Dystopian Future? Yes, Please.

NYTimes: While everyone welcomes Crispr-Cas9 as a strategy to treat disease, many scientists are worried that it could also be used to alter genes in human embryos, sperm or eggs in ways that can be passed from generation to generation. The prospect raises fears of a dystopian future in which scientists create an elite population of designer babies with enhanced intelligence, beauty or other traits.

Does the author really think that smart, beautiful people are a bad thing? Should we shoot the ones we have now? (It seems unlikely that we are at a local maximum).

Sometimes my fellow humans depress me. But I hope for better ones in the future.


Hopefully the genetically engineered smarter people will neither make an argument this bad nor be fooled by it.

"Does the author really think that smart, beautiful people are a bad thing?"

Ummm, no. Do you really expect us to believe that is the claim of the author? Or that you really think that is the author's claim? The fear is obviously not people getting smarter and more beautiful. It is the creation of a two-tiered society in which one group of people is engineered to be genetically superior to others. If you think that is a good thing or would not be the result of the technology, by all means go ahead and make an argument about that.

"Should we shoot the ones we have now?"

Cancer is bad. we should try to prevent people from having cancer. Nevertheless, we should not shoot people who have cancer.

It would be interesting to have a serious debate about this issue. Pretending to misunderstand the opponent's claims in order to make cheap shots is not that.

We already have "an elite population" with better looks and /or intelligence than the rest. Won't making this population larger make it less 'elite'?

It might. Or it might just increase the distance between the elites and others. Anyway, my point is that Alex is not even engaging in this argument (which is an interesting one, with no clear answer, in my opinion).

Which, if Turchin is to be believed, means more elite competition means more unrest, coups, and civil war. Brave New World suggested something similar.

Ozy its actually much worse. Genetically tweaked elites will be more capable, and therefore their competing will create unforeseeable bonfires that the rest of will be suckered into.

@dan1111 - do you always reply to yourself, dan0000? Strawmen noted.

Please don't drag me into this.

Not the first time someone has asked that of Ray Lopez. Generally the "this" is a van though not an argument.

Perhaps you should call yourselves the DanXXXX system.

Dan 111 is making very good points.

Dan1111 is not making good points

Maybe he is not pretending. Maybe that is his actual take away from the article. We all see the world through our own context. Maybe that is the best understanding he is able to sieve with the context he has. That should inform your opinion of his analysis of other stories.

"Maybe... Maybe... Maybe... should"

Well, we're all informed that you arent too sympathetic to AT's political ideology. Thanks for clearing that up.

"It would be interesting to have a serious debate about this issue. Pretending to misunderstand the opponent’s claims in order to make cheap shots is not that."


Okay okay, here we go.

Why the hell would you create a two-tiered society with the ability to create a one tiered society of ubermensch? What is mentally wrong with the author of the NYTimes article that this is the logical first step for them?

The author wants to cause fear and create controversy, because the author wants people to read his/her articles and continue to be employed. Doesn't hurt that it supports the lefts narrative that the rich and talented are evil. It's a ridiculous concern. That's why Alex has ridiculed it.

Oh, we're socializing the technology now? Sweet. How progressive of you.

All technology gets socialized after a while.

The genes will get socialized after a while, because the top-tier, especially top-tier men, don't exclusively fuck people in the top tier.

Yes, obviously. Haven't you noticed that most sophisticated modern technology is necessarily mass-market (to spread R&D costs over large numbers of cheap-to-manufacture units), and that, therefore, the rich and poor have the same products (smart phones, flat-screen TVs, digital cameras, etc) with only relatively narrow price differences (and trivial functional differences) between high and low end devices.

Yep. In the same way we socialised colour television.

"Why the hell would you create a two-tiered society with the ability to create a one tiered society of ubermensch?"

The two-tiered society is arguably better for those in the top tier. What many people want is to be superior to others. But don't take my word for it; look at nearly all of world history.

It is true that there are often concerns about new technology only being available to the elite, and that these concerns are frequently ill-founded. But when the benefit is inheritable, it is conceivable that the benefit could remain concentrated within a subpopulation, given the reality of assortative mating.

This doesn't mean I agree with the position in the article, necessarily. But it certainly is worthy of a serious response.

Rich dudes will sow their wild oats, and the "elite" genes will diffuse through the population.

It would be a bigger problem if the modifications were NOT heritable.

If you could cure diseases and defects, increase emotional stability, intelligence and beauty, it would only be a matter of time before it filters down to everyone. The benefit is too great, imagine a process to increase IQ by 20 points, that would be so incredibly valuable and would increase the pie for everyone. Whether the technology gets cheaper, the government pays for it or charity pays for it.

Now if our NYTimes author gets his way (whether he intends it or not he's gearing up support for a ban), we just might get our two tier society, those that can afford to go to other countries and get the treatment will have a benefit. Of course even that I doubt would stop it from trickling down, once people see the incredible benefit of increasing intelligence or removing mental disorders from their children, they would be wise to spend every dollar they have on it.

Dan1111, I thought I was pessimistic, but you might have me beat.

@XVO, it is not my position; I am just saying it is worthy of a serious response. I still believe that.

I think a serious proposal needs to be made before a serious response is warranted. Vague hypotheticals don't warrant engagement.

Assortative mating? Any woman with any sense will want one of the engineered supermen. All non-engineered men can count on being cuckolded.

Re: Rich dudes will sow their wild oats, and the “elite” genes will diffuse through the population.

Unlikely. Ask yourself if the 1% of Baltimore spend a lot of time trawling for hookers up on Pennsylvania and North. No, if they are minded to play around they will have pricey call girls-- and boys-- on speed dial.

@JonFraz If the genes produce an advantage then they WILL propagate through the population. That's how evolution works. The fact that they are artificially engineered rather than randomly mutated has absolutely no bearing on this.

If the genes produce an advantage then they WILL propagate through the population. That’s how evolution works.

