Re: Lanier essay of 2001.12.04

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Wed Dec 12 2001 - 08:52:30 MST

On Mon, Dec 10, 2001 at 04:11:14PM -0500, Dossy wrote:
> The fear is that through cloning/GE, there will be an artificial
> imbalance in the way genetic populations evolve and self-regulate.
> Population will be over-run by "designer humans", potentially
> those who have genetics that are not naturally possible via
> reproduction.

This is the most common cloning/GE fear, but the reasons why this is bad
(and why people use 'over-run' rather than 'enriched') are somewhat
muddy. Part of it is simply a basic belief that the natural ways are
right in both a practical and a moral sense, but your argument also
shows an interesting side which I have not quite seen articulated here

If I understood you right, "designer" humans would be determined by
social or cultural norms to a larger degree than we are right now, and
since people can easily list many possible distasteful, limiting or
prejudiced norms it follows that being born naturally protects us from
them - nature may or may not be "good", but at least it isn't bigoted.

The problems with this reason is

1) that usually no estimation of the likeliehood of different bad social
influences is made. A society where rape is promoted is used to
demonstrate how evil cultures can be, and it does its rhetorical work
without having to explain if any such societies are likely to be
relevant in the future. More likely but low-level bad stuff, like
traditional sexism or parents seeking to make their childrens like the
current president, is put on an even footing with the extreme claim.

2) the assumption that things will get worse if humans are allowed to
take responsibility for them. This is largely based on the ease we can
come up with bad scenarios and examples of mistreatments in the past,
while leaving out all the good things. One reason is of course that good
news are not very exciting, so they do not get trumpeted about as much
or written about in history books. But there is also an assumption here
that mankind is always fallen, and increased freedom always must result
in increased evil actions rather than increased evil and good actions.

3) The assumption that the best way of handling this potential risk is
to abstain from a technology that could be bad in a repressive society,
rather than seek to deal with the repressive society. If we are worried
about sexism, maybe we should see what we can do about sexism in our own
society. If we are worried about cloning being used to create carbon
copy people, maybe the right way to handle it is to strengthen

> Another (somewhat unrelated) scary thought experiment:
> People fear cloning/GE used to produce "designer humans" that
> are better than organic/natural humans. Has anyone discussed
> the fear of using cloning/GE as a weapon?

Yes, there are *piles* of rather uninformed fear about cloned armies of
supersoldiers and genetic weapons. The problem with such a program of
timed-destruction would of course be that in the meantime there is a
good chance that somebody will do a gene sequence of a "weaponized"
person, discover an interesting allele, write a paper about it, others
would discover its function and suddenly you would have a large part of
the medical establishment rushing to find a cure for this new genetic

> Similar to the conspiracy theory behind HIV/AIDS, but I think
> this one is a lot scarier. Unless, genetic testing becomes
> as accessible as HIV testing ...

Given the current trends in paranoia and sequencing technology, it seems
rather likely.

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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