This lecture deals with a question that will soon move from rarity and fantasy to daily reality, specifically “In Depth: Should We Design Our Babies?”.
I always find these types of lectures somewhat strange. They speak about what should be appropriate and what not. But appropriateness is very much a moving target. And in our present lives, normalcy changes SO quickly that determining appropriateness becomes almost impossible. Even back when I was in medical school, there was the adage “just because we can do something, it does not mean we should”. With present day technologies, the limits to what we can do are quickly diminishing. This leaves us with harder and harder issues to deal with, but little time to deal with each issue individually.
I would update another old adage to the following: there are 3 things in life that are inevitable: death, taxes and new technology. As surprising and life changing are the first two, they are dwarfed by the third. Even taxes do not tend to change as quickly as technology ;).
The time will soon come when someone who is (or is not) bound by a westernized set of laws and morality, will discover a way to truly construct a “perfect” genome. What will perfect mean? It will likely vary based on people’s existing preferences and prejudices. Still, I imagine ALL people wanting a tall, beautiful, intelligent, talented, healthy child. People will likely still want something of their own DNA included in the constructed genome so that they can claim a connection to the child. But beyond this, they will most likely, universally be asking for superhuman capabilities
Now EVEN in the “moral” world, eventually, lawmakers will be forced to find some allowance for such technologies. If they do not, then so be it. But of course, people with means will fly to those countries not bound by such legal limitations and will become impregnated with a fetus having the genetic makeup of the new master race.
What will be the result of combined super genetics and financial success? Most likely, the first people to take advantage of such technology will be wealthy. Their children will have a silver spoon to start with and a golden mind to take their wealth and influence as far as they can. What will happen with super babies from families that are financially limited? Will the super genetics compensate for the initial difference in financial means? Will initial wealth become meaningless when all new humans are genetically superior, so that they can all develop successful businesses and make great deals of money before their 10th birthday?
What can truly be a frightening scenario is one in which the westernized world creates genetically superior children, but the technology to do so will be unavailable for years in the developing world. Will a decade of breeding such superior children lead to a gap between the developed and developing world that is SO wide, that it will be impossible to make up for it? Will the super baby technology be restricted from use in the developing world, so that new humans (futuri hominis) will quickly become overlords over the weaker 1/2 of the world?
Trying to predict all of this is futile. Trying to control it may cause more harm than good because we cannot predict how society will benefit and suffer from such a change in our genome. But these changes will happen and they will change the human race in ways that we cannot fathom. Personally, I pray that we choose wisely every step of the way.
Of course, none of what I have described takes into account additional enhancements that will come from technology. Before genetic manipulation gives us photographic memories, there will probably be plug-ins to our brains that do the same (and more). As medical technology cures more and more diseases, it will be less critical that our genetic makeup is inherently more immune. So, there will likely be somewhat of a race between how quickly we can improve our genes versus how quickly we can hack ourselves with computer technologies.
What do you buy for a new born who is already speaking his or her first words by the time they are first taken home? And yes, such a scenario scares me too. But it is coming, no matter how scary it is.
Thanks for listening