Can We Engineer Social Ecosystems?

TEDxCambridgeSalon,  ,  2018.

Might our fraying socioeconomic institutions and cultural ecosystems be victims of evolved parasitic strategies? If so, how might we repair them? Kevin Esvelt, the head of the Sculpting Evolution Group at the MIT Media Lab, describes why ecosystems aren’t optimized by natural selection, why institutions fail to adapt to changing conditions, and how antiquated closed-door science renders us vulnerable to discovering technologies that could threaten civilization. Kevin Esvelt is director of the Sculpting Evolution group, which invents new ways to study and influence the evolution of ecosystems. By carefully developing and testing these methods with openness and humility, the group seeks to address difficult ecological problems for the benefit of humanity and the natural world. Prior to joining the MIT Media Lab, Esvelt wove many different areas of science into novel approaches to ecological engineering. He invented phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE), a synthetic microbial ecosystem for rapidly evolving biomolecules, in the laboratory of David R. Liu at Harvard University. At the Wyss Institute, he worked with George Church to develop the CRISPR system for genome engineering and regulation, and he began exploring the use of bacteriophages and conjugation to engineer microbial ecosystems. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at