July 21, 2015
National Security Will Drive Genetically Enhanced Offspring

Eugene Volokh responds to the recent poll that found most people in the United States are opposed to raising offspring IQs. Volokh thinks the US will feel pressure to allow offspring IQ boosting or fall behind other nations. It becomes a national security issue if the American population becomes 20 IQ points lower than China, India, and Russia. So expect the national wing of a nation's elites to promote offspring genetic engineering.

Volokh does not think people will go so far as to alter their offspring to have an extra pair of arms. But the internet has made it easier for people with outlier preferences to find each other and create their own echo chambers. Therefore I fully expect some religious cults or ideological cults to advocate radical alterations in human anatomy and sensory systems in order to right social wrongs, prepare for the apocalypse, or please a deity figure so the diety will bestow the faithful with huge blessings. But outlier genetic engineering doesn't even require an echo chamber. Some loners will choose attributes for their offspring just to spite the rest of us. Those kids have my sympathy in advance.

In spite of the outliers I expect offspring genetic engineering will lead to brighter, better looking, higher performing, and healthy children and adults. What I'm less sure about is personality traits and moral reasoning circuitry. What chooses will people make about how conscientious and benevolent and considerate their kids will be? Will psychopaths choose genetic variants to create offspring who are even higher functioning psychopaths? Will skills in deception be desired by some? The average performance of predator humans may well rise.

Some time in the next 10 years we will have enough info about genetic variants that contribute to intelligence that embryo selection for higher IQ will become possible. This will lead to a big market in donor eggs and donor sperm with lots of embryos created to sort thru and choose the ones with the most desired combinations of attributes. But embryo selection will only be the first generation tech for making better babies. Genetic editing with Crispr-CAS9 and similar biotechnologies will allow prospective parents to give their offspring genetic sequences they themselves do not possess. Then the rate of human evolution will skyrocket. We live in the final decades of human wild type. Some day wild type humans will be the minority. In some countries that will happen in this century.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 July 21 09:02 PM 

Wolf-Dog said at July 21, 2015 10:49 PM:

RP: " What I'm less sure about is personality traits and moral reasoning circuitry. Will psychopaths choose genetic variants to create offspring who are even higher functioning psychopaths? Will skills in deception be desired by some? The average performance of predator humans may well rise. "


By means of genetic engineering, Wall Street will strive to lower its already low [Morality]/[IQ] ratio even more.

That all military and economic victories depend on IQ is already known even by the least intelligent politicians. Therefore it is guaranteed that all governments will have secret genetic engineering projects to develop superior minds. There will be Machiavelli prizes and Goebbels prizes to be awarded to the most manipulative geniuses.

Brett Bellmore said at July 22, 2015 3:00 AM:

Has anybody looked into whether the Repository for Germinal Choice actually had positive results?

At this point in our knowledge, choosing a genetic mate with demonstrated high IQ is going to be a lot more effective than gene modifications. Though this will change in time.

jp straley said at July 22, 2015 6:54 AM:

The people that would benefit most from a nominal eugenic program are the underperformers...people with fitness issues and low cog performance. They are spoken for by their leaders, who are often folks with their own personal agendas.

If people with enough sense to recognize the advantage of genetic intervention are the only ones that seek it out, either by "underground or above-ground" means, then the testing gap does not widen...it becomes a chasm. At that point "testing gap" is not just a number, it is actually code for a wide and deep cultural distinction. Could be pretty unstable under some circumstances. Certainly the stuff of the recent Matt Damon film "Elysium."

Abelard Lindsey said at July 22, 2015 8:55 AM:

You know, a good science project to do at home with CRISPR would be to make a "gene drive" that exterminates malaria-carrying species of mosquitoes. What prompted me to think about this was reading about the outrageous medical bills that some people, without insurance, have received for rattlesnake bit treatments. Make an ultimatum to the FDA. Either ALL snake anti-venom be made available over the counter or we will make a CRISPR "gene drive" to exterminate the rattlesnake species.

bob sykes said at July 23, 2015 5:01 AM:

Considering that in vitro fertilization costs in excess of $10,000 per try (not all attempts succeed) and that the consequences of genetic modification can be huge and not exhibited for years, I suspect using CRISPR or some other technique will have costs well over $100, 000 per attempt. Almost all that cost will go to the doctor(s) because of the need for surety. Genetic modification of IQ will be a small boutique business for the 0.1%. Assuming, that is, it will be permitted. The many cities trying to suppress Uber and the furor over GM crops is a warning.

But, beyond that, there is some evidence (http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10028.aspx) that people with IQ's higher than about 140 to 150 have difficulty in their relationships with people of average intelligence. The highly intelligent may have a tendency to social autism, too. The optimum IQ for overall effectiveness is probably 130 or less.

