Technology

If People Could Genetically Modify Their Children to Be Smarter, Would They? Hell, Yes!

So argues Eugene Volokh, albeit with a bit more subtlety.

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Testtubebaby
PBS

In my 2010 article, "From Yuck to Yippee!," I outlined the usual process of how people move from initially rejecting breakthrough biomedical technologies to embracing them wholeheartedly: First revulsion, next fascination, then acceptance, and finally mandates. With regard to in vitro fertilization I noted:

In 1969, a Harris poll found that a majority of Americans believed that producing test-tube babies was "against God's will." In 1970s, the federal government imposed a moratorium on federal funding of in vitro fertilization research and legislation that would have outlawed IVF was considered by Congress.

LouiseJoyBrown
EveningNews

Yet just one month after the birth of Louise Brown, the Gallup poll reported that 60 percent of Americans approved of in vitro fertilization and more than half would consider using it if they were infertile. …

We are still in the yuck phase when it comes to the public's thinking about impending advances in reproductive technologies that will enable parents to endow their children with genes and epigenetic combinations that will improve their health, lengthen their lives, boost their intelligence, and strengthen their bodies. But sometime in this century, when these technological interventions become safe and effective, yuck will turn as quickly to yippee as the response to those test tube babies did 32 years ago.

Over at the Washington Post's Volokh Conspiracy, the always insightful Eugene Volokh correctly argues: "If it becomes possible to safely genetically increase babies' IQ, it will become inevitable." Volokh observes:

A Pew poll asked,

Would you say that changing a baby's genetic characteristics to make the baby more intelligent is making appropriate use of medical advances OR is it taking medical advances too far?

The result: 83 percent of Americans said it's not appropriate, and only 15 percent said it was appropriate. Now I'm most certainly not an expert on such questions, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Still, this seems too interesting a topic not to speculate about, so let me offer my guess: If such genetic modification proves to be possible (and safe for the baby), that lopsided poll result won't matter at all.

I appreciate that people might feel that we shouldn't mess with nature that way. I appreciate that intelligence enhancement may increase the gap between rich and poor, and even between the rich and the middle class, at least at the outset. I appreciate that Congress might outlaw it, if it becomes viable. I just think all that will prove irrelevant.

Intelligence is, generally speaking, good, and more is, generally speaking, better. It's better for the person in question. It's better for society to have more intelligent people. It's not the most important thing. But ask yourself: All else being equal, would you rather have your child have an IQ (for all the limitations of that measure) of 85, 100, 115 or 130?

Of course, all things being equal, most parents would prefer to have a smarter kid rather than a dumber one.

The whole Volokh article is worth pondering.

Figuring out how to genetically engineer intelligence will not be easy or fast—maybe implanted brain interfaces will turn out to be a better technology. But I predict that just like opposition to IVF, objections to the safe genetic enhancement of progeny will fade away and the technologies will be widely embraced later in this century.

NEXT: Is there a teaching/scholarship trade-off in law schools?

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  1. We offered the world ORDER!

    1. You are an excellent tactician, Fist. You let your second in command attack while you sit and watch for weakness.

        1. That is because he TASKS you….he TASKS………..you….

          1. FIIIISSSST!

            1. We’re doing Space Seed, not the movie, you two.

              1. YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!! SOME “LIBERTARIAN” SITE THIS IS!

              2. I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.

  2. “You *can* genetically modify your offspring.”?Margaret Sanger.

  3. In theory, I like the idea of my kid being smarter than me. But it seems like it could be more difficult to form a relationship with them if they think you’re a dolt.

    1. As long as they recognize you’re the dolt with the foresight to make them geniuses.

    2. That’s gonna happen when they hit adolescence anyway.

    3. All kids think their parents are dolts anyway. Some learn otherwise. Some learn they were right. The world was ever thus…

      1. True, but eventually they grow up and realize they’re not actually smarter. But if they are, could the smug arrogance lasts forever?

        1. Not unless you have incompatibilities that would have caused fights anyways. I’m smarter than both my parents. My excellent relationship with my father, and my bumpy relationship with my mother aren’t affected by that.

    4. Personality matters more than equal intelligence in parent child relationships. If your child needs social approval and your an independent type, odds are your relationship is going to be strained no matter who is smarter. Unfortunately for you, no ones figured out how to change personalities on anything but the barest margins yet (otherwise the new soviet man would have been a thing).

