How to prepare for CRISPR

That is an MR reader request, namely:

One issue that it appears we’ll discuss more in the future is genetic experimentation – the sort heralded by CRISPR. How do you suggest we prepare for this technology? What should be reading? Discussing?

Read my book The Age of the Infovore, to better understand the importance of human diversity, and also ponder my earlier post on whether genetic engineering will lead to excess human conformity.  Then investigate what kinds of sperm and eggs are most popular and thus most expensive on the current market; that’s tall, smart people who look a bit like the parents.  That might give us an idea of what kind of genetic engineering people are trying to accomplish.  Then watch or rewatch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  If you still have spare time, dip into the New Testament again.

Then read about extensive Chinese efforts in this area.  Consider also how slow advances have been in genomics, and how difficult manipulability will be for most issues.  Then study Moore’s Law and Big Data.  Then read about how unlikely regulation will be able to stop advances in this area (the biggest intellectual gap in this set of instructions).  Then read or reread Aldous Huxley and any Greek tragedy centering around the idea of hubris.

Mix together, stir, shake, and sit down and cry.


I love that Wrath of Khan made this list.

Don't forget to watch the episode Space Seed, (episode 22 season 1) where we first met Khan Noonien Singh, before Wrath of Khan.

Why the long face?

Background reading:

In case you're interested, I wrote more on Trump's executive order: I explain what I think Bannon was trying to do and point out a very important part of the order which has been completely ignored so far.

You're just going to piss on every thread?

I'm sorry if that bothers you, but I'm just trying to advertise my blog since I just started it, feel free to ignore me.

So the answer is yes, you're going to piss. And piss. And piss. If nobody stops you.

Don't worry, I won't bother you for much longer, especially if it pisses people off. Soon I'll just post a link to my blog when I wrote something directly relevant to the topic of Tyler's post. Still, I'm hoping that not everybody minds as much as you, but perhaps I'm wrong.

I don't mind! There's so much sh*tposting in this comments section that it's hardly a bother to be provided a few substantive links, though perhaps our gracious host disagrees.

This is the literal definition of spamming.

I never denied it, but I like to think that I write some pretty substantive posts on my blog, which is usually not what people complain about when they complain about spamming. I really think that readers of Marginal Revolution may be interested by what I have to contribute, even if they disagree, but if our host tells me to stop I will.

I've been reading your posts, thanks. But I prefer that you don't advertise on Tyler's blog. Better to self advertise by making shrewd comments? That said, this is not my decision.

Okay, I will do that from now on, because it's true that I have been shamelessly spamming you and I fear that Mark Thorson might have a heart attack if I continue.

A woman enters menopause with many unused eggs in her ovaries. If she hasn't had a hysterectomy, it might be possible to rescue some of the eggs of Sophia Loren. They would be cheap at a million bucks apiece, and she might have thousands of them.

300-400 ovulated, Mark.

The title will be Billion Dollar Woman, but it only works if we can get the actual Sophia Loren attached to the project. The plot is Silicon Valley startup funded by eccentric billionaire options her ovaries, which are transplanted to a tissue-compatible young woman for cultivation and harvest of eggs. Much interaction between Loren and the young woman, who is a big fan of her work.

Make a reality show out of it by having a group of young women compete for her eggs by re-enacting her most famous roles.

"Oh Doctor, I'm in trouble.."

There is only one thing to do "to prepare for this technology", push back against any and all regulations in this area. Each and everyone of them is targeted at holding back your progeny against those who are better connected and/or better at circumventing regulation.

Those that attempt to regulate this are attempting to ensure that their offspring are masters of yours in ways that were not even contemplated in earlier years. The stakes are very high, many arguments will be crafted to ensure control. Do not buy any of them.

The Alain Gumball Machine: you put in a nickel, and guess what comes out!

Severe distrust of regulation?

And a real lack of any historical framework.

Unless you think that the Aryan supermen were held back due to excessive government regulation by the then German government.

