Assume that human genetic-engineering technology is perfected, but there’s no totalitarian state trying to mold the population into its vision of the master race. Instead, like in Gattaca, parents can simply go to the gene-doctor and get a tailored baby with selected features. (No X-Men abilities, just stuff that’s known to be possible with human biological endowments.) And, for purposes of this hypothetical, assume that no government chooses to interfere, or ban the practice, or regulate it to an extent that would significantly limit the parents’ range of choices. But, the procedure is expensive, in practice an upper-middle-to-upper-class privilege in the industrialized world, uppermost-class privilege everywhere else. We can assume the possibilities, however, (1) that it will become cheaper in the future (technologies always seem to, once marketed; but it might take a long time), and (2) that there will be some political pressure to publicly subsidize wider access, at least for the purpose of preventing transmission of genetic diseases, etc. We should also assume that a great many people with access to genetic engineering will forego it for religious, cultural or ethical reasons; and that, in this future as now and always, plenty of unplanned pregnancies will happen the old-fashioned way and by no means all will be aborted.
Would would the human race be like 100 or 200 years from now? Would there be a genetic elite, superior to the rest of us not only socially and financially but biologically? Or, perhaps, several genetic elites or breeds, representing different period/local trends/fashions in gene-tailoring?
My opinion (not having a crystal ball) is that, while there would be a tendency toward differentiating into upper and lower classes – Eloi and Morlocks – that interbreeding would mix the classes up again, evening things out.
It’s a little like money. You’d think that money would marry money, and rich families would be distinct from poor families. And, to be sure, that is a tendency. But rich kids and poor kids will fall in love, and the money spreads out, across the generations.
Same, then, with genetically modified kids. They’ll share their heritable advantages with those who don’t have them, and the kids will end up with some of the benefits.
Honestly, it’s impossible to say. We really can’t begin to imagine how practical it is, how much it might cost, who might have access to it, and even what it could accomplish. Altering an an existing human life is extremely tough, and that applies even before birth. Right now, we have a few tricks we can do, in essense, and even those are a bit iffy.
As much as I like theoretical questions, this one is a bit too theoretical.
Mind you, I’m not ruling out Dark Angel genetic engineering, with cat DNA or whatever added. Anything that might be physically possible, if the basic human form and flesh and bone are at least the point you start from, and the gene-code – which is essentially no more than a set of instructions for making proteins – is the means you use. Just no eyebeams or teleportation or telepathy or other bioblackboxing.
Well, for purposes of this debate, please assume it’s as I described in the OP, at least to start with: Gattaca-level gene-engineering that can assure general genetic health, but also any heritable form of physical or mental superiority – or, shall we say, characteristic – selected by the genegineer’s clients. And there might even be potential for more exotic Dark Angel gene-tailoring, as noted above. And that, at least, at the beginning, it is widely available everywhere but beyond the financial means of most.
What I’m really wondering about is where the free-market pressures would take us. What characteristics would people want in their offspring? Would it vary from culture to culture? From region to region, country to country? And, if practical access eventually were extended downward, would features selected vary from class to class? And might there be fads and fashion in gene-tailoring at different periods, each adding its distinctive progeny to the gene-pool over the decades?
Would you be willing to accept the following change to your premise? Rather than being unregulated, the regulations only exist to disallow detrimental modifications. So super-intelligence is fine, but rendering them sterile (to protect your patents) is not.
Price wouldn’t be a big concern because technology tends to see prices decline pretty fast. Even if engineering like this is something only the upper class can afford, by the time the kids of that generation are grown up the prices will likely be down enough that middle class people in middle income countries can afford them too.
A side effect I think is that we would purge everything that is considered bad on a topical level or that could lead to social exclusion. But some of those things can add to the human race. Rejection and humiliation hurt like hell, but they can build character. People with neurological defects in some areas might be advanced in other areas (idiot savants, asperger kids who are good with math, etc).
So what happens after a few generations of breeding based on fear of social rejection (removing all the obesity, mental problems, ugliness, blemishes, cognitive defects, etc) ? I don’t know. Wouldn’t our brains rewire us to make us even more socially domesticated than we currently are? Would we lose an aspect of human culture since we’d have so much more power to avoid anything socially taboo? There are supposedly no fat people in second life (I haven’t played, but it is what I have heard). When the power to avoid traits that make us reviled, rejected and unwanted come about we are by and large going to take them to varying degrees, myself included.
Then again a lot of people would still not use these technologies. Not only that but the motive of the parents would have to be factored in. If you are trying to make your baby as healthy as possible then that is one thing. But if you are trying to mold them in utero into having a personality that you think they should have, that shows boundary issues and depersonification that will likely be transmitted within the culture of the genetic elite.
Of course, that opens that door to whether regulations against “detrimental” modifications would prevent a dwarf from making sure her child is a dwarf (saw that as a L&O:SVU subplot once) or borderline things like that, which means the question of where to draw the line becomes a political issue. If, in the political resolutions of that issue, a free-market/parental-autonomy approach usually prevails, that broadens the range of possibilities.
Except for a brief period where we took out our pitchforks and torches to kill all the super-humans, it would be the same as if we had never developed the ability to genetically engineer in the first place.
Perhaps you can make a powerful case for that, but argue it in another thread, please; the hypothetical of this thread assumes the politicians won’t ban it. You are free to speculate on the disastrous consequences all you like, that’s what the thread’s about.
My guess is that the human lifespan, if nothing else, would be increased and increasing, and that we’d have to redefine what is ‘old age’. Possibly people would look fitter and healthier and younger, since I’m guessing that cosmetic changes would be the first to come about. Most or all of the genetic diseases or defects would also be repaired, at least in first world countries in that time frame…simple economics is that while initially getting the rich to pay large amounts for the process works, if you want to make the big bucks you make something that anyone with a middle class income can afford…and better yet, make it so that anyone with any sort of income can afford it. Having 50 people pay a million bucks each isn’t as good as having 200 million people pay 20 bucks each for a process…or a billion pay 10 bucks each. I see a lot of this stuff spreading through the population fairly rapidly, with maybe some of the actually expensive processes staying with just the richer population, at least until the costs come down. But genetic engineering will be one of those things that I think will basically be available to just about everyone, eventually…there is no reason why gene therapy that extends the life span by 30, 40 or 100 percent couldn’t be affordable to everyone, once the process is worked out and initial capital costs are covered. What would you pay for an extra 50 years of quality life? How about an extra 100? 500? 1000? I’d be willing to shell out some serious bucks for that, even if it set my current age at just what it is today for that time period.
I’d have to disagree here. The only difference between rich and poor kids is socialization. With genetic engineering, you’d have that AND genetic differences. I think these genetic differences would, over a few generations, quickly result in a pretty strong separation of classes.
Consider, even now, when a wealthy person marries a poor person, chances are it’s not someone who is both below average in intelligence and appearance, but likely has some redeeming quality. We just don’t see some wealthy guy end up with a poor, thoroughly average woman; they tend to be quite attractive. But now, these wealthy people would, through the miracle of genetic engineering, tend to be even more beautiful and intelligent, and so only the very best of the non-elite would break that barrier, or the very few failures fall down. I imagine that, in time, the genetically engineered would be visisibly substantially more beautiful such that even the most beautiful natural people in the lower class might pale in comparison.
I just don’t see it not becoming more and more like the Eloi and Morlocks. Sure, there may be some interbreeding at first, but chances are those children would be genetically modified as well, where the children of the lower class would often continue not to be. In as little as a generation or two, I could easily see this becoming a classism akin to how racism has been where it would largely be “icky” for the genetically modified to interbreed.