The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

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The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Sun Feb 08, 2015 5:43 pm UTC

Motivated by this post.

Quoted inside spoiler, in case it disappears one day, because thinking ahead.
Spoiler:
Everything Not Obligatory Is Forbidden
Posted on February 6, 2015 by Scott Alexander

[seen on the New York Times’ editorial page, February 6 2065, written by one “Dr. Mora LeQuivalence”]

It’s 2065. Not giving your kids super-enhancement designer baby gene therapy isn’t your “choice”. If you don’t super-enhance your kids, you are a bad parent. It’s that simple.

Harsh? Maybe. But consider the latest survey, which found that about five percent of parents fail to super-enhance their children by the time they enter kindergarten. These aren’t poor people who can’t afford super-enhancement designer baby gene therapy. These are mostly rich, highly educated individuals in places like California and Oregon who say they think it’s more “natural” to leave their children defenseless against various undesirable traits. “I just don’t think it’s right to inject retroviral vectors into my baby’s body to change her from the way God made her,” one Portland woman was quoted by the Times as saying earlier this week. Other parents referred to a 2048 study saying the retroviral injections, usually given in the first year of life, increase the risk of various childhood cancers – a study that has since been soundly discredited.

These parents will inevitably bring up notions of “personal freedom”. But even if we accept the dubious premise that parents have a right to sacrifice their children’s health, refusing super-enhancement designer baby gene therapy isn’t just a personal choice. It’s a public health issue that affects everybody in society.

In 2064 there were almost 200 murders nationwide, up from a low of fewer than 50 in 2060. Why is this killer, long believed to be almost eradicated, making a comeback? Criminologists are unanimous in laying the blame on unenhanced children, who lack the improved impulse-control and anger-management genes included in every modern super-enhancement designer baby gene therapy package.

There were over a dozen fatal car accidents on our nation’s roads last year. The problem is drivers who weren’t enhanced as children and who lack the super-reflexes the rest of us take for granted. This is compounded when they drink before getting on the road, since unenhanced people become impaired by alcohol and their already inferior reflexes deteriorate further. Since the promise of self-driving cars continues to be tied up in regulatory hassles, we can expect many more such needless deaths as long as irresponsible parents continue to consider science “optional”.

And finally, there was a recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland Europa – even though we thought this disease had been eradicated decades ago. Scientists traced the problem to unvaccinated tourists. They further found that all of these unvaccinated individuals were unenhanced. Lacking the cognitive optimization that would help them understand psychoneuroimmunology on an intuitive level, they were easy prey for discredited ideas like “vaccines cause autism”.

So no, super-enhancing your kids isn’t a “personal choice”. It’s your basic duty as a parent and a responsible human being. People in places like India and Neo-Songhai and Venus which suffer from crime and disease make great personal sacrifices to get their children to gene therapy clinics and give them the super-enhancement designer baby gene injection that ensures them a better life. And you start off in a privileged position in America, benefitting from the superenhancement of millions of your fellow citizens, and you think you can just say “No thanks”?

So I don’t want to hear another word from the “but my freedom!” crowd. Unenhanced kids shouldn’t be allowed in school. They shouldn’t be allowed to drive. They shouldn’t be allowed in public places where they can cause problems. And parents who refuse to enhance their children should be put in jail, the same as anyone else whose actions lead to death and suffering. Because not super-enhancing your kids isn’t a “choice”. It’s child abuse.

Mora LeQuivalence is an Assistant Professor of Bioethics at Facebook University. Her latest book, “A Flight Too Far”, argues that the recent Danish experiment with giving children wings is a disgusting offense against the natural order and should be banned worldwide and prosecuted in the International Criminal Court. It is available for 0.02Ƀ on Amazon.com


I think a lot of discussion on the ethics of genetic engineering treats it as a sort of monolithic concept, but I'd prefer classifying examples of GE by the goals. The goals described don't necessarily encompass all possible scenarios or classify them cleanly, but it seems like a start. Also, it's probably been done before, but this is a forum, not an academic journal, so whatever. And it makes it easier to discuss what is okay vs what is uncomfortable vs what is fucked up.

Also, no distinction is made with regard to what must be done in vitro vs what can be done whenever.