I am not at all convinced that the nazis have much to teach us about the risks and rewards of CRISPR-derived human gene modification. Whatever wonders or horrors we create with this technology will be our own, and probably won't involve goose-stepping men in black uniforms.

'I am not at all convinced that the nazis have much to teach us about the risks and rewards of CRISPR-derived human gene modification. '

Neither is Prof. Cowen, as noted in the designer baby link, where he writes regarding eugenics 'ultimately the Nazi connection will be seen as a bump in the road.' How easily the only practiced vision of a better world through eugenics can be dismissed in a sentence.

'Whatever wonders or horrors we create with this technology will be our own, and probably won’t involve goose-stepping men in black uniforms.'

The point of using the Nazis is that they most certainly did not place regulatory hurdles to slow down the creation of Aryan supermen. Instead, the Nazi plans to create their vision of supermen was ruined by the conquest of Germany. And though Prof. Cowen mentions the movie, the Star Trek episode with Khan Noonien Singh is even more clear on this point - after all, the Botany Bay was an attempt by the remaining supermen to flee the Earth after losing their war of conquest.

The Nazis already thought Aryans were the master race. The Nazi eugenics program was exactly the same as the American, Swedish and a coupe other countries so I'm not seeing where you are getting any horror from it.

'The Nazi eugenics program was exactly the same as the American, Swedish and a coupe other countries so I’m not seeing where you are getting any horror from it.'

Well, apart from the gas chambers and the extensive euthansia. One should not forget that the elimination of inferior humans was part of the Nazi program, along with treating 'racially inferior' Slavs as nothing more than human animals to be used for labor.

(As noted here - - the Nazis had a broader vision than just supermen - 'Eugenics research in Germany before and during the Nazi period was similar to that in the United States (particularly California), by which it had been partly inspired. However, its prominence rose sharply under Adolf Hitler's leadership when wealthy Nazi supporters started heavily investing in it. The programs were subsequently shaped to complement Nazi racial policies.

Those humans targeted for destruction under Nazi eugenics policies were largely living in private and state-operated institutions, identified as "life unworthy of life" (German: Lebensunwertes Leben), including prisoners, degenerate, dissident, people with congenital cognitive and physical disabilities (including feebleminded, epileptic, schizophrenic, manic-depressive, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, deaf, blind) (German: erbkranken), homosexual, idle, insane, and the weak, for elimination from the chain of heredity. More than 400,000 people were sterilized against their will, while more than 70,000 were killed under Action T4, a euthanasia program.' )

And really, when talking about the U.S., please do not leave out the Commonwealth of Virginia, which provided inspiration to several Nazi frameworks.

The Nazis were killing off sickly and handicapped people, as well as members of ethnic groups they disliked. I think they also sterilized some handicapped people, as was also done in a bunch of other places. This was terrible, and we can all agree nobody should do it in the future. But it has nothing at all to do with human genetic modification in the future.

There are genuine moral dilemmas lurking in human genetic modification, problems that could be as bad as (even worse than) the stuff the axis did. (You could also imagine an immense upside.). But they're different problems. The moral lessons learned from the nazis seem unlikely to help us with those problems.

"Well, apart from the gas chambers and the extensive euthansia. One should not forget that the elimination of inferior humans was part of the Nazi program, along with treating ‘racially inferior’ Slavs as nothing more than human animals to be used for labor. "

That wasn't eugenics. The Nazis explicitly recognized Jews were smarter then Germans. As for the Slavs they specifically murdered the smarter ones. That is the opposite of 'improving the gene pool'.

"Those humans targeted for destruction under Nazi eugenics policies were largely living in private and state-operated institutions, identified as “life unworthy of life”"

People in institutions rarely have children, especially if they are so disabled they are unable to do manual labor. Hence the program WAS NOT EUGENICS. The Nazis executed those individuals because they wanted to free up medical resources and food supplies.

