As with all things in life, though — especially revolutionary technological breakthroughs — the picture isn't perfectly rosy. There are serious concerns to be addressed. Yes, it may be wonderful for your doctor to know all the medical hurdles you're likely to face in your life — but do you want your insurance company to know? Do you want potential employers to know?
And do you even want to know?
Then there are the issues of money and power and patents and skullduggery, all of which can play into something as huge as a seismic shift in medical research and the health care that will follow it. Who will own this genetic information? What will they do with it? Will the high-tech genetic medicines that are developed in the wake of these discoveries — much of them from the foundation of publicly-funded research — be made available to all who need them at accessible prices? Or will profit muddy it all up?
Woven carefully through Collins' contagious enthusiasm is a very solid thread of caution. "Science provides knowledge," he said. "Knowledge doesn't have moral value, it's not good or evil, it's just information. It's what you decide to do with it that carries benefits or harms. Scientists are extremely excited right now about the ability to push this envelope faster than we ever have. But society has to get engaged as well, to figure out what are the right balances here between benefits and risks so that ultimately we do the most good."
So, at the Philadelphia conference this week, there is much to be discussed. Answers to medical mysteries are pouring out every week, and there are so many more to come — answers that are likely to have great consequences. What they will mean, precisely what they will change and how they will change it — well, that's unfolding. What is clear, though, is this: Those answers are coming faster than most of us can imagine.