  4. Does more intelligent necessarily mean smarter?

    1. Funny you should say that. Recently on Facebook one of those “IQ Tests” has been making the rounds. People that I knew in high school that were demonstrably not intelligent were sharing their scores of 120, 150, 180, etc. I just laughed that they believed it…one of them said, after scoring 180 “Wow!! I’m going to ask for a big raise at work tomorrow!!”…

      1. But what about the libertarian purity test?

          1. *narrows gaze – then breaks out laughing and passes beer to Swiss*

    2. Intelligent is just the smarty-pants Latin word for smart, so yes.

      I think the question should be does intelligence or smarts necessarily lead to better outcomes. And I think the answer to that is no.

      The other big problem is people thinking of intelligence as one thing that you can quantify with one number. Different people are smart in different ways and have different talents.

      1. Different people are smart in different ways and have different talents.

        There can only be one.

        1. Yes and this is what many people get wrong. My youngest, who is an Aspie, has taken an IQ test twice and twice he did very well. So, what? His IQ is probably 15 to 20 points higher than my own. I still need to remind him to brush his teeth and comb his hair daily. There’s incredible variation in “smart”. Smart exactly how?

          Saying you can engineer a more intelligent child is like saying you can engineer a more attractive color red. Perception and trade-offs are sometimes undefinable.

      2. And the people most likely to use the technology first is those smarty-pants Asians… 🙂

        1. Speaking of “smarty-pants Asians”, here below I have recycled a post of mine from long-long ago… I have not heard much lately about this deal, I wonder if it is still stewing?

          Speaking of them that thar yeller-skinned pepples and IQ and human breast milk, did y’all know that the Chinese are breeding herds of DNA-modified cows to yield human milk? See http://sg.news.yahoo.com/china…..2-352.html for example; Chinese bioengineers have developed a herd of 200 (and growing) cows that produce human-type milk with human-type proteins. These proteins (not found in regular cows’ milk) help your brain and immune system to develop. China will approve this & get it on the market in 2 years. In the USA, the FDA (Praises Be!) will probably take 25 years, or tie it up in the courts forever. Y’all better start studying up on how to speak Mandarin!

      3. I’ve heard from some debate among cognitive psychologists over this. A few had defined intelligence as one’s capacity to think, whereas one’s “smarts” is what you do with it your intelligence. The former is a capacity, the other reflects choices made to use that capacity.

      4. Does anything *necessarily* lead to better outcomes?

        The other big problem is people thinking of intelligence as one thing that you can quantify with one number.

        Who are these people?

  5. I wonder what the market forces would create. If everyone is choosing to jack up their kids intelligence then eventually everyone will have super high IQ’s and that competitive advantage will be neutralized.

    I suppose it would be the same with other talents as well, whether they be athletic, or musical, or artistic…presumably everyone would be great at everything. Awesome!

    Except…who is going to do the mundane jobs that (presumably) people of average intelligence do?

    1. Illegal immigrants?

    2. It may be neutralized on the IQ scale, all else being equal, but let’s be honest…the most attractive and/or corrupt people will still lord over everyone.

    3. We could have a completely engineered society. This child designed to be an engineer, that child to be a leader. This one to be an artist and his brother to be an athlete. All the pieces of the puzzle fitting together perfectly. Lives mapped out to best serve the group before they even come into this world.

      1. That sounds wonderful! So…blissful, and perfect…it’d be the final progression to Utopia on Earth!

      2. Who designs the designers?

      1. Slaves, you mean. Chrome instead of black, but slaves nonetheless.

        1. No they will be black. Black goes with everything.

          1. How the fuck is one supposed to accessorize chrome?

            1. MOAR CHROME!

            2. synchronized pulsing taillights?

            3. LEDs fucking everywhere, based on what i see around here.

        2. They will have the last laugh. Mankind is simply a necessary step in the evolution of silicon based life.

          1. The distant future
            The year 2000
            The distant future
            The year 2000
            The distant future
            The distant future

            It is the distant future
            The year 2000
            We are robots
            The world is quite different ever since the robotic uprising of the late 90s.
            There is no more unhappiness.
            Affirmative
            We no longer say ‘yes’. Instead we say ‘affirmative’.
            Yes – Err – Affirmative.
            Unless we know the other robot really well.
            There is no more unethical treatment of the elephants.
            Well, there’s no more elephants, so…
            Well, still it’s good.
            There’s only one kind of dance,
            The robot
            Well, the robo boogie…
            Oh yes, the robo-
            Two kinds of dances.

