Does upgrading our minds mean losing the spark of genius?

Brain

(Jesse Orrico, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: George Church, Professor of genetics, Harvard Medical School & Murali Doraiswamy, Professor, Duke University Health System


No two human brains are identical – each one of the 7.5 billion humans on earth has a unique pattern of neural wiring and encoding that provides a personalized view of the world, odd quirks and all. Studies have measured variations in human traits such as IQ scores, attention span and empathy – even variation in how our eyes and brain process the colors we see. This “neurodiversity” is thanks to both genetic diversity – the combination of genes that we’ve inherited from our parents – and what we’ve been exposed to during our lifetimes.

But could science be used to reduce neurodiversity? And should it try? Already, many conventional drugs, such as cognitive enhancers, stimulants and antidepressants, act to reduce certain elements of neurodiversity. Non-invasive prenatal testing and other forms of genetic counseling also achieve that goal, typically to reduce the risk of passing along genetic diseases, while pre-implantation genetic testing selects specific genetic traits in babies.

New human enhancement and genetic technologies – notably CRISPR – are advancing at a rapid rate. Five gene therapies are already approved for clinical use in the US or Europe for some types of cancers and retinal disease, and many hundreds more are being tested. In mice, gene-editing techniques have been used to eliminate traumatic memories and implant new memories. More than a dozen single-gene variants (some not found in nature) have been shown to improve performance on one or more cognitive tasks in animals. Some also delay cognitive decline and are moving into clinical trials.

As research on the genes underlying normal cognitive, personality and social traits progresses, it’s possible that gene-editing will give us the power to select even more such traits. If parents want a designer baby with genes to maximize their intelligence, creativity and even personality, technology could make it possible. But what skills might be unintentionally lost, and what does this mean for humankind?

Neurodiversity underlies the powerful wisdom of crowds. Studies have shown that averaging solutions from a diverse group of people results in more accurate solutions. Diverse thinking leads to diverse capabilities – variations in the art, technology, and consumer products that people imagine and engineer. Quirks allow us to see things in a different light, fueling creativity, innovation and progress.

Certainly, it’s appropriate to argue for the ethical use of genetic advances to alter or eliminate schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, dementia and other mental conditions that cause millions to suffer. But just as certainly, tinkering with the diversity of normal behavioral traits or states in people without illnesses, even making small adjustments, could unleash unintended consequences and ethical dilemmas.

Pursuing this avenue of research might be eased with advances in medical science and gene-editing techniques that could be deployed strategically. For example, rather than using genetics to completely eliminate certain traits or states of mind – those which don’t convey disability but render certain tasks difficult –the approach could instead dial these traits up or down. We might want to instill insensitivity to pain or diminish deafness, or to finely control concentration, creativity, memory, sleep, (day)dreams, or even blood flow and temperature in case of injury.

But the challenge is, as always, where to draw the line between an acceptable and unacceptable characteristic, and who draws that line? For every successful inventor with subclinical, mild ADHD or bipolar traits, there are millions who suffer the disabling consequences of ADHD and bipolar disorder. But where is the border between genius and disorder? Would it be ethical or even appropriate to conduct randomized trials to see what traits should be eliminated and which ones should not be? And what is CRISPR’s role in basic human feelings and beliefs such as love, hate, prejudice and spirituality? These are issues we have to consider carefully.

 

Today in Silicon Valley, it is widely recognized that people who think differently change the world. The bottom line is two-fold. Clearly, new genetic technologies offer people the promise of richer lives with a decreased risk of some serious diseases and disabilities. But if we want our richly creative and innovative world to thrive, we should also seek ways to embrace and preserve our diverse traits. Our future may depend on how well we can balance these needs.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Lebanon: UN rights office calls for de-escalation of protest violence

Here’s how companies can make sure they are blockchain-ready

Why the financial scandals multiply?

JADE Generations Club: Connecting perspectives, changing Europe.

At global health forum, UN officials call for strong, people-focused health systems

To entrepreneurship and beyond!

My ‘’cultural’’ contacts with China

‘We are nowhere closer’ to Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, than a year ago, Security Council hears

‘Rare but devastating’ tsunamis underscore need for better preparation, UN chief urges on World Day

‘Regional security and integration’ in Central Africa under threat, Security Council warned

‘Spectre of poverty’ hangs over tribes and indigenous groups: UN labour agency

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Romania submits official recovery and resilience plan

Artificial intelligence: Commission takes forward its work on ethics guidelines

Industrial policy: recommendations to support Europe’s leadership in six strategic business areas

The ocean is teeming with microplastic – a million times more than we thought, suggests new research

Can Obama attract Iran close to the US sphere of influence?

Bring killers of journalists to justice: UN agency seeks media partners for new campaign

Regulate social media platforms to defend democracy, MEPs say

Canada has the most comprehensive and elaborate migration system, but some challenges remain

G20 LIVE: World Leaders in Turkey for G20 Summit. Global Economy will be discussed in Antalya

These countries are the most optimistic about economic recovery from the pandemic

Last-chance Commission: Why Juncker promised investments of €300 billion?

COP25: Developing nation’s strike hard

Ireland’s planning to make its Emerald Isle even greener

Peer-to-peer learning: a way to develop medical students’ trainings

ISIL continues to pose a ‘serious challenge’ worldwide – UN counter-terror chief

Biodiversity: MEPs demand binding targets to protect wildlife and people

Leaders need hard data to make the hard decisions about sustainability

Nicaragua ‘crisis’ still cause for concern amid murder, torture allegations: Bachelet

Trump: Hostile to Europe, voids Tillerson’s “ironclad” ally pledge

Businesses, governments and consumers to implement a more climate-friendly approach to #BeatPlasticPollution on World Environment Day 2018

Right2Water initiative: Is the Commission ready to listen to citizens?

Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate deal is bad for US business. Here’s why.

3 natural mysteries that could be explained by quantum physics

The winds of change: 5 charts on the future of offshore power

Millions of Bangladeshi children at risk from climate crisis, warns UNICEF

COVID-19 and the importance of scientific credibility in decreasing the number of cases

Antitrust: Commission opens investigation into possible anti-competitive conduct of Amazon

Plastic is a global problem. It’s also a global opportunity

NASA is recruiting new astronauts – this is what it takes to apply

Why it’s time to celebrate migrants

Fighting forest fires in Europe – how it works

The Pegasus Project awarded the 2021 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism

Detecting online child sexual abuse requires strong safeguards

Sexual reproductive health rights SRHR and ending HIV: can one be achieved without the other?

Greenhouse gas emissions have already peaked in 30 major cities

Transparency, EU values, and pluralism: new rules for European political parties

Central Asia bloc has important role in ‘peace, stability and prosperity’ beyond region, says Deputy UN chief

Greater transparency, fairer prices for medicines ‘a global human rights issue’, says UN health agency

It’s time to end our ‘separate but unequal’ approach to mental health

How smart tech helps cities fight terrorism and crime

EU and Mercosur reach agreement on trade

UN committed to helping Haiti build better future, says Guterres, marking 10-year anniversary of devastating earthquake

Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to O2 CZ, CETIN and T-Mobile CZ for their network sharing agreement

5 things to know about the exploding world of pro gaming

World Food Programme accesses Yemeni frontline district for first time since conflict began

UN chief calls for ‘immediate end’ to escalation of fighting in southwestern Syria, as thousands are displaced

The world’s food waste problem is bigger than we thought – here’s what we can do about it

A Sting Exclusive: “Seize the opportunity offered by Africa’s continental free trade area”, written by the Director General of UNIDO

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: