By Dave B.
Recently, a Chinese scientist announced that he genetically engineered a set of twin girls to be resistant to HIV. By any definition, this is a miraculous breakthrough (assuming the claims are true; until his claims are peer-reviewed, I’m remaining in the skeptical camp). I personally don’t have any moral objection to genetically engineering anything, including people. However, I recognize that genetically engineering the human race, particularly now, isn’t just opening Pandora’s Box; it’s opening the box, dumping out all of its contents, and then smashing it on the floor. If people can be designed to be resistant to disease, they can also be designed for enhanced intelligence and designer physical characteristics. Human civilization just isn’t capable of dealing with the consequences of engineered superhumans, which is the inevitable (and likely near-term) result of this event. Here are a few reasons why:
War of the Masses, The Outcome Disastrous
People around the world are currently demonstrating an understandable intolerance for perceived inequalities of all types. And when they don’t feel that their grievances are being recognized, respected, and acted upon, they’re (less understandably, but predictably) turning to extremist movements, beliefs, ideologies, and charlatans. How do you think people will react when confronted by a group of humans that are designed to be superior in objectively measurable ways?
People who are worried about losing their jobs to foreigners or perceive themselves as being discriminated against for some physical attribute are going to lose their minds when they find the upper echelons of society completely closed to themselves and their children because of the existence of people who are designed to be smarter and stronger than anyone nature is likely to produce in the near-term. Unmodified people will, at best, become a permanent underclass in most societies. More likely, they'll try to fight for their existence (more on this in a moment).
Having China be the leader in this field is extremely problematic, as it would be if any authoritarian regime were. China already has a long history of controlling people’s reproductive choices (forcing millions of women to get abortions, for example) and it’s not hard to imagine them forcing many of their citizens to bear designer babies. What’s the West to do? The United States already finds itself underperforming on most international educational metrics and most Western countries aren’t going to force their citizens to genetically engineer their children. But by respecting individual rights, the West will fall further and further behind countries that don’t consider individual rights to be an issue.
People from military planners to academics to politicians are in nearly universal agreement that having the most advanced technology is the key to gaining and preserving prosperity. But within a generation or two, the West will have fallen so far behind China in technological capability (due to the former having absolutely and, perhaps relatively, fewer genetically engineered geniuses) that they will have no hope of EVER catching up. That makes the prospect of preemptive war not only more likely, but a virtual certainty, if it ever looks like China (or any other country) appears to be close to rolling out genetically engineered improvements to their societies in a wholesale manner.
There Can Be Only One
Combined with advances in automation, designer humans will pretty much represent the doom of any but the most exceptional unmodified people. In a worst case scenario, they represent nearly the exact same threat that a rogue AI would, except that they’re fundamentally human, with all of the potential for chaos and cruelty that that entails. If they know that unmodified humans would someday be a threat to them (which is an obvious possibility even to non-superhuman minds) why would they wait around and continue to allow that threat to exist? I wouldn’t, in their shoes.
Even assuming that the new genetic overlords are completely benevolent, their existence means that, assuming Darwinian evolution still holds in complex societies, unmodified humans will eventually be out-competed for resources and driven extinct. You don’t believe me? Let’s find some Homo Neanderthalensis and ask them what they think about it. The fact is that we humans are fighters and conflict between what may fundamentally be two different species of humans is common in our history. And in any fight between the unmodified and the enhanced, my money is on the people with the most brains and resources.
I already know that a lot of people are going to dismiss my concerns as being either too extreme, too alarmist, or too premature. And frankly, those may be fair arguments. But the truth is, that the only pushback that will impact my opinion on this will have to be based on historical precedent and in that arena, the evidence is pretty much 100% on my side. So buckle up. We’re likely in for quite a ride.