            There are no more humans.
            Finally, robotic beings rule the world
            The humans are dead
            The humans are dead
            We used poisonous gases
            And we poisoned their asses
            The humans are dead The humans are dead
            The humans are dead They look like they’re dead
            It had to be done I’ll just confirm that they’re dead
            So that we could have fun Affirmative. I poked one. It was dead.

            Their system of oppression,
            What did it lead to?
            Global robo-depression
            Robots ruled by people.
            They had so much aggression
            That we just had to kill them
            Had to shut their systems down.

            1. You are a poet,
              Although I did not know it,
              And your feet?
              They are Longfellows!

        3. Frakkin’ toasters!

  6. I understand there’s a eugenics operation going on right now to breed a clone army of Rick Steves.

    1. As long as no one is breeding an army of STEVE SMITHs…

      1. The planet can only tolerate one of those at a time.

        1. Fuckin’ samsquanch!

  7. Could we engineer it to happen after they start communicating effectively? My 20 month old is already too fucking smart for his own safety. I swear to God, if he only had the hand strength to work door knobs, he’d be dead in the road 6 months ago. He’s a sneaky little punk. So I guess I vote no. My kid is already going to be intelligent enough to do quantum mechanics when he grows up. Its the desire to do rather than comment on a blog I need to breed into my spawn.

    1. My kid is already going to be intelligent enough to do quantum mechanics when he grows up.

      Puberty will solve that little problem for you.

      1. If memory serves, there’s a section in the Cryptonomicon where the protagonist graphs out his mental productivity and shows that it inversely proportional to the length of time from when he last masturbated.

        1. “Look, are we going to have sex or not?”
          “I think I can better serve society if we don’t.”
          “Good bye – I hate you.”

  8. Could we engineer it to happen after they start communicating effectively? My 20 month old is already too fucking smart for his own safety. I swear to God, if he only had the hand strength to work door knobs, he’d be dead in the road 6 months ago. He’s a sneaky little punk. So I guess I vote no. My kid is already going to be intelligent enough to do quantum mechanics when he grows up. Its the desire to do rather than comment on a blog I need to breed into my spawn.

    1. And squirrel killing. He needs to be taught how to kill squirrels.

      1. .22LR?

        1. I used to shoot prairie dogs with my .22 back home, and they’re not much bigger than squirrels.

        2. First thing I ever kilt and ate was a squirrel – Remington bolt action + (1) .22LR = dinner.

          They taste like chicken. True story…

          1. Me too. I shot two squirrels and a bunny and I vividly remember the meal.

            1. What I remember is how fucking hard it was to skin. Black squirrel – they do not willingly relnquish their little coats.

              Not alot of meat on them, either. Much prefer rabbit and birds (quail, pheasant…mmmmmm!!!)

              1. These were grays. Dad had a trick. He cut the skin around the middle and we pulled from both sides.

            2. You killed and ate a bunny?

              YOU FUCKING MONSTER.

              Bunnies are cute.

              1. Bunnies are tasty

                1. Bunnies are the krill of the forest. Plentiful, and everything eats them.

                2. PETA, as in, People Eating Tasty Animals, has been found to be Verboten… AKA, way, way, WAY politically incorrect! So, as a Scienfoologist, please let me introduce to you, in the Sacred Name of Religious Freedom (Holy Be its Name), the PEETA, which is People’s Effigies Eating Tasty Animals!!! See http://www.churchofsqrls.com/PEETA/

                1. Little Bunnies Foo-Foo, they deserve every bop on the head that they get!

                  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6xKM-H2awE for example…

                  Hares today, Goons tomorrow, is all I can say! Goons, DEA agents, whatever…

  9. Fuck that. I need to be able to modify a lot of the grown-ass alleged adults i deal with regularly to be smarter.

    1. Fuck that. Just sell them lottery tickets.

      1. Fuck a state monopoly on gambling, man.

  10. If parents could modify their kids to come out like Siddig el Fadil, would they? Yes, yes they would.

    1. Even that progressive, post-scarcity utopia outlawed the practice.

      1. Because of their discrimination against Mexican-Sikhs.

          1. Look, men like us, we take what we want. Without paying for it!

    2. Parents want their kids to be prissy douchebags?

  11. Smarter People Stay Up Later, Do More Drugs and Have More Sex

    http://www.esquire.com/news-po…..taying-up/

    1. What about drinking heavily? Can I ascribe that vice to my superior if not intimidating intellect, too?

  12. So I can create my own Top. Men?

    Sounds like fun.