That's a polite way of saying it. A more accurate way of saying it is that the disadvantaged ones will die without reproducing. Meaning a lot of men will not get laid (women too, but something like 60% of men in history have never reproduced vs 20% of men).

Re: If the genes produce an advantage then they WILL propagate through the population. That’s how evolution works.

The process has been largely circumvented in humans, where cultural/technological factors generally overwhelm biological ones outside the most extreme cases-- something emphatically true in the modern world. Intelligence may be an advantage in society, but it is not a particular advantage in terms of survivability or reproduction. Is there any evidence that bright people live longer or have more children? We seem in fact to be moving to a world where bright people have fewer children, even none. And not for the first time: in the early Middle Ages, monasticism was a highly attractive option for the intellectually inclined with the result that widespread celibacy may have uniquely hindered Europe's recovery from the global demographic collapse of the 6th century.

You get a two-tiered society if this technology is used the same way as every other technology out there.

Yes the basic genetic engineering tech will eventually filter down to the lower classes, at which point the upper classes have better genetic engineering tech.

And when they filters down to the lower classes the upper classes will have even better tech than that.

Everybody will have "better" DNA in general, but at the same time the genetic gap between upper and lower classes will increase rapidly, and following income inequality a lot of this gap will show up along racial lines. So yes, there are some serious potentially dystopian issues we need to confront with this tech.

I would expect this would shrink the racial IQ gap dramatically

Maybe if the gap is due to genetics but I think the evidence on that is very dubious.

If the gap is due to socio-economic factors (which is definitely part of the story) then this would only exacerbate it.

"but I think the evidence on that is very dubious."

Pretty much all the evidence points to exactly this.

The argument would be to shoot those who do not have cancer since they are the privileged elite.

Heh. What worries me is how myopic are the calls for a ban on this technology's use on human embryos. How is this ban supposed to be enforced on the territory of People's Republic of China, say? Are we talking about commando raids, cruise missile strikes or what?

So many of concerns like these, or advocating unlimited immigration ("open borders") on the moral basis are obviously specific afflictions of the western brains, and I think we risk serious long-term consequences if we narrow our Overton window to exclude discussions of the topics such as genetic basis of intelligence, embryo modification technologies etc. There is no evidence that East Asian countries, for example, suffer from such scruples.

p.s. - if you claim that discussing these ideas is 'rasis' you are just proving the above point.

Who is claiming that we should not discuss embryo modification?

Yeah! If somebody out there doesn't share our scruples why don't we just abandon them! How the hell are we supposed to enforce agreements on other countries and cultures, it's not like countries ever come to any compromises and agreements from different starting points.

There are two unsettling things about designer babies. 1) the trial and error process of perfecting the technique, and 2) who do the gains accrue to/who is left behind?

What does "left behind" mean? A population with more smart and healthy people will be more economically productive, which is good for everyone. It's a lot better to be dumb and disabled in Sweden than in Nigeria.

Unless the ubermenschen are engineered to be libertarian.

Yet another very complex system to muck around in...
and so many foreseeable ways for it to go wrong.

Unfortunately, yes, but that has not stopped smart people from plunging ahead. The task is to reverse engineer and "improve" human nature, when our understanding of such is elementary and never likely to be complete.

Well, then the harms should accrue mostly to the wealthy.
If the rich want to be guinea pigs for a genetic experiment I don't see a reason to stop them on those grounds.

You mean the harms should accrue mostly to the children that the wealthy run genetic experiments on.

I know that everyone commenting here issuper smart, but it's ridiculous to pretend that there are no valid objections to this.

Good point, it's better that the left hate this new technology. Wouldn't want them getting any ideas, like removing genes for racism or sexism.

Does the author really think that smart, beautiful people are a bad thing? Should we shoot the ones we have now? (It seems unlikely that we are at a local maximum).

Evidently the poster believes a manufactured humanity is a good thing.

The Model T was a welcome improvement on the horse. If somebody can figure out how to make a better sapien, I say go for it.

"Evidently the poster believes a manufactured humanity is a good thing."

Dental implants, pacemakers, artificial limbs, cochlear implants, artificial heart valves, stents, plastic surgery, etc, etc.

Wouldn't it be better, for example, to repair defective genes that cause inherited deafness than to have to have to resort to a cochlear implant in the deaf child (and succeeding generations)? Why couldn't prevention be better than treatment for any any number of horrible inherited genetic disorders?

Where do you draw the line? Is it a bad thing to give gene therapy to a person suffering greatly from a genetic illness, for example?

Brave New World. Read it.
Population ecology. Study it.
Then let me know whether you think increasing homogeneity in our "smart, beautiful" people is evolutionarily stable in a dynamic environment. Have fun marooning us on a local max in time for the next meteor, plague, or volcano day.

Some people do see Mustapha Mond as the hero of the book.

Wow Mark, you read Brave New World? You must have made it all the way through high school! I will certainly be sure to follow your arbitrary imperatives.

Our humble Hayekians, mocking those skeptical of fundamentally alerting humanity. The curious task indeed!

Uh, *altering*.

altering alerting
Of course it was a mistake, but a somewhat disquieting anagram.

Yes please. If we are going to engage in dysgenia through redistribution, we can at least engage in eugenia through invention. ;)

alex, is this trolling or legitimate badposting? we can't tell.

Isn't Benny Lava supposed to make that observation? And then have his comment disappear?

Maybe he already did? You should check it out; it's probably a Koch-funded conspiracy.

This was dealt with in Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Modifying humans was illegal, but it was nice to have one around in a pinch. :-)

No need to modify humans when it would be trivially easy to make thousands of copies of an elite android using transporter technology, then make him do everything. But for some reason this capability was never exploited.

Why do people criticize libertarians. It is indeed a mystery.

Becuase they are pussies who are afraid of people saying controversial things?

Because libertarians tend to be smug gadflies with a predilection for unwarranted self-congratulation and a mistaken, yet deeply held belief that saying controversial things for the sake of saying controversial things is somehow a heroic and courageous act.

It's certainly more courageous than saying uncontroversial things.