Your issue is you don't understand what the word eugenics actually means and are declaring everything the Nazis did was eugenics. Eugenics is about improving the human gene pool. Actions you take towards people who will not reproduce do not count. Actions you take towards people who are outsiders do not count unless you want to count every invasion and massacre as eugenics.

Haven't read the Freeman Dyson piece above have you?

And you didn't read the linked MR post : "3. Bans make safety and inequality worse", which is about the only thing I agree with from that post. Well other than the factual statements about the difficulty of the task, I agree that it will be quite difficult. But given the possible rewards I think that ample resources will be deployed.

" ... dip into the New Testament again"

What relevance does this have to CRISPR that doesn't involve arbitrary interpretation of random text? Or perhaps that is the point? I don't think I will have enough time to find out for myself, please enlighten me.

There is of course no relevance.

Tyler Cowen, who has been completely clueless in biotech or any aspect of early 21st century tech, is just being his edgy self again. His obsession is food, not tech, in case you haven't noticed.

Thanks, re-reading the post after your comment made me laugh; my bullshitometer threshold was a bit low the first time around.

At least Cowen is mentioning CRISPR again after doing so in 2015. So how does this post relate to The Great Stagnation that he doesn't expect to end until the 2040s?

Still the greatest comment (not written by Peter Schaeffer) in MR history:

Carl June 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm
Food snobs are annoying. The fact that it looks like a dumpster and is difficult to get to is obviously most of the “appeal”. If you found a restaurant that stank of urine and required an unadvertised bus route to get to, I’m sure you’d like it better.

Natasha Cowen June 19, 2013 at 6:40 pm
That’s what I always say!

Here is something in the New Testament that is relevant to the discussion:

"For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." (from 1 Corinthians 1).

The New Testament provides a powerful rebuke to the idea that the smartest, strongest, most beautiful people are ascendant, in the form of a story in which the most powerful institutions in the world are undone by weak, uneducated, simple people--typified most of all by Jesus himself, a nobody and a failure who nonetheless changed the world.

+1 from this agnostic.

That's a dangerous populist message.

Yes, but the question is: dangerous for whom?

The church has long been opposed to human genetic engineering, and since the Left agrees with them, it's fine to cite it.(When the Left doesn't, we must fear the emerging theocracy)

That may apply to some commentators, but not Tyler.

"...that’s tall, smart people who look a bit like the parents"

Economics question: suppose everyone were made really smart, by genetic engineering or otherwise. Would we still expect intelligence to correlate positively to income? On the one hand, we tend to associate intelligence with ability to gain human capital so we might expect society to become wealthier overall. On the other hand, markets reward things that are scarce on the margin. Water is incredibly valuable to life yet, because it's so abundant, the marginal glass of water is not actually worth that much. In fact, restaurants give it away for free. (The abundance of water does make society better off though.)

If genetic engineering makes intelligence abundant, then might we create a world where we have pretty much all the intelligence-related human capital we need and, thus, intelligence ceases to earn a premium in the labor market? And, in that world, would people really apply genetic engineering to make their children smarter? Wouldn't the highest wage premiums go to those with scarce, useful abilities that were difficult to obtain through genetic engineering?

A counter-argument might be that smart people earn wage premiums not because of intelligence-related human capital per se but because they are smart enough to figure out what types of abilities will be scarce and valuable and how to obtain such abilities. In that case, it's unclear what the equilibrium would be --- some sort of intelligence arms race where the intelligence that matters is the excess intelligence that can not be genetically engineered (because there will always be some residual variation that cannot be controlled by engineering)?

Both effects must exist.

Tall people are both objectively better at basketball (able to do things like dunk the ball that almost no short people can do) AND also have a relative advantage over otherwise-equivalent shorter people.

Something similar probably exists for intelligence. A pool of lots of hard-working guys with average intelligence will probably never invent the transistor or discover relativity--smart people are objectively better at dealing with some aspects of reality. But your reward in the marketplace is largely driven by competition--the smarter guy manages to edge out the dumber guy at most tasks, all else being equal.