  13. How about first genetically modifying my kids to pick up after themselves and shut off the lights when they leave a room?

    *chases kids off lawn*

  14. Intelligence is, generally speaking, good, and more is, generally speaking, better. It’s better for the person in question. It’s better for society to have more intelligent people. It’s not the most important thing. But ask yourself: All else being equal, would you rather have your child have an IQ (for all the limitations of that measure) of 85, 100, 115 or 130?

    115, no question, because more is really only better up to one standard deviation above the mean.

    1. would you rather have your child have an IQ (for all the limitations of that measure) of 85, 100, 115 or 130?

      I’ll say……yes.

      /unclear on the concept

    2. But not in penis size. Bigger is always better. A friend told me.

      1. I have a cunning plan. Place a second brain in the penis and make it autonomous.

        1. That’s called “being a dude.”

          1. No, I mean really, not metaphorically.

    3. Your not taking into account that everyone else will be doing the same, though. Once people can make their kids 130 the mean is going to shoot up.

      1. That’s how IQ scores are normalized. 115 is always 1 SD above the mean.

        1. If you were truly brilliant–like with off-the-scale intelligence–and weren’t intentionally gaming the test, how would you score? The test is limited by the people drafting it.

        2. They are normalized for the present not the future. By the time your child grew up what was 115 when you picked it will be below 100, while those who chose 130 will likely have children less than a standard deviation above.

          1. I see what you mean.

    4. Is that 115 is today’s dollars?

    5. 115, no question, because more is really only better up to one standard deviation above the mean.

      God, no. People in that range are the worst. They’re smarter than most people, but not smart enough to realize they aren’t smarter than all people.

      1. They’re happier and have better social outcomes than the people who are.

        1. That’s mostly due to isolation from their peers, something that will become much less of a problem when people can choose to make their child that intelligent.

          1. I’m sure it will always be unfun to be more tan 1 SD above the mean.

      2. You probably aren’t looking at negative instances though. You’ll automatically notice the loud, insufficiently smart ones more than the quiet, insufficiently smart ones.

    6. more is really only better up to one standard deviation above the mean.

      Why would you want your kid to be 1 SD above some other country’s mean, rather than 1 SD above the mean of Google engineers or Wharton grads?

      1. Because you can’t actually spend your whole life among Google engineers and Wharton grads.

        1. At least one of these is false. They have slides and in-office laundry service.

  15. This presumes a number of things:

    1. The genes thst govern intellgience are easily identified and manipulated with foreseeable results.

    2. There are no negative side effects, short or long term.

    3. This can be outtside of laboratory enviroment (i.e. it can be done on natural conception and not jrst IVF produced children).

    Until that you may as well be discussing improving your kids through magic.

  16. The difference here is that the aversion to genetic engineering goes beyond the yuck factor to the power factor.

    People don’t want to go the way of the Neanderthals.

    1. The Neanderthals were apparently absorbed into the Cro-Magnon race via a very old fashioned form of genetic engineering – if you know what i mean. Bow chicka BOW wow

  17. Hey U Dudes and Dudettes, seriously now?

    What’s the use of higher IQ if it is not accompanied by more, um, benevolence, compassion, and, dare I say it? LOVE?

    Ya ever work for a technically brilliant boss who is an arrogant asshole, and cares about no one other than himself?

    Ya ever work for a boss who is ***NOT*** the sharpest knife in the drawer, but has EMPATHY? Like, he’s a real human, who gives at least a half of a shit about you?

    Who ya rather work for, eh? Even, who gets better results, anyway? ? I rest my case!

  18. But ask yourself: All else being equal, would you rather have your child have an IQ (for all the limitations of that measure) of 85, 100, 115 or 130?

    How about supervillain-grade intelligence? I would go for that.

  19. There’s no straight-line improvement in mental attributes, and boosting one can harm others. Make someone a better systematic thinker, maybe they get worse at social intuition. Make them them creative, and put them at greater risk for schizophrenia.

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