But FUBAR is here to be contrarian to the contrarians. How Progressive of him?

Well, yes, New York Times published the piece, with no byline. Anonymous corporate composition?
The photo of Dr. Doudna and her Breakthrough Prize co-winner standing in awards-ceremony finery with a Twitter exec and Cameron Diaz provided ironic commentary all its own.

The trouble with trying to engineer "superior" people is that it is limited by whatever the engineers believe is superior. Which may not be true.

Sure, let the "elite" (which is, I guess, everyone richer than me who votes for the other major party) create their smart, beautiful kids. They'll wind up overspecialized, the way real geniuses tend to be. Looks will fade -- and walking around wearing a face that says "my parents paid for this" will create problems of its own.

I don't worry about a caste of genetic supermen ruling over us. At best we'll get a caste of genetic "show-dog" humans. My money's still on mutts in a fight.

Yeah, all of these fears seem incredibly overblown at this point. I'll wait until genetic engineering actually does produce a well-adjusted model/genius.


Maybe we could just spare a minute to think about what "superior" or "elite" ought to mean before jumping to the conclusion that it's a great idea to engineer certain traits.

'I don’t worry about a caste of genetic supermen ruling over us.'

Come, come now - Prof. Cowen at least has written that the Nazis were a mere roadbump along the path that leads to a much better world through eugenics. Which tends to have the same sincere tone that Franz Schönhuber, a former leader of the German Republikaner (and a former member of the SS), saying that if his party won power, they would not repeat the mistakes of the Nazis. (Prof. Cowen quote here - http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/10/further-small-steps-toward-designer-babies.html )

Does anyone honestly think that anyone who believes in eugenics is not a believer in the idea that some humans are genetically superior to other humans? Especially since if they did not believe in this fundamental point, they would not support nor advance the very concept of eugenics at all?

A reality reflected in the current Grundgesetz of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, being the very first article - 'Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar/ Human dignity is inviolable.' Eugenicists, at least those who achieve power, cannot accept this, of course - which not so coincidentally is why it is the very first article of the German constitution which followed the first attempt to implement government policy to use eugenics to make the world a much better place. For those deserving it, of course.

Right on cue!

Thanks for providing the link that shows that Tyler's overall take is quite reasonable and interesting, and that the part you quote isn't even his own view, and that he immediately follows the quote by expressing his own skepticism of eugenics.

'Tyler’s overall take is quite reasonable and interesting'

Well, as long as one doesn't actually know anything about either the German nor Virginian attempts to make the world a better place through eugenics. My German wife was utterly shocked that my 1963 Virginia birth certificate listed my race, for example.

'and that the part you quote isn’t even his own view'

Here is the exact quote - 'My view has long been that most people, if they have the chance, are willing to embrace and also use eugenics, albeit with some reframing and rebranding. Eugenics was a very popular idea with Progressives earlier in the twentieth century, and also with economists (in particular, pdf), and ultimately the Nazi connection will be seen as a bump in the road. Competition with the Chinese will help push Americans toward this ideological shift.' http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/10/further-small-steps-toward-designer-babies.html

I may be a disloyal reader, but I do my best to let Prof. Cowen speak in his own words, which is why I include that link.

For example, I'm quite confident that the Nazi's vision of a better humanity through eugneics was also motivated by competition with New Soviet Man - 'The Soviet man was to be selfless, learned, healthy, muscular, and enthusiastic in spreading the socialist Revolution. Adherence to Marxism-Leninism, and individual behavior consistent with that philosophy's prescriptions, were among the crucial traits expected of the New Soviet man. This required intellectualism and hard discipline.[6] He was not driven by crude impulses of nature but by conscious self-mastery – a belief that required the rejection of both innate personality and the unconscious, which Soviet psychologists did therefore reject.[7]

He treated public property with respect, as if it were his own.[8] He also has lost any nationalist sentiments, being Soviet rather than Russian, or Ukrainian, or any of the many other nationalities found in the USSR.' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Soviet_man

Prof. Cowen feels the world will be a better place if we learn how to be effective eugenicists. A number of people, drawing on past experience disagree. Prof. Cowen considers overcoming such disagreement, as seen in the quote above, merely a matter of 'reframing and rebranding.'

Others consider it a more important issue than merely refaming and rebranding. For example, those that wrote article 1 of the German constitution, written less than 5 years after that 'roadbump' of Prof. Cowen's.

Again, you quoted his prediction about what others will think, omitting the next part:

"I am more skeptical myself, as I see greater value in the genetic outliers and I fear their disappearance or diminution. I also am relatively skeptical about the quality of the processes — legal and otherwise — which are likely to govern such experiments."

It's worth thinking about what is objectionable about some proposed policy of eugenics. On one extreme, you can imagine free-upon-request prescreening for genetic disorders for kids, available to any citizen. That might conceivably lead in bad directions, but it seems pretty positive to me. On another extreme, you could have the rich and powerful uniformly getting World Dominance Package #6 (now with extra will to power!) for their kids, so the rich kids are all eight feet tall with 160 IQs and no empathy for anyone weaker.

I can see ways eugenics (even voluntary eugenics driven by parents' demand in the market) could end up in a bad place, but I can also see ways eugenics might have really positive effects (like making a lot of nasty genetic diseases go away).

I agree with you about looks, but increased intelligence seems an obviously beneficial and desirable trait for an individual. Are real genuises "overspecialized"? I'm not sure what that means, but there is tons of evidence that being smarter leads to better life outcomes.

But will it lead to worse outcomes for other people? I would think we'd all be worse off if there were no people with IQs greater than 130.

I'm married to a scientist, so I actually do get to interact with a lot of very intelligent people. And you know what? Most of them are idiots.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm an idiot, too. Everyone's an idiot. When we say someone's "intelligent" we usually mean that in one particular way, or about one particular subject, that person is not an idiot. Stephen Hawking is not an idiot about physics and math, but he is an idiot about everything else, same as me.

Engineering "geniuses" will mean more idiots who are possibly not idiots about math, maybe a few more idiots who possibly aren't idiots about music. The world is already full of math geeks and wannabe musicians.

