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.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

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

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

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

Macron’s Presidency: what the young generation’s expectations are

Health without borders: How we can Improve International Collaboration in Health Care

3 reasons we should all care about biodiversity

ISIL’s ‘legacy of terror’ in Iraq: UN verifies over 200 mass graves

What is hydroponics – and is it the future of farming?

Why are the Balkans’ political leaders meeting in Geneva this week?

Do all you can to resolve climate change ‘sticking points’ UN chief urges South-East Asian leaders, in Bali

Chernobyl nuclear disaster-affected areas spring to life, 33 years on

The Italian crisis may act as a catalyst for less austerity

End ‘political opportunism’ that’s letting hate speech flourish, urges top UN genocide official

Migration crisis update: Greece could probably say goodbye to Schengen really soon

Philippe de Backer of ALDE at European Business Summit 2015 stresses: “Reinvent your business”

UN food relief agency airlifts aid to DR Congo province hit by Ebola outbreak

IQ scores have been falling for decades, new study finds

Capital markets selloff: The financial moguls send messages to monetary authorities

Globalization 4.0 must build a better world for working people

TTIP is not dead as of yet, the 15th round of negotiations in New York shouts

It’s time we took a seat ‘at your table’: Guterres calls on world youth to keep leading climate emergency response

More answers from Facebook ahead of Parliament hearing today

The creative technology and its advancements

Brexit: European Commission intensifies preparedness work and outlines contingency action plan in the event of a no deal scenario with the UK

EU budget for 2021-2027: Commission welcomes provisional agreement on Horizon Europe, the future EU research and innovation programme

A Sting Exclusive: “Consumer expectations for the 2015 UN summit on climate change”, Director General of BEUC Monique Goyens outlines from Brussels

EU budget 2021-2027: Commission calls on leaders to set out a roadmap towards an autumn agreement

Governments and non-state actors need to take urgent action to meet Paris Agreement goals

Travel the world, find yourself

‘No safe way’ into battle-scarred Afghan city of Ghazni to deliver aid as traumatized children search for parents

This project is turning abandoned fishing gear into volleyball nets

5 ways to fast-track the transition to a carbon neutral world

‘Ground-breaking innovation’ needed in cities, where battle for sustainable development will be won or lost, says UN agency chief

Why we need a moderate approach to moderating online content

‘Global sisterhood’ tells perpetrators ‘time is up’ for pandemic of violence

Medical students as the critical link to address climate change

‘Passport to dignity’ that schools represent may expire fast, without emergency funding warns UN Palestine refugee agency

Fostering intergenerational solidarity and cooperation through age-friendly environments: the right answer to Europe’s demographic challenge

Prisoner executions in Belarus ‘simply unacceptable’, says UN rights body

These charts show where the world’s refugees came from in 2017 – and where they’re heading

Why saving our forests should be a global priority

Consumer product quality: Parliament takes aim at dual standards

EU Parliament: No EU-US trade agreement without safe data

China hopes EU Commissioner De Gucht drops super anti-dumping tariff on solar panels

Environmental labelling, information and management schemes are central to the circular economy

‘Safe Eurobonds’: a new trick to betray the south euro area countries

Moves to create a Kosovo army have ‘deteriorated relations’ with Serbia: UN peacekeeping chief

Although Greece is struggling to pay salaries and pensions Varoufakis is “optimistic”; the Sting reports live from EBS 2015

OECD sees global growth slowing, as Europe weakens and risks persist

Israel @ MWC14: Israel The Start App Nation

Backed by UN, Asia-Pacific countries to advance space technology for ‘development transformation’

UN member states express their will to tackle global migration but specific actions are still missing

‘Virtual Biopsy’ device detects skin tumours in 15 minutes

Fleeing Venezuela: MEPs to probe humanitarian conditions in Colombia and Brazil

CDU-SPD agree the terms for EU’s Banking Union

The ECB again takes care of the bankers not the people

European Parliament calls on Russia to end occupation of Georgian territories

A Sting Exclusive: “Change is challenge, change is opportunity”, Commissioner Bienkowska cries out live from European Business Summit 2015

This new way of understanding disease is changing medicine

UN mission welcomes Afghan government’s announcement of Eid holiday ceasefire

The EU responds to US challenges by fining Apple with €13 billion

Climate change will force us to redefine economic growth

European Commissioner for Youth wants young people to be at heart of policy making

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