Re: Cloning is Here

Hal Finney (
Sun, 23 Feb 1997 12:28:51 -0800

I'm not sure how beneficial this will be to us as individuals.
The ability to make clones in itself will not allow individuals to
improve their own genetics. No doubt the technique will allow new
research directions which will shed useful light on various diseases
and genetic problems, but if we focus on human cloning itself I don't
see many direct benefits.

There are serious problems raised as well. Let us suppose that it
becomes relatively common for people to choose to give birth to a
clone of an existing person rather than a new individual with randomly
chosen genetics. You can get a sure thing rather than a crap shoot.
Of course the sure thing may lack any of the parents' genes, but the
experience of people who adopt children suggests that this may not be
much of a barrier. You can have a child who is virtually guaranteed to
be a genius, or have marvelous atheletic or musical talent, or to be a
physical beauty, simply by cloning an adult with these characteristics.

Or people may choose to clone themselves, Mommy's little girl and Daddy's
little boy. Everyone who ever secretly wanted a twin sibling can now
get their wish, albeit gratification delayed. You can raise your clone
just the way you would have wanted to be raised.

These are new ideas and it is easy to have a knee-jerk negative reaction,
but maybe they aren't that bad. We could actually see a tremendous
improvement in productivity and creativity, especially if we believe that
progress is largely caused by the most talented people. There could
be a whole generation of scientific geniuses, composers, entertainers.
It could be a new renaissance as the human race ascends to a higher level,
a big step towards the Singularity.

At the same time there are obvious problems with such a society. A
child who grows up as a clone is going to be facing an unusual set of
expectations. Hopefully his innate talents will be in close accordance
with his pre-programmed career goals, so that the Michael Jordan clones
will take to basketball as soon as they can walk. And these would not
be the first people to find they were born to greatness; think of the
industrial or royal heirs of the past. Many people have thrived in such
an environment. After some trial and error, clones can be identified
who do so as well. But the casualties along the way could be very ugly.
And I doubt that the mommy-clones will do well very often.

The loss of diversity could be a long term problem, as we fix on the
best people in the current gene pool without doing the continual search
needed to find better people to clone. This is like a simulated annealing
optimization program where you cool it too fast. It would be better to
have a lot of the Einsteins marry the lady geniuses, hoping to get some
even-better kids out of the mix to serve as future clone sources. Social
problems could arise as well as more people fell into just a few clonal
families; without the broad range of human characteristics we have today
people might feel alienated from others who were too different from them.

Ownership of genetic code is an interesting problem with a lot of
similarities to today's debate about intellectual property. Copying
someone's genetic code (which might in theory be possible simply by
stealing a few flaked-off skin cells) doesn't hurt him any; he hasn't
lost anything by it. Should a person be able to control how and when
new clones of himself are made? If so, how about second-generation copies?
Can the Van Cliburn clones make money by cloning themselves, or do they
have to pay royalties to their "upline"?

Overall, this is a very mixed bag. I suppose one important fact is that
by the time humans are cloned and grown, enough other changes will have
occured that this will be just one of many ways that people will be able
to control their biology. But hopefully the newer technologies will
give people control over their own bodies rather than their children's.