I'm not so sure we have an oversupply of math geeks, personally.

We definitely have an oversupply of wannabe musicians.
This may have something to do with the tendency of female humans to fuck musicians and not mathematicians.

Intelligence is by and large a universal trait, so a very intelligent person will be very good at whatever they are interested in and spend time on.

Cliff, stop hurting their feelings. You should have included a Trigger Warning.

"They’ll wind up overspecialized, the way real geniuses tend to be."

Is it better to be +2 SD in intellect, or -2 SD? I'm sure that if the human genome becomes widely understood, someone somewhere will actually manufacture exotic "single use" humans for specific jobs. Some of these might be quite outre. But is an unusually intelligent lawyer, doctor, or diplomat "overspecialized"? Why, because they only physically have time for one full-time job?

"Looks will fade"
Building something that will not outlast the heat death of the universe is pointless. OK.

"and walking around wearing a face that says “my parents paid for this” will create problems of its own."
Walking around wearing anything that looks expensive can create problems of its own. That doesn't mean you shouldn't create or own valuable or beautiful things. Lots of people now resent beautiful people. Do you care? I don't.

"My money’s still on mutts in a fight."
How much of your views on this are influenced by your perception of yourself as a scrappy scrapper who will defeat his well-bred foes via pluck and gumption in a boxing match?

I would prefer to have Wladimir Klitschko's size and musculature if I could. He is educated and fit ... he seems the ideal Soviet Man..... Except he and Vitali clearly identify as Ukrainian.

WHOOPS! (Mine and NYT's) -- the byline appears in a sidebar: or was the author keen to maintain anonymity by relying on poor page layout?

C'mon man. The future wouldn't be dystopian because there are more beautiful and intelligent people per se, but because of the social order that would develop in a world in which some people have access to beauty/intelligence enhancing technology and others don't.

You can use the movie Gattaca as an exaggerated example of what people fear. That world had a much higher prevalence of beautiful and intelligent people than our present world. It was also arguably pretty shitty if you weren't genetically enhanced.

Precisely. This is what I imagine the opponents are actually criticizing. If he has seen Gattaca, I would think he would at least reference it. Perhaps he hasn't seen it?

I have less of a concern of using the technique when it is a genetic defect that can be easily isolated. Making it so that no one is ever born of Huntington's again would be great progress. However, for beauty or intelligence, it may not be easy to isolate genes that affect only those characteristics. Evolution is a messy thing; it may be more difficult to do this than we would expect. What if we identify a gene correlated with intelligence, but it turns out it is also correlated with some (positive or negative) personality characteristics? While many parents wanting designer babies might be willing to say they prefer smarter children, all else equal, they probably wouldn't want it if it means that a child will have a different personality, for better or worse, than nature intended.

So, I'm very concerned about the human race's ability to manipulate it's own genome in ways that they don't intend. For hundreds of thousands of years, human species have used genetically natural births. It is well tested. Consensual human sexual relationships are complicated. The birth of a child (now more than ever) requires the conscious agreement of two people. Both of them have to value some collection of characteristics in the other. If you play around with the genome of their children a bit too much, then you undermine one of the critical aspects of evolution in humans. Definitely something not to be taken lightly.

What if we identify a gene correlated with intelligence, but it turns out it is also correlated with some (positive or negative) personality characteristics?

The autism gene.

Well, exactly, most genes are pleiotropic, the effects of which will surprise the hell out of us.

The *birth* of a child does not require the conscious agreement of two people-only one. Plenty of babies born where the Dad is either out of the picture or being dragged into against his will.

Well, if nature intended the child's personality to be that of a psychopath, or pedophile, I'm sure they might want that changed.

I expected you to mention something about playing God. Progressives are so funny.

I think the interesting thing about Gattaca was that it was never specified whether the genetic engineering project became universal. Most of the non-engineered workers looked old. Either genetic engineering was universal and Gattaca showed a transitional state from a two-tier society into one that became a single-tier society with soft genetic determinism (itself pretty horrifying) or there was some method of preventing the underclass from undergoing engineering, either through expense, rights restrictions or through the simple expedient of importing the underclass through immigration from poorer places.

You can use the movie Gattaca as an exaggerated example of what people fear. That world had a much higher prevalence of beautiful and intelligent people than our present world. It was also arguably pretty shitty if you weren’t genetically enhanced.

While this is true it is also temporary. As another poster pointed out the genetic advantages afforded to the elites eventually will get passed down to the lower classes by men "sowing their wild oats". So the potential benefits may outweigh the harm.

I think a bigger worry is that even if there aren't any unintended consequences, which is in it's self unlikely; by mucking around with the human genome we're short circuiting evolution and natural selection. Sure having a bunch of super smart people with the bodies of power lifters and runway models sounds like a good idea. Until you realize that some people are naturally fat, because it afforded their ancestors a genetic advantage which allowed them to survive in times of adverse conditions such as: famine, drought, and natural disasters.

If we eliminate genetic diversity, then he human race is much more likely to go extinct due to a negative external shock.

Your point about genetic diversity and shocks is a good one. For instance, what if we make everyone taller and then there is some meteor impact or something that causes us to lose significant agricultural capacity for an extended number of years. The taller people who require more calories would struggle more.

Back to the caves, folks!

I'm pretty skeptical that there would be such a uniform movement toward the same genes in everyone (world dominance package #6) that we'd lose all the other genes. Absent some kind of state coercion or Moloch-run-amok sort of selection where everyone not genetically enhanced with the latest package can expect to starve to death, I'd expect there to be a pretty wide range of genetic packages.

What if one of the traits they engineer is less interest in “sowing their wild oats?”