My guess: in a society with an average IQ of 160, lots of things will work better and many new inventions will come out, but the poor dude with the 145 IQ will be sweeping floors (or maybe managing the robots that sweep floors).

That's what I'm unsure of. If average IQ is 160+, then maybe STEM becomes commoditized and a 145 IQ with charisma and high EQ becomes more valuable. Even today, there are many examples of people with merely above average IQ that earn more as successful executives than high-IQ scientists earn. (Of course, one might argue that the scientists earn non-monetary intellectual satisfaction that makes their actual compensation higher.) Also, even for STEM, at a certain level of IQ, might other factors like perserverence, propensity to work, etc. matter more than pure IQ, especially for practical engineering as opposed to the most theoretical and abstract science (which doesn't necessarily earn wage premiums)? It's unclear how many of these other factors can be genetically engineered and how much they depend on upbringing, conditions in the womb, "random factors", and non-physical factors (one's "soul").

If everybody was smart then productivity would go up but intelligence would not provide a premium in the job market.

"Wouldn’t the highest wage premiums go to those with scarce, useful abilities that were difficult to obtain through genetic engineering?"

How would those abilities not be a type of smart?

Well, you can be Howard Gardner and define just about any useful talent as one of many "multiple intelligences" but I always saw that as playing with words. I don't think Bill Clinton has a higher "political intelligence" than Hillary. I don't think that guys who women go to bed with have a higher "mating intelligence" than people who don't. I don't think that successful sales people have a higher "persuasion intelligence" than sales people who aren't so successful. But there is something about all these people that makes them more successful.

"Charm" is understudied and underappreciated. Compare Richard Nixon and John Kennedy.

I tend to think that we can't really say from this side of intelligence enhancement what its effects will be. Once you start hacking the Operating System, you can't predict what programs won't run anymore or what new programs can be created.

(Set background music to Everybody Wants to Rule the World.)
Mustapha Mond smiled. "Well, you can call it an experiment in rebot-
tling if you like. It began in A.F. 473. The Controllers had the island of
Cyprus cleared of all its existing inhabitants and re-colonized with a
specially prepared batch of twenty-two thousand Alphas. All agricul-
tural and industrial equipment was handed over to them and they were
left to manage their own affairs. The result exactly fulfilled all the
theoretical predictions. The land wasn't properly worked; there were
strikes in all the factories; the laws were set at naught, orders dis-
obeyed; all the people detailed for a spell of low-grade work were per-
petually intriguing for high-grade jobs, and all the people with high-
grade jobs were counter-intriguing at all costs to stay where they
were. Within six years they were having a first-class civil war. When
nineteen out of the twenty-two thousand had been killed, the survivors
unanimously petitioned the World Controllers to resume the govern-
ment of the island. Which they did. And that was the end of the only
society of Alphas that the world has ever seen." From: .. See also Peter Turchin on elite overproduction.

Mix together, stir, shake, and sit down and cry.

Well, we tried to tell you genetics was kind of important. Now another Leftist tenet falls by the wayside, and the disconfirmation makes you cry. Buck up, Tyler! Where's that gimlet-eyed economist who grouches about the supply of stoop laborers being too low?

Who wants to be the stoop laborer for their own grandchildren?

Watching a crowd walking through an airport is fascinating: the diversity of the crowd, not only in physical appearance but in tastes (in clothing, hair styles, etc.), makes one wonder if in fact we descended from the same origin. That so many flights are destined for so many different places isn't confounding, but rather that more than one of these very different creatures is destined for the same place. There is something comforting about conformity, whether an extreme version (as in Maoist China) or the American version (the dark blue or gray business suit), and discomfiting about the degree of diversity today. It's so discomfiting that many Americans voted for an ignoramus who promised a return to 1950s conformity. I wouldn't be surprised if four years hence everyone in the crowd walking through the airport has orange hair.