0. Eliminating serious hereditary disorders, like Huntington's or familial ALS.
1. Attempting to impart disease resistance. Basically, hardcore vaccination.
2. Physical capability enhancement, like strength or reflexes. Colour vision for the colourblind. Mantis shrimp colour vision for all.
3. Cognitive capability enhancement. Making people smarter.
4. Deliberate personality alterations. Sociability, strength of will, et cetera. I specify deliberate because category 3 kinda bleeds into this.
5. Cosmetic choices.
6. Moral choices. Sexuality, gender identity, whatever issues are hot when GE takes off whose causes are partially known, if these are even genetic (as opposed to epigenetic, cultural, or psychological, or other). This might also share common ground with 4, or be a category wholly containing 4.

Thoughts? Do you think it is helpful to make these 7 distinctions? I largely ordered them in terms of social acceptability, from most to least, in the US, though cats 2 and 3 are probably interchangeable. What sort of good arguments can be made against 0-3? What sort of good arguments can be made for 4-6?

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Feb 08, 2015 7:12 pm UTC

I'm reminded of the Baby Eater short story. I want to say part of what makes humans humans is the fact that there is some suffering to our existence, and I also want to say that part of what makes humans humans is the desire to minimize that suffering in our children.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with the breakdown of your 7 points, but it's close enough. I'd say easily justifiable targets for GE would be elimination of genetic diseases, though you then run into 'disorders' that begin to form individuals identities, like deafness or blindness or achondroplasia or homosexuality, none of which I know enough about the identity formation to comment on confidently. I personally would choose to 'cure' my hypothetical future child of the first three, but not the fourth, which may in fact be incredibly offensive and insensitive. I don't know.

When it comes to enhancement we run into some obvious problems, and again, I think we need to think long and hard on what it means to be human. Is a society, or more importantly, an individual child, enhanced because they can grasp mathematical principals as easily as breathing? What about see more colors or hear more frequencies? Run faster? Recover from an injury faster? Never fall ill? It's a pretty wide range here.

I guess ultimately we need to recognize that some of those things are already psuedo in effect. Plenty of children are forced at the hands of tutors or over zealous parents to pursue academic or athletic paths at accelerated rates. Forced to eat special diets or exercise or constantly train. I don't think there's a wrong or right here, but it's important to recognize that as squeamish as we may be about genetically enhancing our children, it could just be our age showing, and people of another generation would have been horrified of the idea of taking a child from it's parents to go to college program boarding schools or dance programs or conversely, required to study for more than 5 minutes a day because learning another language is hard, or needed to get extra sleep because they got the flu, etc. We like to claim it's about consent, but so rarely are children really able to make any decisions of their own anyway.

And the flip of that obviously becomes that social pressure drives many decisions. No reasonable human parent would choose to not bring their child to the hospital for a broken leg or if they were vomiting blood, so, sure, maybe no reasonable human future parent would choose to not gene enhance their child who was struggling with impulse control or color blindness or being interested in bugs. As with all things parenting, society will have to work its way through this rocky matter, and guide those who take it too far (Toddlers in Tiaras or 'pray away the sick' parents) back towards what works best.

And what works best? I dunno. In the ever ongoing experiment that is human society, I'm sure we'll figure out what is an acceptable amount of tinkering and what isn't. Just like we always have, sort of.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby ahammel » Sun Feb 08, 2015 10:22 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:When it comes to enhancement we run into some obvious problems, and again, I think we need to think long and hard on what it means to be human. Is a society, or more importantly, an individual child, enhanced because they can grasp mathematical principals as easily as breathing? What about see more colors or hear more frequencies? Run faster? Recover from an injury faster? Never fall ill? It's a pretty wide range here.
At this point, I think that's a little like worrying about whether it's ethical to go to Andromeda in our faster than light spaceships.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Quercus » Sun Feb 08, 2015 11:14 pm UTC

I haven't got the time at the moment to comment on the larger points (I'll try to come back tomorrow), but I just wanted to raise one thing quickly: I think you need another dimension of distinction as well - whether the modifications are somatic or germline. Do the ethics change depending on whether you are enhancing a single individual, vs. a significant fraction of your future descendants?

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby ucim » Sun Feb 08, 2015 11:43 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:And what works best?
You have to first define what you mean by "best", and you can't do it in vague terms if you want a non-vague answer.

I find that the ethics of genetic engineering are much closer - right now with "enhanced" seeds. And the problem is not whether eating the stuff is harmful or not; rather, it is simply that by allowing profit-making corporations to control our food (especially the part that lets plants make their own seeds if you don't pay The Corporation), you surrender a whale of a lot of control that perhaps oughtn't to be surrendered. These "phone home" organisms will spread naturally, making adjacent farmers liable whether they want to be or not. True, humanity presumably gains the ability to grow more foodstuff on less land, allowing the planet to carry more people. But I'm not convinced that this is a gain for humanity.