'While everyone welcomes Crispr-Cas9 as a strategy to treat disease'

Well, apart from people like this - 'What is lacking, says Joung, is a side-by-side comparison to see which strategy truly performs best, not to mention a method—other than whole-genome sequencing—to identify modified sites across the genome. Still, Church says the technology—with an error rate of about one in 100 billion base pairs—probably is already sufficiently specific for research applications, where simple expedients such as comparing the effects of multiple guide RNAs can likely overcome possible off-target effects. Rather, it is in clinical applications where specificity really counts, he says, and the only way to determine if that's an issue is to put the technology into animals, and ultimately humans, and see what happens.' http://www.sciencemag.org/site/products/lst_20141003.xhtml

This is, at best, an immature technology - one reason some people tend to view with caution its ability to treat disease.

I think the better counterargument would be that if a world of a genetically enhanced overclass is worrying and dystopian, so too should an assortatively mated overclass. If you would take active steps to prevent the former, it would seem as though you should support active steps to prevent the latter.

I would put it this way: has there ever been a product or service that remained too expensive for anyone but the rich for any significant period of time? Eventually, the price of everything drops due to competition. So the idea of a two tiered society emerging based around one piece of technology which for some reason will only be accessible by a select group of people seems unlikely in the extreme. If you're worried about inequality, I would say you should welcome this technology, since it has the potential to eliminate a lot of it. Naturally, the wealthy will get first crack at it, but that's true of virtually everything. Resisting new technologies simply because they won't be widely available to everyone is a profoundly anti-progressive idea.

'I would put it this way: has there ever been a product or service that remained too expensive for anyone but the rich for any significant period of time?'

Yachts with crews larger than 20?

Private jet aircraft with pilots and cabin crews on call 24 hours?

Houses with servants?

This isn't really hard, actually.

A yacht is a boat. Boats in and of themselves are not expensive; the technology has been around for thousands of years. Likewise with jets. 50 years ago, only wealthy and upper middle class people could afford to fly on them. Now virtually everyone can. You can also hire people to cook and clean for you quite cheaply, too, as servants used to do. I know plenty of middle class people who have a cleaning service.

You missed the point about the crews, didn't you?

Though admittedly, this shows you are at least aware of what is going on - 'You can also hire people to cook and clean for you quite cheaply, too, as servants used to do. I know plenty of middle class people who have a cleaning service.'

However, a cleaning service is not the same as household servants. Servants are available, like the yacht and aircraft crew in my example, around the clock.

In the lovely country of America, it isn't too expensive to hire 20 people. Of course, in Germany, p_a, you are exactly right, yachts with crews are exclusively the experience of the rich.

You're weaseling around the argument by focusing on labor in general rather than a particular product. No kidding that the average person cannot afford servants.... if everyone was rich, nobody would be able to afford servants. That's not really relevant to technological progress, unless you consider the lack of development in the human slave market to be a lack of progress.

I think a genetically-enhanced elite would take steps to create barriers to entry into that elite, say by limiting access to the technlogy by the prole masses.

Then why didn't they create effective barriers to spread of TVs and cell phones? It is obviously in the interest of the elite to be well informed and in touch with each other, while denying that ability to the "proles".

TVs and cell phones? Bread and circuses. TVs particularly help keep the proles in their place.

Far less significant to their relative standing.

Though I guess it could be, like with cell phones and TVs, that there will always be a New and Improved version of genetic engineering that becomes available to the Elite first, so that they can maintain (or even increase) their gap relative to the commoners, even if those commoners have access to older enhancement technology. So I guess I would amend my point to be that I would expect them to create such barriers once a certain level of diminishing marginal returns from improved enhancement technology is reached. As long as they can maintain the gap, maybe there will be enhancements for all.

TVs and cell phones do not bring you access to high income and elite status any more than refrigerators and indoor plumbing do.

Yeah, the elite just love being surrounded by dumb, violent prone poor people with nothing to lose and no money to buy things? This paranoia about the "elite" is quite ridiculous.

Gated and fenced communities dude.


Primitive tribes used to fight over these things and we still covet them today.

Turkey Vulture and a number of others on here are making arguments like "If you accept some of X, than how can you object to a lot of X?"

This is logically flawed. A greater amount of something is a legitimate reason for opposing it.

Have you established that there would be a greater amount of this? We have a lot of assortative mating going on at present.

Regardless, it isn't logically flawed, because the point you make is a more refined complaint than that expressed in the post. They say "dystopian two-tier society is bad," I say, "well isn't that equally bad regardless of the precise mechanism used to achieve it?" You now say "more of it is bad." No logical flaw exposed, just a new argument added.

And the counter would still remain: if genetic engineering takes us to "too much," isn't there a level of assortative mating that is too much? How much, and do you equally oppose it?

"Have you established that there would be a greater amount of this?"

Given that the technology would be in addition to, rather than a replacement for, assortative mating, this seems obvious.

"It isn’t logically flawed"

Yes, it is. You are making a backwards a fortiori argument. There is nothing about opposition to a genetic super-elite that implies one must also oppose the current assortative mating elite.

I would have thought it would somewhat replace assortative mating, but sure, I'll accept there'd be more of it. That wasn't the premise I was operating under.

I wasn't trying to make any claims about the relative amount of eliteness. I was simply trying to say that assuming both methods (assortative mating and genetic engineering) lead you to the same overclass situation, you should oppose both. Otherwise your opposition must come from something other than the simple existence of a two-tier society with an overclass.

ISTM that one difference is simply the scale of the effect. Assuming 0.5 narrow-sense heritability for intelligence (maybe a little high, but it makes the math easy), two people with 130 IQs have kids whose average IQs are around 115. That's good, but it's not like it's out of reach for a couple with 100 IQs to have a brighter kid. By contrast, if everyone using the technology (someday in the far future when we know how to do that) has a kid with an IQ of 160, almost nobody manages that naturally. Almost the entire ruling/professional class could end up being engineered, and almost all of the lower classes could end up being natural. It's not so hard to see how that would make for some ugly social relations.

That doesn't mean it would have to end badly, or that it's better *not* to fill the world with geniuses if we can. But it's also not crazy to worry about how this might play out socially.

We're already getting life-saving surgery, plastic surgery, knee and hip replacements, organ donations, implants for Parkinson's and heart problems, drugs, vitamins and increasingly capable prosthetics.

