Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Transhumanists vs. Feasibility Skeptics

Will Oremus posted a response in Slate to Geoffrey Miller's recent interview about BGI-Shenzhen. Several experts, including Lee Silver, apparently state that we are not near being able to genetically select for IQ because thousands of alleles influence it. These people's credentials are pretty impressive but their argument seems questionable, at least from the detail presented by Oremus. Yes, it's clear that IQ is coded through numerous alleles. But identifying a large fraction of those alleles is exactly the BGI goal!

That's the short of it. The BGI project is also more clear to me from watching this video. (I actually watched the entire 90 minutes. That must be my record for Youtube.)

I think the sensible viewpoint is actually missing from both sides of this debate. On one side are transhumanists who agree that there is potential for genetic IQ pumping within a decade, like Steve Hsu and Geoffrey Miller, and actually favor doing that. On the other side are people like Lee Silver and Razib Khan who are skeptical it can work. What we need is more people like Bill McKibben who appreciate the potential of these technologies but understand how profoundly dangerous they would be.

We need to start weighing whether research is actually worth doing if it could send us into the kind of extreme arms race McKibben described. My opinion is that the risks of exploring the genetic basis for IQ clearly outweigh any potential benefits. This BGI project should be shut down.

Remember the words of Albert Einstein. In 1932 he said, "There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will." Experts can be wrong. And if they are, we might soon find ourselves staring at a new Manhattan Project. 

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