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One of the more complex areas of genetic engineering is changing the human brain. Human intelligence is controlled by a complex of genes, some of which control other functions. But we can still expect to see progress and maybe, one day, we can enhance intelligence. See this German study.
One of the key plot lines of Paradise is the discovery of exoplanets. There has been a revolution in this field an as more powerful methods come online we can expect more exciting discoveries, perhaps we will even detect life. This article is a good overview of the discoveries made by the Kepler telescope.
Part of Paradise is set in the near future. As I've been doing research I have been surprised at how quickly things are happening. I do not want to suggest that I have prescience - most of these things are logical extrapolations of current trends. Rather, it's the speed of change. Here is an interesting article about the increasing use of mercenary armies .