Mao suits are actually beautiful and functional. It is sad to see the baby being thrown out with the bath water.

Where do you think human biodiversity comes from?

I find all those jeans depressing, both the conformity and as a style. Hideous leg wear on most people, but most people wear them.

Hubris implies lots of self-confidence. I'll add a modernist twist to the tragedy. The tragedy is just inflated expectations. CRISPR did not caused any damage, did not caused super-intelligence, it just did nothing. What if scientists and parents overestimate the child's capacity for years, then the child reaches adolescence/young adult and finds he's just average? Would society let this young individual come out and say "I'm just average" or would the society prefer to kill the one who dares to call inflated expectations for what they are?

Ps. the young individual may just react as many adolescents adolescents today that feel they never can meet with parents expectations: self-destruction.

Or over promotion because of credentials and family name, followed by inability to do a good job. That might not look so different from today's world, in fact.

I think TC must have missed the big news from the ENCODE Project a few years back. Here's a recent update:

Yes, we've discovered an editing tool but we know relatively few words - mostly nouns - can't make coherent sentences out of those we do because we don't know the cell's grammar, and we can't even conceive of writing the novel that is each cell's individual story, much less that of the emergent phenomenon that is a human. Too bad. I was hoping there'd soon be a cure for TC's recent bouts of recurrent emotional incontinence.

Information about inheritance is slow to percolate through society. Everyone realizes that children's height is similar to their parents, and we're catching on to the heritability of intelligence. But once we grasp that pretty much *all* cognitive dispositions are just as heritable, we will make much less of a big deal of intelligence. Were I to have kids, I'd want them to have a high happiness baseline, grit, charisma and all those "blue zone" genes that make you live past 100 without much need for medical care. After all this stuff was optimized for, I would also hope the turn out smart, but not at the expense of the traits mentioned earlier. Also - and this would be entirely selfish - I'd want them to not be fussy as children. We are realizing that even when we once we have perfect control over genes and perfect knowledge of genotype-phenotype relations (we are very far from this goal), we can't just max out all the good traits, because thousands of genes contribute to each, and many of these genes play roles in determining more than one trait. It will always be a tradeoff about whether a certain switch will be set towards intelligence or agreeableness, for example.

"Then investigate what kinds of sperm and eggs are most popular and thus most expensive on the current market; that’s tall, smart people who look a bit like the parents."

The Age of Dysgenics.

We will see what happens. Genetics is complicated.

Sounds like a very irrational concern. With the exponential expansion of scientific knowledge and corresponding numbers of possible Ideas and innovations not generating an increase in economic growth rate, it appears that the rate of change is limited by something other than possibilities.

This uncoupling of the tree of knowledge from the observed rate of change (as show by per capita GDP growth rate) in advance countries means that you are safe from the human consequences of human genetic engineering, beyond fixing specific actual errors for a long time.

Not going to be a major issue for at least the next few decades, but given that some of these global warming projections go a century or more into the future, it's worth pondering. IMO, it's a reason to care less about global warming, as we may end up sacrificing now to help out some future that is not worth much anyway.

Just trolling. No, this so far is all a pipe dream.

But we really should look into how much of IVF is being done right now by fertile couples for eugenic purposes. AFAIK there is no data on this.

THEN read the science satire "Those Brain Motility Blues" from strannikov:

You should add one book and one move. The book The Children of Men by P.D. James and the movie I Am Legend. Both contain the nemesis of our hubris to think that in 20 years we can become smarter that a million years of natural selection with gene editing.

Would you believe we could make crops yield higher than millions of years of natural selection in just a generation.

It's the same thing, only pernicious when applied to humans.

Western civilization is nearing collapse as oil runs out, and the Chinese are making vast leaps forward by miniaturizing themselves and training groups of hundreds to think as one. Eventually, the miniaturization proceeds to the point that they become so small that they cause a plague among those who accidentally inhale them, ultimately destroying Western civilization beyond repair.

Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! by Vonnegut

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