- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Sometimes the most important clouds on the technological horizon don’t get much ink.

One of these is the “genetic engineering” of people, usually suggested as a means of making the species more intelligent. This has been accurately described as “still science fiction, but barely.” The necessary technologies are falling into place.

“We are fast approaching arguably the most consequential technological threshold in all of human history: the ability to alter the genes we pass to our children,” says the Center for Genetics and Society.

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Steve Sailer, founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute, said, “The evolution of the human race is about to accelerate almost unimaginably. Thus, we can no longer afford the comforting illusion that evolution doesn’t really apply to humanity.”

Cloning of animals is now commonplace. Many who work in genetics take for granted that design of people is possible in principle and getting close in practice.

Some of this is already done. When prospective parents have themselves screened for genetic diseases, they are to an extent genetically designing their child. But what Mr. Sailer and others are talking about is genetic cutting and pasting to produce specific traits in offspring.

When the desired traits are things like freedom from disease, there might be little argument. But what they invariably come to in discussion is an increase in intelligence.

This could become possible in the next decade. What would be the consequences, politically and socially, of the ability to produce children with sharply higher intelligence? Once we begin fiddling with such things, will we be able to control the results? The results, remember, will be lots smarter than we are.

The first effect might well be to split humanity into what would almost be different species. A group of children with an IQ of better than 200 would have little in common with the rest of us. A few people of such stratospheric intelligence exist today, usually isolating themselves in laboratories and universities. But what happens when you have large and growing numbers of people who are in another intellectual plane?

A second effect might be that countries would compete to produce superbright citizens. Countries more authoritarian than the United States, like China, might see technological advantage in having superior engineers. Again, this could be tricky. You would have moderately bright politicians trying to manage people who would regard them as white mice.

We do not know the limits of manipulation of human genetics. If smart people at the National Institutes of Health can figure out how to increase intelligence greatly, might not those who were greatly increased figure out to increase it even more? We can have no idea how the world would look to them. We aren’t smart enough.

A pretty good bet is that the superintelligent would quickly come to control just about everything. Bill Gates and Michael Dell didn’t get where they are by being unable to balance their own checkbooks.

Again, it may not happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe historians of science 50 years from now will look back and say, “Well, it seemed a cute idea at the time, but it just didn’t work out.”

But, if genetic manipulation does prove to be possible, we will be playing with something we do not remotely understand and whose consequences will be unpredictable. We will be creating our replacements.

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