But this is another genie that will not go back in the bottle.

Genes and DNA can already be copyrighted. Where should this stop? Will the children of "enhanced" people be copyright also?

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Quercus » Mon Feb 09, 2015 12:21 am UTC

ucim wrote:I find that the ethics of genetic engineering are much closer - right now with "enhanced" seeds. And the problem is not whether eating the stuff is harmful or not; rather, it is simply that by allowing profit-making corporations to control our food (especially the part that lets plants make their own seeds if you don't pay The Corporation), you surrender a whale of a lot of control that perhaps oughtn't to be surrendered. These "phone home" organisms will spread naturally, making adjacent farmers liable whether they want to be or not. True, humanity presumably gains the ability to grow more foodstuff on less land, allowing the planet to carry more people. But I'm not convinced that this is a gain for humanity.


Some points:

  1. How can an infertile crop "spread naturally"? It's the ability to spread naturally that has been removed (because of this you could argue that such restricted seeds are actually much better from a biosecurity standpoint). Okay, so it could make seed infertile and spread in the pollen, but that would be a monumentally stupid way of doing things and I would be very surprised if that ever got past the regulators.
  2. Farmers in rich countries (where these crops would be marketed) don't reuse seed at the moment - they can't, because most crops they plant are F1 hybrids and don't breed true. They already have to buy their seed from agri-corps (because agri-corps control the parental lines used to generate the F1 hybrids), so profit-making corporations already control our food and have done for over 50 years.
  3. These "phone home" seeds have never been sold. It was a proposed idea, there was massive protest and there is now a UN moratorium on the use of this type of technology (technically known as GURT - genetic use restriction technology).

I'm not arguing that all forms of genetic modification are a good idea (it's a powerful technology, or course they're not), and I'm not arguing that agri-business is ethical (I don't think it is, especially in its use of antibiotics), but you can't use the example you have used, because it's almost entirely factually incorrect. And you can't say that all genetic modification is profit, or even productivity, driven - just look at golden rice, which is a health-driven publicly funded academic project (in partnership with agri-business) which will be provided to farmers in developing countries at the same price as ordinary seed, under a no-fee licence which explicitly allows re-use of seed.
Last edited by Quercus on Mon Feb 09, 2015 12:23 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Feb 09, 2015 12:22 am UTC

I don't see an ethical or moral issue here (more telling about my moral position I suppose). Its just another technological tool that we can use for our purposes. And as always, its in the how.

If there is an issue, it would be to make sure that people who don't have access to such privileges, can still function within society and have a "fair go". See Gattaca. But, we already have people in todays society with huge advantages over the less wealthy, particularly in the USA.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Puppyclaws » Mon Feb 09, 2015 1:04 am UTC

I think I have so many problems with it, it makes me hesitate. It's filled with values questions that I don't feel justified answering for all people, although I do think it's hard to disentangle human identity and human difference. Once it moves beyond OP's category 0 of solving disease I think I start to be opposed, with some qualifications. I suppose a part of my concern is we would lose interesting genetic variation which results in a vast range of human experience that benefits us all. And then of course, I can only imagine that this would further existing achievement gaps between wealthy and non-wealthy.

Izawwlgood wrote:I'm reminded of the Baby Eater short story. I want to say part of what makes humans humans is the fact that there is some suffering to our existence, and I also want to say that part of what makes humans humans is the desire to minimize that suffering in our children.


The comments on that story are really quite awful and frightening; I appreciate that the author's own response is:
So I was like "Here's my dystopian story of a world where a poorly programmed AI separates men and women onto different planets" and people were like "That's not a dystopia, I would totally live there" and I was like "You're just being contrarian" and they were like "No we're not" so then I was like "Okay here's my story about aliens who eat children" and they were like "We're cool with that" and I was like "..."

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby ahammel » Mon Feb 09, 2015 1:12 am UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:I suppose a part of my concern is we would lose interesting genetic variation which results in a vast range of human experience that benefits us all.
I guess it would depend on the implementation of this, I hasten to emphasise, wholly hypothetical technology, but I don't see any reason why making everybody super disease-resistant would necessarily reduce genetic variation in loci that are not related to super-disease-resistance.

