IS THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY BIOLOGICAL OR ARTIFICIAL?

The latest edition of The Economist magazine contains an interesting article entitled “The New Overlords” which reviews a book who’s thesis is that humans will continue to evolve, both physically and mentally but the basis of this evolution will be by means of genetic engineering rather than (as argued by Kurzweil), via a merging of machine and human intelligence. The view that humanity will surpass it’s current state by means of genetic manipulation is fascinating and frequently gets neglected in favour of the ideas of proponents of machine intelligence such as Kurzweil. Many years ago I read a book, entitled “Reshaping Eden in the Twenty-First Century” which propounded the view that, over a period of time genetic enhancements will lead to the emergence of different strains of humans and that these groups will grow ever further apart. The author contends that this will happen as those with greater resources pay for genetic enhancements (for themselves and their ofspring) which will lead to more intelligent individuals, people who have great musical abilities etc. In a free society, he contends it will be impossible to prevent such genetic manipulation and if governments attempt to impose bans individuals will get around these restrictions by, for example visiting countries with laxer (or no regulations). The book still sits on my bookshelf, however its been so long since I read it that I am, almost certainly not doing full justice to the arguments employed by the author.

For the Econimist article please visit http://www.economist.com/node/18329616?story_id=18329616&fsrc=rss

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About kevinmorris101

I live and work in London and blog as a hobby. If you would like to contact me please send an email to animalia at shiftmail.com (the address is rendered in this manner in order to try and defeat spammers)!
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7 Responses to IS THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY BIOLOGICAL OR ARTIFICIAL?

  1. Kurzweil brings up a scary possible future, but his timeframe is a bit ambitious.

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  4. McLeach says:

    This is an interesting and multifaceted argument.

    However, just because the few will be genetically enhanced does not mean that they will be seperate from the masses unless they also ‘engineer’ a society based on some sort of apartheid – which is something they could do now without the genetic enhancements. After all what would be there to stop the masses taking power and – to put it brutally -raping all the genetically enhanced women? And, more likely, what would there be there to stop the enhanced males from siring offspring on non-enhanced females?

    What though if in the future we get some sort of communistic government that decided to compulsory genetic engineer everyone – based on the history of communist governments that would probably result in the loss of millions of lives and a massive impact on fertility.

    • You raise some interesting points. As regards Communist governments imposing eugenic policies this is, as you say perfectly possible. The People’s Republic of China has a one child policy which is storing up many problems for the future because, due to cultural prejudices in favour of boys girls are being aborted, in large numbers which means that it is increasingly difficult for Chinese males to find wives/partners. In addition China forces certain individuals with disabilities to undergo sterilisation prior to the state granting them permission to marry.
      However eugenics are also advocated by the far-right, for example under the T-4 Programme, in Nazi Germany about 200,000 disabled people were put to death on the grounds that they were “useless eaters, life unworthy of life”.
      Concerning genetic engineering more generally, while there is undoubtedly a genetic component to intelligence factors such as a loving home, being encouraged to read widely etc also play an important role in determining the intellectual capacity of children. Consequently genetics only partially determines who we are.

  5. Hmm, I see direct genetic enhancement being a bit farther off into the future. Another “devil-in-the-details” issue. There are too many hidden bits of genetic interplay to make successful tweaks to humans. Sure, you can make a rabbit glow, but human personality traits are quite intricate: add a gene for intelligence and you might get a smart psychopath, add a gene for muscularity and you might get overagressiveness and poor impulse control.

    Nearer future: trend towards more older single women (and female couples, and couples with infertile males) using donors carefully selected for intelligence and athleticism and height. PhD-only, Mensa-only, Nobel-only donor sites. Already a high premium for young intelligent female egg donors. More parental emphasis among the successful when raising their kids about finding a spouse who is smart, athletic and healthy. High-wealth matchmaking sites. Emerging group of high-paid, high-quality donors. At some point, maybe cloning of a dictator?

    All western societies will ban direct modification of the human genome. No such restriction will be in place for any electronics, so I’ll predict we “evolve” society more toward more direct interfaces with data in one form or another. Genetic modification would come farther down the road.

    • Thank you for your comment. I blogged, on 10 February regarding the Darwin Day Lecture, delivered by Armond Leroy, Professor of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, (see https://kevinmorris101.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/darwin-day-lecture-2011/). In that lecture Professor Leroy argued that within 10-20 years it will be possible for parents to have their genome investigated to ascertain the possibility of serious disease and/or disability being passed on to their offspring and, in the longer term he sees parents having greater control over the kinds of children they bring into the world. I’m sure some of what you perceive as coming in the future will come to pass (E.G. people picking partners/egg donors/sperm donors with high intelligence). However I suspect that some of those shelling out their cash won’t get exactly what they want as intelligence is not wholly genetic. When a child shows high intellectual ability there is (almost certainly) a genetic component but, when one takes into account that most people who do well academically come from well-to-do backgrounds, have lots of books in their homes etc the picture becomes more complicated, (I.E. how much of the child’s intelligence derives from his parent’s genome and how much is down to his exposure to books etc)? Environment and geenes combine to make us who we are but we are, ultimately prisoners of neither, that is unless we live in Huxley’s Brave New World were children are genetically and socially conditioned to perform certain roles in society from birth. Interestingly, in Brave New World, besides the eugenic manipulation of the population children here voices under their pillows telling them not to play with children of different social classes, while the lower class children are prevented from developing a taste for literature and flowers by being given electric shocks when they attempt to approach these objects. As for cloning, I agree that someone may try to clone a dictator. However if and when this happens there is no guarantee that the clone will have the same dictatorial personality as their parent. They will have their own thoughts which will be separate from those of their parent as you can not clone thoughts (only bodies). Many children who’s parents worked as guards in the Nazi concentration camps were horrified on discovering what their parents had done, (they didn’t inherit their parents belief in Nazism, only their genetic make-up). Therefore I don’t think we need to fear someone cloning a dictator. I’m sure you are right that brain to machine interfaces will grow in importance. This will be a good thing if it enables paralysed individuals to use robot devices to perform tasks on their behalf thereby enhancing their independence. I’m not so sure I am comfortable with the idea of a chip in my brain allowing me to communicate directly with my PC. Apart from the brain being an incredibly delicate mechanism it will, I asume in the future be possible to communicate with one’s computer by, for instance using jewellery with tiny microchips imbedded in it. This would be non-invasive and, I guess be far more wide-spread than brain implants.

      Kevin

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