Sunday, 18 September 2011

Is Ethical Human Genetic Enhancement Possible?

"Slate is running running an interesting conversationabout transhumanism, and the ethics of the same, between Kyle Munkittrick, Nicholas Agar, and Brad Allenby. I urge you to read the entries so far – it’s a fascinating read. But one thing that I find interesting about the discussion is this kind of baseline assumption that humans will be capable of genetic engineering that makes people smarter, stronger, faster, healthier, longer-lived, etc.

From my perspective though, there’s a lot of logistics being handwaved away in this discussion. How, exactly, do we expect human genetic enhancement tohappen? Obviously, some types of human genetic engineering are possible. Gene therapy, for example, is promising for some genetic conditions, but it typically involves adding new cells to the body (in particular, the bone marrow). It doesn’t rewriting someone’s DNA wholesale. And frankly, rewriting an adult’s DNA from the ground up presents so many technical difficulties that I think it’s safe to say that it’s probably impossible.

...Let me steal a few points from my earlier essay about the ethics of animal enhancement, because those issues are even more prevalent here. Let’s start with the most common dream of transhumanism – making people significantly more intelligent. Here’s the thing about human intelligence – it’s incredibly complex. The brain is an amazingly complicated organ that we’re only just now starting to understand. But there are a few things that we do know, and one of those things is that intelligence is almost certainly polygenic – meaning that there are many, many genes that underly human intelligence. So making babies smarter isn’t as simple as just expressing one or two genes. It means changing an entire system. So it’s a daunting task to achieve Kyle Munkittrick’s stated assumption of transhumans with “genetic profiles allowing IQs above 200.” read on here

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