And even if it did, I would have my reservations too, but I would find it hard to say "I have the technology to guarantee that your children will never experience any of these horrible, painful, fatal, diseases, but I'm not going to do it because, you know, genetic variation."
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby ucim » Mon Feb 09, 2015 2:29 am UTC

Quercus wrote: And you can't say that all genetic modification is profit, or even productivity, driven...
I don't. But certainly some is, and it bears watching.

I'm relieved that GURT did not make it out the gate, but I didn't realize that we have already surrendered the idea of growing from its own seed (with F1 hybrids). Somehow I find this disturbing.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Feb 09, 2015 2:41 am UTC

ahammel wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:When it comes to enhancement we run into some obvious problems, and again, I think we need to think long and hard on what it means to be human. Is a society, or more importantly, an individual child, enhanced because they can grasp mathematical principals as easily as breathing? What about see more colors or hear more frequencies? Run faster? Recover from an injury faster? Never fall ill? It's a pretty wide range here.
At this point, I think that's a little like worrying about whether it's ethical to go to Andromeda in our faster than light spaceships.
I dunno man, CRISPR is pretty sci-fi to me.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Quercus » Mon Feb 09, 2015 9:52 am UTC

ucim wrote:
Quercus wrote: And you can't say that all genetic modification is profit, or even productivity, driven...
I don't. But certainly some is, and it bears watching.

I'm relieved that GURT did not make it out the gate, but I didn't realize that we have already surrendered the idea of growing from its own seed (with F1 hybrids). Somehow I find this disturbing.

Jose


There are some very good genetic reasons that we use F1 hybrids etc., so it was pretty inevitable: -

  • It means you can get consistent seeds without growing everything vegetatively (vegetative propagation is a right pain in the arse for many plants), because you only have to grow the parental lines vegetatively. Consumers aren't going to be satisfied with the highly variable product you get from re-using seed (hell, lots of food is not sold because it's the "wrong size/shape" even when everything is genetically identical).
  • There's a phenomenon called hybrid vigour, or heterosis, that means that F1 hybrids perform much better than other options.
  • Even with plants that you do propagate vegetatively, if you do that at an individual farm level you gradually increase the latent viral load, which results in increased disease and decreased productivity over time. To avoid this companies generally propagate plants in controlled virus-free environments before selling them to farmers. Some plants that you want to propagate vegetatively can't be done like that using normal means (palm trees are one example), so they are micro-propagated using cell culture techniques. This requires a lab and technical expertise.

While this could be disturbing I find it somewhat reassuring that there are a lot of seed bank projects around the world, so if anything ever does go badly wrong, we still have the genetic diversity available in order to recover.

Izawwlgood wrote:
ahammel wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:When it comes to enhancement we run into some obvious problems, and again, I think we need to think long and hard on what it means to be human. Is a society, or more importantly, an individual child, enhanced because they can grasp mathematical principals as easily as breathing? What about see more colors or hear more frequencies? Run faster? Recover from an injury faster? Never fall ill? It's a pretty wide range here.
At this point, I think that's a little like worrying about whether it's ethical to go to Andromeda in our faster than light spaceships.
I dunno man, CRISPR is pretty sci-fi to me.


Yeh, CRISPR is damn cool - it's amazing how fast it's been adopted. Already most people in my institute are either using it, or looking to start using it, for all their genetic manipulation work (mostly in vitro for the moment). The coolest proposed application for CRISPR I have seen is as an targeted antibiotic replacement - you engineer a CRISPR cassette + guidance RNAs etc. to target virulence or antibiotic resistance genes, then stick it into bacteriophage, or stick it into probiotics to act as a kind of vaccine for your bacteria. It's pretty far away from actually being a viable therapy, but it has enormous potential. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-29306807

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Zamfir » Mon Feb 09, 2015 1:09 pm UTC

Ahammel does have a point there. How useful is it to discuss such therapies together with scenarios about giving children inborn mathematical superpowers? I am skeptical that one could find much non-trivial insight that applies to both situations.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Feb 09, 2015 1:14 pm UTC

Almost any sort of genetic engineering in humans is presently science fiction. This entire thread is speculative.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby ahammel » Mon Feb 09, 2015 3:38 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Almost any sort of genetic engineering in humans is presently science fiction. This entire thread is speculative.

