April 15, 2015
Better Body Software Will Make People Less Equal

DNA upgrades will be most beneficial for future generations. But those already alive who can afford it will get gene therapy, cell therapy, and replacement organs that will have lots of fixes to the DNA. What will be the impact at the societal level? Yuval Noah Harari tells Daniel Kahneman that medicine will increase the gap between the richest and the poorest. I'll slightly amend that: biotechnology will increase the gap in abilities, drive, and therefore achievement. But we might not call it medicine.

After medicine in the 20th century focused on healing the sick, now it is more and more focused on upgrading the healthy, which is a completely different project. And it's a fundamentally different project in social and political terms, because whereas healing the sick is an egalitarian project ... you assume there is a norm of health, anybody that falls below the norm, you try to give them a push to come back to the norm, upgrading is by definition an elitist project. There is no norm that can be applicable to everybody.

And this opens the possibility of creating huge gaps between the rich and the poor, bigger than ever existed before in history.

What will drive this the most: embryo genetic testing and, later, offspring genetic engineering. The embryo genetic testing to select for performance-boosting genetic variants will come first. Fast genetic sequencing tech will allow detailed genetic testing on cells extracted from embryos. Embryo selection driven by genetic sequencing will appeal more to upper classes. They'll be better able to afford it too.

Embryo selection using genetic testing is already done on a small scale. To date the benefits are low because we do not know the impact of millions of genetic variants. But sufficient understanding will come in the next 10 years. Then the most successive and driven will opt for pre-implantation genetic testing of multiple embryos to select a genetic profile with the most promise..

Other technological advances will reduce the need for humans for manual and dangerous labor.

But in the 21st century, there is a good chance that most humans will lose, they are losing, their military and economic value.

Signs can already be found for this trend: the gap in employment rate for high school drop-outs and those with at least one college degree is now 30%.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 April 15 09:05 PM 

Marcopohlo said at April 17, 2015 5:18 AM:

Over the short term, maybe. But if history is any guide, stuff that orginally benefits the rich and/or powerful at first (and that means most technological advances) eventually gets way cheaper and way better distributed over time.

Examples? Farming - which orginally benefitted only kings and big landholders (with everyone else treated as chattel), and now everybody is overweight. Medicine - poor people used to die while rich people got better (any reasonably apolitical analysis of this shows that the poor currently recieve better medical treatment than they ever have, and that this will continue to get better). And, well, computers and the internet, which started out being for rich military contracts and financial firms, and now everybody's grandmother is sending cat pictures and most everybody's children have access to the sum of the world's knowledge.

And note - the lag between initial adoption for the rich and the general dissemination among the poor has shortened over time.

James Jones said at April 17, 2015 3:39 PM:

Progressives should look at it this way: isn't it great that the Evil Rich are spending lots of money for the privilege of beta testing it? By the time it gets cheap, all the bugs should be worked out of it.

Ed said at April 17, 2015 3:42 PM:

You're wrong, and Marcopohlo is right. We in the West today live in a society where the poor people are fat. Think about that. We in the West live in a world where many of the poor have access to internal-combustion vehicles, air conditioning, pocket sized computers / radiotelephones and anaesthetics. That makes them quite literally richer than Queen Victoria, who had none of those things. It's ridiculous to look at one more innovation out of millions, and suddenly go all Malthusian.

Jim Ratliff said at April 17, 2015 3:49 PM:

So what's their motivation in keeping the poor around? The more poor, the greater the divide, the greater chance for uncontrolled unrest. That means they'll do something to lessen the chance. That will increase the likelihood of greater unrest if discovered. Should be interesting.

P. George Stewart said at April 17, 2015 4:23 PM:

Yeah, it's like anything else technological, at first there will be a divide, sure, but eventually it will be cheap enough that most people have some reasonably good version of it.

Also, the rich early adopters won't necessarily have as good a version as the cheaper versions everyone has further down the line.

AND, this is the only way that everyone will be able to get it.

AND any attempt to price control or ration it with the best of intentions will fuck up the process and perpetuate the divide indefinitely, instead of narrowing the gap.

Bill Quick said at April 17, 2015 4:54 PM:

HS v college employment rates are not a marker for intelligence. Anybody with sufficient money and an average IQ can obtain a college degree - somewhere. This ratio is merely an artifact of employers unable to use meaningful tests for hiring, and rampant credentialism.

Randall Parker said at April 17, 2015 9:21 PM:


It'll be a pretty long short term, at least lasting decades.

My guess is dumb people won't bother to get embryo selection done for intelligence. Whereas smart people will be really fast to recognize the benefit and will stampede toward IVF combined with embryo selection for intelligence and other attributes that boost performance (e.g. lower discount rates in decision making).

This isn't like getting a smart phone. The dumber folks initiate more pregnancies accidentally. Also, they'll place greater value on athletic prowess over mental ability. By contrast, the upper class will start all pregnancies via IVF and look for ways to get every genetic advantage possible into their offspring.

There will be a large difference in uptake speed between countries. Some countries will try to ban IVF for cognitive abilities and other cognitive attributes that favor accomplishment. Others will provide incentives for using the tech. So international differences will widen as class differences widen.

Brett Bellmore said at April 18, 2015 5:22 AM:

The universe isn't "fair", it's meritocratic, for all that it measures "merit" a bit differently than us humans like. (Making some crack head who fathered several bastards more meritorious than a Nobel prize winner without children.)

The real revolution isn't going to be IVF, or gene selection, though, it will be artificial wombs. This will enable the wealthy who are so inclined to produce dozens of highly enhanced children, raised by nannies. Virtual armies of offspring.

jp straley said at April 18, 2015 1:00 PM:

At the min, embryo selection will be normal after one generation. When you have to compete with "selected" people in the marketplace, you will make sure that your own kids get that advantage. Besides, it should be govt subsidized. It would be rational to eliminate IQ less than is the norm for actually holding ajob, many genetic diseases as well. Makes 'em tax payers rather than tax eaters. Costs would easily be paid back many times.

Randall Parker said at April 18, 2015 4:24 PM:

Brett Bellmore,

Yes, people will be more inclined to have kids if the risks are lowered through gene selection. If you know you are going to have happy, healthy, well-behaved 140 IQ kids then why not have 5 of them?

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