Re: MEDICINE: When it rains it pours

From: Mike Linksvayer (
Date: Sat Dec 01 2001 - 18:00:45 MST

On Sat, Dec 01, 2001 at 06:26:04AM -0800, Robert J. Bradbury wrote:
> As I pointed out to Eliezer offlist, once you have applications
> that allow the administration of brain cells into the brain and
> once we understand the qualities of brain cells that serve to
> increase intelligence (presumably intelligence genotyping is
> ongoing as I type) then adding genes (or a chromosome) to
> an embryonic stem cell for increased intelligence, producing
> millions or billions of them and augmenting your brain isn't
> going to be far behind.

I realize you're speculating, but this excites me... It appears
to me that we haven't really made any progress on the intelligence
increase front. Smart drugs generated lots of interest ~10 years
ago, but none have really been demonstrated to have a significant
impact on intelligence AFAIK. Hard mental exercise is still the
only real option available.

So, if you or anyone would care to speculate a bit more, I'm
interested in 1) how and where new cells would be administered into
the bean and 2) what kind of an impact such might have on intelligence.

> It is likely to raise some thorny
> ethical issues because its likely to be a pretty expensive
> therapy initially -- one which would serve to increase the
> divide between rich and poor.

I don't know that it would initially increase the rich/poor divide.
Intelligence is no guarantee of financial success. Side effects
could further hamper the earning power of early recipients. If
the procedure(s) are expensive enough and paid for by recipients,
initially the divide might narrow.

But really, concern over intelligence-generated gap between rich
and poor has got to be combatted. In a relatively free market, if
someone gets rich through applying their intellect, they only get
rich to the extent they provide superior goods that people are
willing to pay for, increasing the wealth of the entire society in
the process.

Would those who profess concern that intelligence increase might
increase the gap between rich and poor (which I think usually simply
masks envy and fear of change) advocate reducing the intelligence
of those above average (surgery? shock therapy? neurotoxins?) in
order to decrease the gap between rich and poor? If equality of
wealth is more important than overall wealth, where does one draw
the line?

Sometimes I'm jealous of people much smarter than I (including most
members of this list...). Far more than jealously though I feel
gratitude. I imagine that if everyone smarter than I were dumbed
down to my level scientific and technological progress would slow
down tremendously, even grind to a halt or regress in many areas.
If everyone above average were to be dumbed down to average, I
imagine that many processes would break down, there would be mass
hardship and starvation (in the "first" world too), and even a soft
singularlity would be many centuries distant, if not downright

Similarly, if I could magically grant everyone already more
intelligent than I even more intelligence, increasing the gap
between us, or even just grant everyone more intelligence with the
exception of myself, I'd do in in a second. Whatever feelings of
envy or inadequacy I may feel as I result would be far outweighed
by the many free lunches I'd get resulting from a society of more
intelligent individuals.

> The other aspect that will
> be interesting is that this will be at the edge of what
> regulatory agencies will be willing to approve and what
> most humans would be willing to do to themselves due
> to potentially unknown risks.

We can count on regulators to drag their feet every step of the
way, particularly where technologies are targeted at improvement
rather than healing. The interesting thing might not be what
agencies are willing to explicitly approve, but rather what can be
gotten away with at the margins of regulatory oversight (due to
ill-defined regulations and/or availability of jurisdictions that
don't care as much). But improvement vs. healing may not be such
a huge hurdle. Because there will be risks involved, I suspect
that most early adopters will be people who do have some kind of
damage or disease they wish to compensate for/recover from. The
technology can be proven legally with risk-takers who ostensibly
aren't in it for improvement. Once proven, others can obtain the
procedures in jurisdictions that don't care about the "ethics" of
improvement vs. healing so long as you have the cash.

  Mike Linksvayer

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