Fields like pure mathematics and particle physics do need outright geniuses to advance. But the number of geniuses produced naturally seems to be adequate to the need, and society has no trouble identifying them and routing them to the proper professions.

The real issue is whether current society can survive. Racial animosities are at an all time high; government at all levels is corrupt and incompetent; and real incomes are declining for working and middle class people, while the Ruling Class prospers. Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov claim that these are signs of too many elite persons competing for limited resources, and that this usually leads to violence and economic decline. See, Turchin and Nefedov (2009), "Secular Cycles," Princeton.

Present day discussion of the Singularity, cheap fusion, genetic modification, artificial intelligence and the brave new world they will create are likely to be met with derision by our starving, freezing, benighted children.

Brett Bellmore said at July 23, 2015 7:46 AM:

"people with IQ's higher than about 140 to 150 have difficulty in their relationships with people of average intelligence."

Try taking a child of normal intelligence, and having them grow up in an entire community of clinical morons,(IQ under 70.) and see how they do. Always being the smartest person in the room warps your personality. That, and constantly having to deal with people who don't understand what you're talking about is wearing.

If intelligence enhancement became common enough that the high IQ children grew up surrounded by other people who were similarly intelligent, they'd be just fine. In fact, that's the implication of your own link. The problem isn't the intelligence, it's the lack of peers. Give them peers to relate to, and they'll be fine.

Our current issues with government corruption are not a function of elite intelligence. They're a function of governments being captured by self-perpetuating cliques of sociopaths. There's all sorts of evidence of this being a problem. The pedophile scandals in England, for instance.

Organizations of all sorts are subject to this sort of takeover, nobody has yet found a way to design one that's immune to it. The US is in particular trouble just because our government has been running without a major shakeup for so long.

Randall Parker said at July 23, 2015 9:41 PM:

jp straley,

I do not see instability resulting from a huge cognitive chasm. Think about the 90 IQ people. Can they organize a revolt? I don't think so. Can the super brights in marketing, film making, and music create media products that lull them into contentment? I think so.

There's no way the super brights are going to get taken down by dumb masses. The lower classes have become politically weaker with the decline of unions and rising power of the cognitive elites.

Randall Parker said at July 23, 2015 9:44 PM:

Abelard Lindsey,

Creation of species that can out-compete other species in an ecological niche seems like one of those inevitable things that are going to happen. Just take some members of an existing species, eliminate their genetic load, give them a few improvements, and then make them infertile when breeding with wild type.

brad said at July 24, 2015 6:29 AM:

Ruling elites already think themselves possessing superior intellects. How well has that worked out. How well will it work out when their intelligence is genetically enhanced is unknown. Currently the lifestyles of high IQ people are engineered, built and maintained by lower IQ "wild types". Will the infrastructure in the era of enhanced intelligence be self-sustaining will robots build and maintain it? Will wild types go quietly into the dark or will they have to be "nudged" as articulated by Cass Sunstein who I'm pretty sure considers himself to possess superior intelligence. Or, will they by genetically alter to unquestioning servitude? Superior intelligence as a consumer product or government mandate is uncharted territory making speculation just that; speculation.

BioBob said at July 28, 2015 11:40 AM:

Considering there are well over 7 billion people alive now and more to come for the next few decades, the total population genetic impact of artificially genetically modified humans (assuming there are any - which is questionable) will be all of BUPKIS !!!

The numbers will be so small as to be subsumed by such "large" numbers as directed by the flapping of butterfly wings, women who like the color green, or say, the offspring of serial rapists conceived on Monday nights between 10 and 11 PM.

Randall Parker said at August 2, 2015 3:08 PM:


Very bright people have much larger impacts than their numbers suggest. Double the number of 140+ IQ people in a country and in 30 years the country will be changed.

I think the potential for transformation is especially large if offspring genetic engineering becomes a popular thing in a small country. Picture Iceland or New Zealand with 5% of the babies being born with 140+ IQ. In a population with average IQ of 100 that would increase their fraction of the population by more than a factor of 8. In New Zealand they would go from about 27k to about 223k or about an 8 fold increase in their numbers.

Randall Parker said at August 2, 2015 3:16 PM:

The embrace of IQ-boosting genetic enhancement will vary greatly between nations. The nations that jump on it will become big time outliers. They'll be able to specialize in industries and innovations in the intellectually most challenging areas. A small country with 10% of its 20 year olds in the 140+ IQ bracket could take on long established leading companies in other countries and win.

So which countries will jump on IQ boosting? Singapore seems very likely. Will the PRC government in China embrace it or fear the politically destabilizing effects of a nation of geniuses? An embrace by China would have the biggest impact.

How about Canada? A big embrace by Canada would let it far surpass the USA in average living standard. How will the various European nations respond? Which will embrace offspring genetic engineering most quickly?

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