Do we have a two-tiered society or increased longevity all around?

Gene editing is coming. It will be cheap, ubiquitous and probably save failing healthcare systems all over the developed world.

i don't think the concern is over medical applications.

Is plastic surgery a medical application?

Ha! You clicked Submit while I was still writting ;)

And ruin Social Security?

Social security will eventually be indexed to current life expectancy. It's pretty much inevitable.

Well, we already live in the dystopian future.

Beauty is already enhanced with aesthetic surgery, cosmetics and a relatively healthy lifestyle. The curious thing is that (most) people is not afraid of individuals that use these tools of beauty enhancement. People admires these individuals, the elite.

Physical endurance enhancement? We already have an elite population known as professional sports players. If you think gene editing is cheating or creating an great divide between pros and comonners, you must be blind to the long affair between sports and drugs. Either the public does not consider performance enhancement drugs as cheating, or cheating is not that bad if your team wins. Either way, the sports elite is admired.

Intelligence? Students are not screened for amphetamines or attention focusing drugs before exams. In practical terms, we are OK with intelligence enhancement.

Is the dystopian present that bad?

Surely direct alteration of the genome is a significant step beyond these techniques. It has the potential to transcend natural limits that none of the other things you mention do.

Also, your example about performance-enhancing drugs in sports runs counter to your point. In fact, there has been a great deal of outrage about this, mainly because it is seen as an unnatural way to boost performance, and therefore cheating.

Yes, Axa writes as if no one criticizes these things.

Yes, there's outrage about drugs but it is pretty selective. There are bad drugs (steroids, HGH) and good drugs (painkillers). Sport players confess that they need painkillers to play the whole season. Without them, they may play 1 game and stay at home the following weeks recovering from injuries that cause pain. Painkillers seem to be enhancers and there's no outrage about them. We admire the team spirit of that player that plays the whole season, he's not a wussy that leaves the team down.

This argument, like your original one, glosses over major differences as if they don't exist. Steroids increase muscle mass increasing an athlete's actual physical capability, while painkillers alleviate a minor symptom. Both may "increase performance", but there is a huge difference in degree, and arguably a difference in kind, between the two.

If you couldn't play due to pain but-for the painkiller, then it seems like a more than minor symptom.

Its not just that it is unnatural and cheating. Generally it is banned and thus cheating because of adverse effects (congestive heart failure with epo and blood doping; endocrine and connective tissue problems etc. with steroids). it is thought that competitors should not have to risk their health to have an equal competitive chance.

The justification for banning beta blockers in shooting sports is more tenuous.

Yeah, because the sports themselves have no negative long-term health effects. Give me a break.

Track and Field; Tennis; Basketball; Badminton; Suash; Racquetball; Swimming; Skating; etcetera are net health positive. American Football, Boxing etcetera are health negative without the cheating.


Are you going to reference the Bible?

Ritalin does not raise a person's peak levels of performance. It can improve focus and alertness, although the effect is much smaller than from genetic enhancement.

How can you compare Ritalin effects with the outcomes of a technology not yet developed or tested?

We can do genetic enhancement now. The "performance" (IQ+focus) of a kid conceived from Yale gametes will likely be much higher than a random kid taking Ritalin.

When I was a college student we had a roommate who was a lazy slob and didn't clean up after himself. Every so often he would score some Ritalin, the whole apartment was absolutely spotless until the Ritalin ran out.

I guess I know where Alex stands on the Repugnant Conclusion.

Does the author really think that smart, beautiful people are a bad thing?

Maybe if they are smiling and eating in the restaurant you like?

In the spirit of Tabarrok's post, I also look forward to better humans, and the improved blogging that they produce. I doubt we're at a local maximum.

A bit more seriously, standards of beauty change and are different from place to place. People no longer praise the Junoesque or the Rubenesque. Women in the west no longer try to enhance their alabaster skin, but in India that seems to be the ideal.

In the west, rapid intuitions and inferences are considered intelligent. An anthropologist once pointed out to me that in many cultures, speed is considered a sign of foolishness; intelligence is slow. When the margin of survival is small, mistakes are costly and the ability to defer coming to a conclusion is highly valued.

As the example of sickle cell anemia shows, things that are genetic diseases in one environment are evolutionary advantages in others. We should be wary of modifying genes to produce characteristics are are advantages only under current conditions and with existing costs. Given the fact that our society/economy needs a population with a lot of variation of characteristics, there are probably decreasing marginal returns to any desirable trait, and increasing the frequency of a trait in the population may be enough to make the trait less desirable.

Pointless use of 'local maximum', dude.

Is it right to assume that this doesn't bother the portion of the left who thinks intelligence is not due to genetic factors?

Wasn't Bryan Caplan's point that if the entire population was beautiful and smart people then who will take out the trash?

Also, by controlling genetics then won't that limit the number of .0000001% smart people as well?

The world with just STEM (and economics, apparently):


If you look at reputable statistics gathered from Army studies, or SAT scores, that break down intelligence to various groups, you will find that there are already "elite populations" distinguished by "race" (which people will tell you doesn't exist) that are smarter than others.

And, so far, our Society's response to this is to oppress these people, and artificially boost the deficient ones, to the detriment of everyone else.

Yes, these 'elite populations' are truly oppressed. That's why white people all wish they were black, to escape oppression and get all the free goodies you get for being black.

Well, it could be true that someone in the 1% of intelligence might optimally choose to be black rather than white (assuming that only appearance changes), while the other 99% might optimally choose white rather than black. Not what Robert was getting at, but just a thought.

"Yes, these ‘elite populations’ are truly oppressed. That’s why white people all wish they were black, to escape oppression and get all the free goodies you get for being black."

analogous logic fail:

"Throw all billionaires in prison, and they still won't be oppressed."

A lot of this kind of talk is phony. We can already genetically enhance folks, by doing IVF with donors with good genetically-mediated traits.

