[Paleopsych] Wash. Times: Human genetic changes nearer
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Human genetic changes nearer
By Fred Reed
Published February 24, 2005
Sometimes the most important clouds on the technological horizon don't
get much ink.
One of these is the "genetic engineering" of people, usually suggested
as a means of making the species more intelligent. This has been
accurately described as "still science fiction, but barely." The
necessary technologies are falling into place.
"We are fast approaching arguably the most consequential technological
threshold in all of human history: the ability to alter the genes we
pass to our children," says the Center for Genetics and Society.
Steve Sailer, founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute, said, "The
evolution of the human race is about to accelerate almost unimaginably.
Thus, we can no longer afford the comforting illusion that evolution
doesn't really apply to humanity."
Cloning of animals is now commonplace. Many who work in genetics take
for granted that design of people is possible in principle and getting
close in practice.
Some of this is already done. When prospective parents have themselves
screened for genetic diseases, they are to an extent genetically
designing their child. But what Mr. Sailer and others are talking about
is genetic cutting and pasting to produce specific traits in offspring.
When the desired traits are things like freedom from disease, there
might be little argument. But what they invariably come to in discussion
is an increase in intelligence.
This could become possible in the next decade. What would be the
consequences, politically and socially, of the ability to produce
children with sharply higher intelligence? Once we begin fiddling with
such things, will we be able to control the results? The results,
remember, will be lots smarter than we are.
The first effect might well be to split humanity into what would almost
be different species. A group of children with an IQ of better than 200
would have little in common with the rest of us. A few people of such
stratospheric intelligence exist today, usually isolating themselves in
laboratories and universities. But what happens when you have large and
growing numbers of people who are in another intellectual plane?
A second effect might be that countries would compete to produce
superbright citizens. Countries more authoritarian than the United
States, like China, might see technological advantage in having superior
engineers. Again, this could be tricky. You would have moderately bright
politicians trying to manage people who would regard them as white mice.
We do not know the limits of manipulation of human genetics. If smart
people at the National Institutes of Health can figure out how to
increase intelligence greatly, might not those who were greatly
increased figure out to increase it even more? We can have no idea how
the world would look to them. We aren't smart enough.
A pretty good bet is that the superintelligent would quickly come to
control just about everything. Bill Gates and Michael Dell didn't get
where they are by being unable to balance their own checkbooks.
Again, it may not happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe historians of
science 50 years from now will look back and say, "Well, it seemed a
cute idea at the time, but it just didn't work out."
But, if genetic manipulation does prove to be possible, we will be
playing with something we do not remotely understand and whose
consequences will be unpredictable. We will be creating our
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