It was my impression that level 0 GE is likely to be technically feasible within my lifetime. That's a rather different sort of speculation than talking about ad hoc, whatever-phenotype-you-like GE.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Feb 09, 2015 4:01 pm UTC

Definitely agree, though, I think it's feasible that once we're capable of 'lvl 0', the cheevo for unlocking the other levels comes quite rapidly.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby ahammel » Mon Feb 09, 2015 4:35 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Definitely agree, though, I think it's feasible that once we're capable of 'lvl 0', the cheevo for unlocking the other levels comes quite rapidly.
Well, I guess it depends. If the technology is there to screen against ye olde single-locus genetic disorders like Huntington's, then that makes it more feasible to screen for multi locus things, provided you've got GWAS results you're pretty confident in. But once you're making your own variation, as opposed to taking advantage of existing variation, then you have to be able to say things like "if I activate these genes at these developmental stages, then this phenotype will result, so I will make a signal cascade that does that." That's way harder, and really good gamete screening technology is not necessarily a big help.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby ucim » Mon Feb 09, 2015 5:47 pm UTC

Quercus wrote:While this could be disturbing I find it somewhat reassuring that there are a lot of seed bank projects around the world, so if anything ever does go badly wrong, we still have the genetic diversity available in order to recover.
How long would it take to recover from such a "badly gone wrong" scenario, and who would control it?

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Zamfir » Mon Feb 09, 2015 6:06 pm UTC

But once you're making your own variation, as opposed to taking advantage of existing variation, then you have to be able to say things like "if I activate these genes at these developmental stages, then this phenotype will result, so I will make a signal cascade that does that." That's way harder, and really good gamete screening technology is not necessarily a big help.


Besides the difficulty itself, it's also that increased difficulty leads to an increasing uncertainty how such a procedure will act out, especially for complicated 'make better people' scenarios. How much of an effect can there be produced, conpared to the existing variations? Will the intended results be deterministic or nearly so, or a statistic possibility? What kind of side effects are involved, are they deterministic? Do they require lifelong monitoring or treatment? Is the procedure reversible or can it be counteracted, and to what degree? What is actually required for the procedure? For all we know, we'll need highly controlled uterine replicators to make such procedures work well. Is the procedure fairly standard, or would team of expert have to design a custom solution for every case?

And such aspects of the procedure will feed into its social environment. How widely available can the procedure be, what would it cost, are there scale effects, would parents support it voluntarily, who would control the procedure, does a child stay dependent on the system, what are the legal circumstances?

Think of the vaccinations, and how much of the debate hinges on similar 'details'. How bad and likely are the side effects, how well does the vaccine work, herd immunity, babies who can't be vaccinated yet. Change some details, and the ethics need to be reconsidered.

In that light, I don't know if we can say much of relevance about the more strongly sciencefictionesque side of the OP. Might still be a fun exercise, but it's probably wise to keep the freewheeling separated from a more focussed debate about procedures that have a clear roadmap.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Feb 09, 2015 8:49 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I'm reminded of the Baby Eater short story. I want to say part of what makes humans humans is the fact that there is some suffering to our existence, and I also want to say that part of what makes humans humans is the desire to minimize that suffering in our children.


*shrug* Definitions are fine for describing what we are. However, what we seek to be need not be constrained by what we are now.

Frankly, I don't give a damn about being "human", or nature, or any of that. Odds are that our progress in this area will be gradual, and we'll fix things one bit at a time, sort of like how we have for the last...I dunno, most of the entire history of development. We don't worry overly much about if we are human, because we don't live like cavemen. Odds are, our great great great grandkids won't either.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby morriswalters » Mon Feb 09, 2015 9:00 pm UTC

Push on an let the RNG in the sky sort it out. The science will happen despite any ethical qualms if there is a profit to be found. Just an minor point. Mantis shrimp, turns out their vision isn't that good.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby KrytenKoro » Mon Feb 09, 2015 10:50 pm UTC

Let the technology develop, then seize it from the rich and spread it to the masses. Any world in which anyone suffers due to their inborn identity and not just their choices is a horrible, unacceptable world.

Even in the hypothetical given by the OP that the world might not be "perfect", it would still be vastly better than the world we're living in now.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Feb 09, 2015 11:00 pm UTC

Hell, if we can get to step 3, and have the option to just boost intelligence at will(a truly incredible feat) well beyond current norms....those people will be better equipped to make decisions regarding future improvements than we will be. Every improvement enables further improvements.