I look forward to seeing proposals for exactly how much of such enhancement we should be doing. At present it is less than the 1.5% of US births conceived with IVF. Does Alex favor increasing that?

Genetic screening of embryos is already commercially available. Carriers for things like Tay Sachs disease can do IVF, have the embryos screened, and pick the ones that aren't carriers.

The only real difference is whether you throw away the embryos that do have it or use CRISPR to fix the genetic defect. Which really just comes down to how many IVF cycles you are willing to pay for until you get some "good" embryos.

You can improve the IQ of children with IVF. This goes beyond curing diseases.

So I think we should ask, Should we use IVF for that? And if so, how much?

It's theoretically possible, I don't think they have isolated genes for intelligence or come up with a test for them yet.

If they did I don't see why it should be illegal. I imagine a future in which you do IVF and you get sort of like a panel of traits that they have identified in each embryo. And then the parents will have to pick among those many combinations of traits which embryos they want to implant first. it could be that the smartest baby also is a carrier for Huntington's or something to that effect. Keep in mind that they many not implant on the first try so they might have to move down to their second, third, fourth choices. Of course, if you keep doing IVF cycles and keep making more embryos your options will improve.

You don't need to know isolated genes for intelligence. IQ is heritable; you find sperm and egg donors with a high IQ. It will likely be somewhat lower due to regression to the mean, but basically, the child will have a high IQ. If you click my name, I have written a bit more on this.

I think IVF already creeps most people out, but we don't talk about it much because we're on board with unmarried women and gays.

Aren't the users of IVF like 99%+ straight married couples who ran into problems when trying to get pregnant, often related to the age of the mother?

Yes. Although not just age. It's a common treatment if the mother had something like an STD that causes scarring in the fallopian tubes, or has polycystic overy syndrome.

Also lesbian couples can just get sperm from a sperm bank. There is no reason to use IVF for that.

'Does the author really think that smart, beautiful people are a bad thing? Should we shoot the ones we have now?


Sometimes my fellow humans depress me. But I hope for better ones in the future.'

OK, I'll admit that this comment may be worthy of deletion (at least from one perspective, though it does get the point about eugenics), but how does Prof. Cowen's wife's child stack up on that spectrum? Needing improvement, or needing to fear being shot (or whatever method that 'roadbump' regime considered most efficient)?

And let's keep in mind, at least in one country which was a believer in eugenics in the past, the answer was unequivocal in that regard. Because by definition, such 'Mischlinge' were neither smart nor beautiful in any sense that benefitted the vision that society considered correct.

No need to be hypothetical in such discussions, after all. It isn't as if we haven't seen this in practice, after all. (And yes, one of the people I worked with at GMU had a German mother - she, with her twin, were tall and blond, though green eyed. Nonetheless, more than close enough to the ideal to be worthy of study, in a surrounding with all the advantages that Aryans deserved.)

I certainly don't believe in eugenics! That's why the party's new 'Random Anthropoid Production Engine' establishes a system of completely random mate pairing. We can't have that disgustingly eugenic assortive mating, now can we, comrade?

Alex, one of your best posts. I hope you aren't too depressed by the comments.

Hey Tyler, remember how you were asking why libertarianism is such a "target?" Here you go.


Thanks for being one of the few public intellectuals willing to take this stand. There's clearly a real debate to be had here, but from reading the papers you'd think everyone agrees that genetic engineering is wrong.

I personally side with the folks who think this whole debate is pointless because someone in China will use the technology as soon as it works, and then we'll follow, but still...

"Does the author really think that smart, beautiful people are a bad thing?"

The more germane question is whether the smart and beautiful people in hypothetical question would decide that the not-smart and not-beautiful people are a bad thing.

Nothing to stop them now.

Ob Star Trek reference: Khaaaaaaaan!

Why does Alex Tabarrok choose to write op-ed blog posts and not contribute to eugenics?

Ohhhhhh! Burnnnn! You really got him! Next, talk about why Venezuela is poised to take over global economics.


I think there are three things that scare people about genetic engineering:

1) That while we think it will be easy it may in fact be quite messy. With lots of failed experiments along the way and the "goal" perhaps unachievable from the outset. This particularly applies to the human brain, fixing things like genetic diabetes or what have you may be easier.

2) That engineering implies a goal and that the goal that will be chosen may have dystopian qualities. In Brave New World happiness and stability, two obvious goals, have been chosen. They are achieved, but at the cost of any higher or transcendent human achievement. Was it worth the price?

3) That those who for whatever reason don't end up with the "correct" genes are left behind.

4) That I am one of those in #3

I'm afraid you've all fallen for the genetic determinism fallacy. The idea that we'll be picking our kids' features and skills like those of a character in a MMORPG like WoW ignores epigenetics, microbiome modulation and likely other as yet undiscovered causal inputs that make a person an emergent phenomenon rather than an engineered product.

Obviously genetics alone don't make a person. You're making a red herring fallacy. Nobody is saying that "epigenetics, microbiome modulation and likely other as yet undiscovered causal inputs" don't exist.

We have no idea why we're here or what it's all about. We've compartmentalized the part of our lives in which we're supposed to be thinking about it and relegated it to Sunday mornings, and in the meantime, we're wondering whether we shouldn't unleash a technological rat race in which we're going to be re-engineering our fundamental nature. What could possibly go wrong! We better get on board before the Chinese do it!

Also, maybe Alex should take an example from Tyler and read more. Being knee-jerk enthusiastic about the prospect of increasing the prevalence of the most shallow human traits - IQ and looks - irrespective of the moral and spiritual questions smacks of a myopic view of life and our place in it.

"Quaid, Start the Reactor" - Alex Jr. 2035

I agree with Tabarrok.

Humans value looks and brains in mates in part because they want good-looking, intelligent offspring. Genetic engineering, it it works, will do more precisely and effectively what many people are doing anyway.

I see a lot of movies and novels being referenced here to dispute Alex. Pretty weak stuff.

I expect (hope) this has already been said by someone, but reason and a fair amount of scientific experience indicate it is a great benefit to be brought up by your two biological parents, especially when they love each other.

