The fear is that germ-line engineering is a path toward a dystopia of superpeople and designer babies for those who can afford it… _MIT Technology Review
If germ-line engineering becomes part of medical practice, it could lead to transformative changes in human well-being, with consequences to people’s life span, identity, and economic output… 10 genes that, when people are born with them, confer extraordinary qualities or resistance to disease. One makes your bones so hard they’ll break a surgical drill. Another drastically cuts the risk of heart attacks. And a variant of the gene for the amyloid precursor protein, or APP, was found by Icelandic researchers to protect against Alzheimer’s. People with it never get dementia and remain sharp into old age.
… What if everyone could be a little bit smarter? Or a few people could be a lot smarter? Even a small number of “super-enhanced” individuals … could change the world through their creativity and discoveries, and through innovations that everyone else would use. __ Superbabies in the Mist
Is this vision more compatible with a world of superfluous people, or with a world of expansive opportunities and abundant genius? That depends upon how things unfold.
… The fear is that germ-line engineering is a path toward a dystopia of superpeople and designer babies for those who can afford it…
Just three years after its initial development, CRISPR technology is already widely used by biologists as a kind of search-and-replace tool to alter DNA, even down to the level of a single letter. It’s so precise that it’s widely expected to turn into a promising new approach for gene therapy treatment in people with devastating illnesses…
… How easy would it be to edit a human embryo using CRISPR? Very easy, experts say. “Any scientist with molecular biology skills and knowledge of how to work with [embryos] is going to be able to do this,” says Jennifer Doudna, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who in 2012 codiscovered how to use CRISPR to edit genes.
… the efficiency with which CRISPR can delete or disable a gene in a zygote is about 40 percent, whereas making specific edits, or swapping DNA letters, should work less frequently—more like 20 percent of the time. Like a person, a monkey has two copies of most genes, one from each parent. Sometimes both copies get edited, but sometimes just one does, or neither. Only about half the embryos will lead to live birth, and of those that do, many could contain a mixture of cells with edited DNA and cells without. If you add up the odds, you find you’d need to edit about 20 embryos to get a live monkey with the edit you want.
… scientists are [also] exploring a different approach to engineering the germ line, one that is technically more demanding but probably more powerful. This strategy combines CRISPR with unfolding discoveries related to stem cells. Scientists at several centers, including Church’s, think they will soon be able to use stem cells to produce eggs and sperm in the laboratory. Unlike an embryo, stem cells can be grown and multiplied. Thus they could offer a vastly improved way to create edited offspring with CRISPR. The recipe goes like this: First, edit the genes of the stem cells. Second, turn them into an egg or sperm. Third, produce an offspring.
… [some] observers say higher IQ is exactly what we should be considering. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University best known for his 2014 book Superintelligence, which raised alarms about the risks of artificial intelligence in computers, has also looked at whether reproductive technology could be used to improve human intellect. Although the ways in which genes affect intelligence aren’t well understood and there are far too many relevant genes to permit easy engineering, such realities don’t dim speculation on the possibilities.
What if everyone could be a little bit smarter? Or a few people could be a lot smarter? Even a small number of “super-enhanced” individuals, Bostrom wrote in a 2013 paper, could change the world through their creativity and discoveries, and through innovations that everyone else would use. In his view, genetic enhancement is an important long-range issue like climate change or financial planning by nations, “since human problem-solving ability is a factor in every challenge we face.” __ Engineering Superbabies
When combined with advanced training tools for early childhood education, germ-line enhancements may pave the way to a “Brave New World.” But will the end result of this secretive research be a vanishingly small class of elites lording it over the large and largely superfluous masses?
The answer is unclear, for many reasons… It is possible to raise bright children to “fit the system.” But it is also possible to raise bright children to “transcend the system.” The system-transcendent child is a dangerous child, the most disruptive of disruptive technologies.
Another highly disruptive technology with significant applications to advanced biomedicine that is experiencing rapid breakthroughs:
“Small molecules” are a specific class of complex, compact chemical structures found throughout nature. They are very important in medicine – most medications available now are small molecules – as well as in biology as probes to uncover the inner workings of cells and tissues. Small molecules also are key elements in technologies like solar cells and LEDs.
However, small molecules are notoriously difficult to make in a lab. Traditionally, a highly trained chemist spends years trying to figure out how to make each one before its function can even be explored, a slowdown that hinders development of small-molecule-based medications and technologies.
“Up to now, the bottleneck has been synthesis,” Burke said. “There are many areas where progress is being slowed, and many molecules that pharmaceutical companies aren’t even working on, because the barrier to synthesis is so high.”
The main question that Burke’s group seeks to answer: How do you take something very complex and make it as simple as possible?
The group’s strategy has been to break down the complex molecules into smaller building blocks that can be easily assembled. The chemical building blocks all have the same connector piece and can be stitched together with one simple reaction, the way that a child’s interconnecting plastic blocks can have different shapes but all snap together.
Future chemical synthesis could be performed at home for a wide range of products. This might be done inside inexpensive desktop boxes that interface with networked databases containing large numbers of “chemical algorithms.” Make your own medicines and other essential chemicals at home, prn.
Future super-babies will have access to nano-factories and self-replicating machines. More than a few will grow up with backyard nuclear reactors, and backyard space launch facilities. Probably not the kind of reactors or launchers described at the links above [ 😉 ], but when clever children are taught to use their minds and given access to advanced tools of design and manufacture, the end result is likely to surprise everyone.
The type of future world system that Yuval Noah Harari envisions is “neo-feudal” in nature. A small number of wealthy and long-lived lords live lavish lives, a somewhat larger number of technologists / scientists / engineers will tend to the machinery, while the masses of shorter-lived and superfluous humans will be kept amused and pacified by drugs, games, reality TV shows, and a simulated form of faux democracy and false news broadcast similar to what is practised today.
In marked contrast to Harari’s vision, are the visions of the Al Fin Next Level Institute, and the Al Fin Dangerous Child Institute. When combined, these twin visions of the Al Fin Institutes constitute a formidable challenge to the echo-chamber world being woven by the mainstream bubble milieu.
We will look at the integration of these visions in coming months.