power?

Brain-Computer Interface

Connecting the brain with computers is no longer sci-fi and involves implanting a computer chip in the brain. While most of this research has been on animals, it’s nonetheless mindboggling.

For example, check out this video of a monkey playing a computer game with only his mind. He was taught to play the game with a joystick, but now a computer chip implanted in his brain reads his intentions to move arm muscles. The first time I saw this video, I couldn’t stop watching it: I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Ultimately, this technology will offer a wide variety of healing technologies, such as vision repair for a blind person or enabling a paraplegic person to move a robotic arm as if it were her own. Ethical issues will include the experience of being a cyborg—or, part human and part machine—as well as the monetary limitations of who will have access to such expensive technology.

Artificial Wombs

Within a decade, researchers in the Netherlands expect to have artificial wombs available for preterm human fetuses. Click here to see a lamb fetus being gestated in an artificial womb at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The difference between these wombs and the incubators used today is that incubators contain air, and thus require an infant to have functioning lungs. Artificial wombs, however, are liquid-based and will thus be capable of assisting much younger fetuses.

It’s likely that infertility medicine will be forever changed once human bodies, and wombs in particular, are no longer required to gestate infants. Further, I wonder about the attachment implications of being gestated in a machine rather than a human body. (For a more complete exploration of this topic, see my previous post.)

Voice Cloning

One of the latest advancements in generative AI is voice cloning: literally, AI’s ability to mimic the sound of someone’s voice. Voice cloning technology is already amazingly convincing, and available to the public.

Several news outlets have released stories about audio scams, involving parents fooled into giving money emergently to someone they thought was their child in crisis—for example, needing money for a lawyer after having been falsely arrested in a foreign country. The emotional intensity of hearing one's child in distress makes a parent less likely to question the validity of the voice on the other end of the phone.

Further, YouTube just announced that they are enabling voice cloning with nine artists who agreed to participate in this highly innovative technology. There’s a start-up that clones a deceased person’s voice, so grievers have the experience of talking with them. Wow.

Our worlds are changing before our eyes. We are shaping the future, whether we acknowledge it or not. I believe that it’s important for us to remain part of the dialogue about the future of humanity.


Brokowski C, Adli M. (2019). CRISPR Ethics: Moral Considerations for Applications of a Powerful Tool. J Mol Biol., Jan 4;431(1):88-101. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2018.05.044. Epub 2018 Jun 7. PMID: 29885329; PMCID: PMC6286228.

Burwell, S., Sample, M. & Racine, E. (2017). Ethical aspects of brain computer interfaces: a scoping review. BMC Med Ethics 18, 60.

De Bie, F.R., Kim, S.D., Bose, S.K., Nathanson, P., Partridge, E.A., Flake, A.W. & Chris Feudtner (2023) Ethics Considerations Regarding Artificial Womb Technology for the Fetonate, The American Journal of Bioethics, 23:5, 67-78, DOI: 10.1080/15265161.2022.2048738

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