This isn't always possible, and when it isn't possible it is still, of course, better to be born and brought up than never to be born.

But deliberately denying your child of the opportunity to be brought up by his/her two biological parents because you want that your child to be smarter or cuter is cruel and stupid.

I should think this would be obvious to someone as intelligent as Alex Tabarrok, but we live in a crazy era.

The easiest way of increasing intelligence and beauty is, quite simply, increasing health. We know that the genetic components to those are polygenic - we also know that ill health can significantly impair the development of those characteristics, resulting in levels far below the maximum set by genetics. Indeed, that's the most likely explanation for the lower IQ scores in poorer countries.

I don't think anyone will object to fixing genetic predispositions to illness, and the technology will reach the lower classes fairly quickly once we know how to do it. Hopefully, stem cell therapy will allow it to be done somatically as well, helping those already born.

The other issue with increasing intelligence and beauty is that they're made up of multiple factors. Compare two people who are both considered very attractive, and they may well not look all that similar. Beauty is, I suspect, a multimodal distribution. With intelligence, there's multiple components - and what if it turns out to be difficult to increase one without impairing the other?

I think one of the main issues for me is that in the long term you don't end up what you want, because of the tragedy of the commons and because of short sighted selection for which is useful at the local optimum.

Say you want to select for a kid who has good business sense.

Then he wants his kid to have an edge as well, so he selects another standard deviation of focus on business.

Then the grandson, well, it's obvious what he's going to do.

And pretty quickly you have something twisted and far from human (far from the personality and psychological traits we would consider within the normal human range).

I don't really fear Gattaca or that we'll all be as beautiful and smart as Bendict Cumberbatch's Khan Noonien Singh (lol) - I fear more that we, present day homo sapiens, are not optimal for industrial and post industrial society, while what is optimal, and what genetic engineering would allow to happen far faster than natural selection would be psychologically pretty monstruous to us.

For a generation it's looking great. After a while, the fact that empathy is adapted to small group hunter gatherer dynamics that have yet to catch up with reality because evolution is slow, that becomes reality.

Do you want to live in a world full of people with 1% corporate raider personalities, or personalities that are to such people as they are to us? Genetic engineering may lead to this place.

Capitalists may finally, in fact, match up to the left wing propaganda by being evil, inhuman monsters. "Who care about empathy, I have enlightened self interest?", that pre-human, chimp psychology, may become how people actually operate. (Or look at the human breeding subpopulation we have who are most adapted to success in markets and finance. Is being like *them* only more so where anyone would really want the entirity of humanity to go? An entire pan human culture of *that*.).

Benedict Cumberbatch did make a very handsome Indian man, I'll give you that.

Some people can only see the world through the distorted lens of class division and social justice.

If we discovered a cure for cancer, these are the people whose first thought would be, "Oh, now the rich will have their cancer cured, and leave the poor to die!"

Or more recently, they are the kind of people who can watch a press conference about humans landing a machine on a freaking COMET, and their only thought is, "Oh, that scientist's shirt is SEXIST!"

What a sad little world those people live in.

There is an ethical bridge to cross before we even have to deal with the social consequences of magnifying skill variance across the population. A genetically engineered child cannot give informed consent to being born. Each new gene modification will have to have an experimental stage. We will not know in advance the safety or effectiveness of a mod designed to make people smarter. Animal models will be at best suggestive, and simulation accurate enough to be definitive would, it seems to me, amount to emulating a sentient being to see how smart they are, which has its own ethical issues. This problem will not go away once we have the hang of using CRISPR and what tools come next. Engineering involves making prototypes and throwing away the ones that don't work. This will make engineering of people problematic for a long time to come, especially for cognitive traits.

I don't see that these are unique to new technologu, though. None of my kids asked to be born, or okayed my plan to bring them into the world with a random mix of my and my wife's genes. I can see some of my strengths and weaknesses in them now, and they sure didn't sign up for any of them.

Missing the point. Issue is not so much about two tiered society, at least from the scientific community perspective (though its a concern), but the very valid fear of *unintended consequences*. Thanks to the science illiterate reporters (who simultaneously worship science), there seems to be a perception that this is a perfect science and scientists know exactly what they are doing and how crispr-cas9 works. Fact is, they don't. What we know is that the modifications by cas9 can be carried over generations and may multiply. We may end up creating excess malformations in the genome which could lead to vast populations of genetically defective people.

The true fear is not of a super human elite, but a class of sub human defectives, the products of cas9 gone wild. When the ethically challenged chinese scientists applied the first embryonic modifications, they ran it on over 80 embryos and found that cas9 had made (sort of) the right edits in only small fraction of them. Their own words: " This revealed that just 28 were successfully spliced, and that only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material. “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%,” Huang says. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.”

Crispr holds promise, but its far far far from perfect and we don't know what happens to an entire population when it is applied freely.

Alex, come on. Limited knowledge of the future, unintended consequences . . . do these ideas have any bearing on the question to you? We're really bad at intentionally interfering with complex systems, correct? See e.g. Hayek on central planning, regulation in general. The body is a complex system, and the human population at large and its myriad interactions are a complex system. What could go wrong, you ask? Not that there would be any irreversible negative effects . . . .

Who said anything about central planning? Of course, if the central plan was to eliminate Republican genes...

It's an epistemic problem, not a political one. We don't understand complex systems, indeed can't even comprehend them fully, so when we try to alter them, we get lots of unintended effects. Central planning of an economy is an example of screwing around with a complex system we don't understand, the system being the economy. It fails miserably, and produces horrible consequences, many of which stay with the system due to path dependence. It isn't something you take lightly unless you're ignorant.

People are always scared of new procedures. Just think of when in vitro fertilization came out. Now it's a common practice.

Given that dystopias definitionally ought to resemble utopias on the surface, and given that utopias are more likely than current society to be full of smart, beautiful people, I see nothing wrong with the claim that the future described has a nontrivial chance of in fact being a dystopia.

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