Like a singularity, but with meat-brains. Which kind of slows the whole thing down quite a bit, and probably has upper limits on the possible improvements, but is still ridiculously huge.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Puppyclaws » Tue Feb 10, 2015 1:09 am UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Hell, if we can get to step 3, and have the option to just boost intelligence at will(a truly incredible feat) well beyond current norms....those people will be better equipped to make decisions regarding future improvements than we will be. Every improvement enables further improvements.


Intelligence is not the same thing as value. Intelligence is not the same thing as ethics.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby jseah » Tue Feb 10, 2015 3:28 am UTC

If you don't know what you want, seek power. (In preparation for getting what you want)
Intelligence is one facet of power.

In more general terms, increasing your abilities is correlated with getting what you want. Increasing the capability of humans should therefore increase the range and magnitude of wants that can be fulfilled.

If nothing else, we can keep the human standard genome on file to revert to.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby leady » Tue Feb 10, 2015 11:02 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Almost any sort of genetic engineering in humans is presently science fiction. This entire thread is speculative.


engineering maybe yes, embyro selection absolutely not I feel. The Chinese do not have the same historical hangups with regards to genetics and the E word, so I'll be amazed if the chinese middle and upper classes aren't going full on Gattaca within 15 years. As an aside its one of my long term views that the first countries to switch from natural to controlled selective birth (particularly under a universal healthcare system) will be laughing at all the backward countries in 40 years.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby morriswalters » Tue Feb 10, 2015 1:08 pm UTC

Anybody care to speculate on exactly what you would improve to create a more intelligent human?

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby leady » Tue Feb 10, 2015 1:13 pm UTC

I suspect the question is a trick, but like the chinese I'd isolate the alleles that strongly corelate to my mandatory state IQ testing and go from there. Pretty much how I'd eliminate predaliction to addictions, diseases etc. Then just select embryos on that basis

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Quercus » Tue Feb 10, 2015 1:39 pm UTC

In the GWAS's that have been done intelligence comes out as highly heritable but ridiculously polygenic, so at least until determining the actual causal change associated with a SNP marker becomes practical on a large scale, and arbitrary genetic manipulation of hundreds of loci becomes feasible I would simply clone someone who was highly intelligent.

If that wasn't allowed I would pay two highly intelligent people for their sperm and eggs, then possibly do embryo selection on intelligence associated SNPs. Anything else would be orders of magnitude less effective with anything close to today's technology.

Embryo selection for the most favourable set of SNPs of arbitrary people wouldn't work very well, because most of the intelligence associated variants wouldn't actually be present in either parent. That's aside from the fact that there's probably all sorts of interactions between the variants - e.g. SNPs A B and C could all be separately associated with greater intelligence than a, b, and c, but someone with a genotype of ABC could still have the lowest intelligence of any possible combo because of genetic interactions, something like AbC could be much better, and a normal GWAS wouldn't be able to tell you that. Never mind heterozygote effects, interactions with the environment, epigenetics etc. etc. I don't think we would even know where to start designing an "ideal" genome for intelligence.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby morriswalters » Tue Feb 10, 2015 1:43 pm UTC

leady wrote:I suspect the question is a trick, but like the chinese I'd isolate the alleles that strongly corelate to my mandatory state IQ testing and go from there. Pretty much how I'd eliminate predaliction to addictions, diseases etc. Then just select embryos on that basis
From me? :D While I am perfectly capable of that, I really don't care enough about this topic to argue it, I'm just curious.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Feb 10, 2015 2:23 pm UTC

leady wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:Almost any sort of genetic engineering in humans is presently science fiction. This entire thread is speculative.


engineering maybe yes, embyro selection absolutely not I feel. The Chinese do not have the same historical hangups with regards to genetics and the E word, so I'll be amazed if the chinese middle and upper classes aren't going full on Gattaca within 15 years. As an aside its one of my long term views that the first countries to switch from natural to controlled selective birth (particularly under a universal healthcare system) will be laughing at all the backward countries in 40 years.
You're over estimating what we know about this. 'Embryo Selection' isn't going to allow the unscrupulous to produce a country of Einsteins in 15 years. Or 50.

leady wrote: but like the chinese I'd isolate the alleles that strongly corelate to my mandatory state IQ testing and go from there. Pretty much how I'd eliminate predaliction to addictions, diseases etc. Then just select embryos on that basis
This is not a thing right now.

