Superhumans (Was: Hedonistic Imperative)

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Mon Jun 19 2000 - 15:53:26 MDT

Just a little story that wanted to write itself:

People always miss the obvious.

Back in the 10's human germline engineering became practical. At first
there was a general moral panic about how the rich would now create
their own superkids, and a general wringing of hands over how some
people would play God. Meanwhile, parents quietly went for holiday to
nations where the procedure was legal, and returned
pregnant. "Genning", as people called it, became more and more
affordable and over the years the obvious hypocricy undermined the
bans. After the taboo against gengineering vanished, the pendulum
swung the other way. Modifying the genes of one's child went from
official abomination to something everybody did but nobody spoke about
to something fashionable to all the rage. Several suitably charismatic
and outspoken geneticists became celebrities, parenting magazines were
filled with articles on which apolipoprotein allele to choose and Time
Magazine had the superhuman on the cover: an aloof, brainy, beautiful
androgyne looking at the viewer seriously. While of course a great
deal of people disagreed, most were enthusiastic about the next step
in human evolution. It became the cause of generation Y: to be the
parents of the superhuman.

The first "superchildren" were not that super. They just lacked most
genetic diseases and genes known to cause trouble. Healthy, wanted
children with a good life expectancy. Hardly any superhumans. New
genes coding for extreme longevity, improved bodies and metabolism
were found, but the children were still just very healthy, beautiful,
tall and supple people who could expect to live until 200. More
radical changes were possible, but very few parents wanted to subject
their children to tiger fur, extra limbs or other exotica. Discreet
adaptations like infravision and ultrasound hearing were briefly
fashionable in the late 2020's, but that was all.

As genetics and cognitive neuroscience boomed, the race for the
superbrain began in earnest. Improving memory and mental health was
fairly straighforward, resulting in stable bookworms. Intelligence was
another matter - while there were thousands of genes that could
decrease it, there were few genes that individually could increase
it. Complex schemes involving neurotransmittors, tailored new subtypes
of neurons in the frontal cortex and developing schooling that would
be optimal for the genes and vice versa were tried. The result was a
lot of bright, overeducated kids - it was hard to see them as
superhumans, even when they showed off their visualisation abilities
or beat you in chess. The antigenetics people feared them of course,
seeing them as cold plotters, but most were just normal if bright
kids, just as likely to try to take over the world as the anti's own
unmodified kids.

One problem with the brights was emotional problems. Many got tired of
all the desiger schooling, or saw through their parents wishes. When
they reached adolescence many had so creative teenage rebellions that
the media talked about the emergence of "the new Sturm und Drang",
hoping for a harvest of romantic geniuses. While they certainly got
enough moody teenagers that eloquently explained everything wrong with
society, most people wanted happier kids. Hence the personality design
revolution of the 40's.

Getting rid of schizophrenia, most kinds of depression and creating
stable, happy personalities was the first step. Later parents wanted
more refined sensibilities, greater creativity, more complex but at
the same time integrated personalities. The result was a whole
generation of children that were not born as full self-actualizers,
but had a good chance of becoming it naturally. Even under harsh
circumstances many of them prospered, reaching emotional maturity long
before their parents had. In a few years kindergartens and schools
became changed places, and many teachers reported that they had
trouble handling these nice kids - they were used to a completely
different kind. But while most people liked them, they were hardly the
superhuman, the next step in evolution, people still eagerly waited

It appeared quietly, completely obvious in retrospect but unnoticed in
its day. In 2047 EugeniX had found a genetic combination that promoted
a sense of humor. It was popular, but most parents were much more
concerned about getting the right adaptivity-enhancers or improved
visual systems. In the middle 2050's people began to notice how happy
the kids were. They were just as well adjusted as their elders,
although a great deal more boisterous, but most importantly they
seemed so content, so aware. And they were hillarious - instead of the
old tired jokes, handed down through generations and stuck in a
society generations gone, they invented completely new jokes. They
invented new ways of joking. They took punning beyond mere language,
and their practical jokes were marvels that left "victims", spectators
and the kids themselves laughing and smiling for weeks afterwards.

As the influence of the kids spread, society took on a noticeably more
optimistic mood. Sure, the problems with antigenetics violence,
globalising ecosystems, nanotech disarmament and dynamic network
turbulence remained as bad as ever, but now people could smile at them
and think that maybe there was a solution after all. It also became
more and more clear that the new kids were not at all like their
parents or older siblings. They were a new species, thinking and
feeling in a somehow different but eminently likeable way. Their
perspective on life was at the same detached and enthusiastic, as if
everything was a huge wonderful joke they were telling right now with
total concentration. Some called them buddha-kids, others just the
joy generation.

They were irresistible. While throughout the genetics era there had
been firm resistance against modifications not to mention the idea of
a superhumanity, the kids broke them down. You had to be bigoted to an
almost psychotic level not to like the kids, and the firmest
principles dissolved when confronted with their jokes. A few steadfast
opponents remained, but for all practical purposes the battle was
won. Hence, no parents would ever consider giving birth to a child
without the humor genes.

Now only we old normals remain; everybody else is one of the laughing,
immortal, smart people. While modern medicine might keep us alive up
to 150, we are slowly dwindling. But we are content and happy. And
definitely not bored: superhumans have a great sense of humor.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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