EDIT: So, Wired did an article on this, which might be why you're thinking it's a thing. It isn't. To my knowledge we haven't identified genes that are associated with intelligence.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Quercus » Tue Feb 10, 2015 2:47 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:To my knowledge we haven't identified genes that are associated with intelligence.


There's apparently a ton of SNPs* which have been pulled out by GWAS**, but I don't think many of them (if any of them) have been verified properly, and GWAS is extremely prone to methodological difficulties even when not studying something as nebulous as intelligence. There's also a big difference between having the SNP (which tells you that there's probably some change somewhere in a region around this genomic locus, which might include 20 genes or so, that influences the trait in question, usually by a tiny amount) and having the actual causative genetic change.

*Single nucleotide polymorphism

**Genome wide association study

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby HungryHobo » Tue Feb 10, 2015 2:57 pm UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:Intelligence is not the same thing as value. Intelligence is not the same thing as ethics.


Intelligence is *the* tool that allows effective understanding of values.
Intelligence is *the* tool that allows effective consideration of ethics.

Most of the best ethicists are also very intelligent people.
It is not the same thing as ethics and values but without intelligence you get neither.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby leady » Tue Feb 10, 2015 3:16 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:You're over estimating what we know about this. 'Embryo Selection' isn't going to allow the unscrupulous to produce a country of Einsteins in 15 years. Or 50.

EDIT: So, Wired did an article on this, which might be why you're thinking it's a thing. It isn't. To my knowledge we haven't identified genes that are associated with intelligence.


To be clear I think the Chinese will be doing this based on generating the ability in the next 15 years (I'm pretty sure a lot of this is moores law dependent) and once they start 40 years later they will have the first generation of a super class in their prime years with a follow up generation in schools. This won't immediately change the world but theres no way back from that.

Gattaca is a documentary for the east in 100 years, Idiocracy is a documentary for the west (but with its own managing elite). But I'll be long dead so who cares :)

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Feb 10, 2015 3:50 pm UTC

That's a fine outlook to hold, but it's not to dissimilar from assuming that because this exists, in 15 years China will all be flying around with Z-point energy levpacks and communing with black hole entities.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby HungryHobo » Tue Feb 10, 2015 3:52 pm UTC

hey,
they already have a program to produce extra tall people for basketball.

I can see them doing something similar for intelligence. it follows the same sort of distribution and is similarly heritable.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby morriswalters » Tue Feb 10, 2015 4:05 pm UTC

I find that thought rather amusing, the big heads of SF from my youth creep into my imagination. I bet this could be calculated if you assume intelligence derives from the brain(we all believe that, don't we). What is the functional limit of a brain like ours? How big can it be before the brain outruns the ability of the heart to supply enough oxygen to the brain to form great thoughts.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Quercus » Tue Feb 10, 2015 4:05 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:hey,
they already have a program to produce extra tall people for basketball.

I can see them doing something similar for intelligence. it follows the same sort of distribution and is similarly heritable.


Indeed, but using good old-fashioned selective breeding. The difficulty of extracting useful information from the human genome has consistently surprised people since the 1990's. In that respect it's more like nuclear fusion than Moore's law.

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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby HungryHobo » Tue Feb 10, 2015 4:14 pm UTC

Quercus wrote:
Indeed, but using good old-fashioned selective breeding. The difficulty of extracting useful information from the human genome has consistently surprised people since the 1990's. In that respect it's more like nuclear fusion than Moore's law.


Don't worry, I'm remarkably aware of the difficulty of that particular problem. good old-fashioned selective breeding still works though and a state trying to get a few dozen or a few hundred insanely tall people or ridiculously smart people have a straightforward approach available to them.
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Re: The Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Feb 10, 2015 4:19 pm UTC

So, selective breeding programs (getting together the smartest people and having them reproduce) would likely produce a trend towards 'greater intelligence', but such a trend would A ) easily be lost to noise once the program stops, and B ) not be terribly useful if it was only in a very small population (say, <2000 or so), and C ) still require on going training throughout the lives of the individuals.

Assuming you completely forgo morality, you're talking about a program that has a generational time of at best ~14-20 years (I wager some intelligences aren't finished developing until mid 20's even) and will require tens if not hundreds of cycles to actually produce anything particularly noticeable. So, sure, 100 years from now your human breeding program reliably produces children that test 5-10 pts higher on an IQ test than their randomly bred peers. Good job. Better not let them into the public, where any/all changes will be lost within a single round of reproduction.

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