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mattbrowne's avatar

Millions of designer babies - Would society aim for uniformity or diversity once we have the means to fiddle with the human genome?

Asked by mattbrowne (31585points) May 16th, 2011

Suppose biotechnology develops the capability and a future society finds it acceptable to design the genome of our babies (using the fertilized eggs of parents as a basis).

Would practically all babies have an IQ of 150 or more? Be strong and athletic with an ideal weight? Have talents for almost everything valued by our society? Be good-natured and have a natural tendency to be happy? Be free of illness?

Or would some parents choose less intelligent babies because society wouldn’t work otherwise? Focus on one or very few talents only to make it easier for their children to choose a profession later in life?

So will we see more uniformity? Or will we be able to keep our diversity? What would large-scale genetic engineering really entail?

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14 Answers

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

What an excellent question.

I think, without a doubt, that it would run full force toward uniformity. Maybe without that intention, but everyone wants the best. However, perhaps after time, it would be more appealing to have “rare” traits or less typical traits, and it would be an issue of trending. Makes me wonder.

flutherother's avatar

There is a bit of fun in throwing the dice and seeing what comes up. I personally wouldn’t want to design my children. Some people might want to model their children on Einstein, but before Einstein was born the model didn’t exist. If we start picking our children from a catalogue the world will quickly become a very dull place. This is a modern version of eugenics which is pretty well discredited now.

Stinley's avatar

I am presuming that this will cost money so the rich will be able to afford the most intelligent children, the not so rich will get the next level and the poor will have to make do with evolution. Thus diversity will remain. It would probably be much harder to break through the higher ranks with natural intelligence. It would be interesting to see if it would be a status symbol like a big house or flashy car. Or will everyone lie and deny that they are GMOs? Like people deny they have had plastic surgery.

podwarp's avatar

This makes me think of the movie Gattaca. Watch Gattaca if you haven’t already.

That said: I honestly think there’s going to be a lot of uniformity. No one’s going to say “Oh, I want my kid to be terrible at math” and no one’s going to say they want a fat kid unless they want their kid to be a Sumo Wrestler or something.

@Stinley Mentioned that the procedure would be expensive, but I would think people would save up for it like they would a child’s college education. In fact, if the child is already predisposed to excel, then everything good will follow—which makes things much easier.

WasCy's avatar

I’m afraid that parents wouldn’t even think of first selecting for the traits you’ve mentioned, @mattbrowne. They’d want children with nice hair and teeth, within a certain height range (plus or minus), with straight noses (not too large) and a nice, even skin tone.

That they would even have brains and personalities would most likely be an afterthought in most cases. In short, not so much different from now, except that you’d never be able to tell them apart from their high school yearbook photos.

Stinley's avatar

@podwarp but some people can’t afford to save for college so the divisions between rich and poor will remain.

I was going to say something about time/aging (ie people who are having children haven’t had time to save up) but if we’re using this technology then how old the parents are won’t matter – people will live to 250 and be procreating if they want to.

rts486's avatar

I think everyone will want the children with the good health and high IQs, but will also try to incorporate some uniqueness; maybe something different with eye or hair color. Just look how parent try to come up with unique names and unique ways of spelling traditional names.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Stinley – Suppose it becomes a commodity at some point. Like buying a DVD player or getting a blood count. What happens then?

mattbrowne's avatar

@podwarp – Gattaca is a great movie but I’m not sure how well the uniformity/diversity issue was addressed. At least piano players get 12 fingers unlike astronauts which hints at diversity.

mattbrowne's avatar

@WasCy – But if everyone looks perfect and the same wouldn’t some parents want their kids to be more unique? And ideals do change over time. What exactly is the perfect nose? This could change, while probably avoiding extremes.

Stinley's avatar

@mattbrowne Negligible cost? Like DVD players used to be a complete luxury item, now are very affordable? Then I think people will have moved onto the next thing – another form of self improvement that is aspirational only for most people due to cost. There will be no end to it…

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @Stinley

Yep, I see ‘it’ taking on an elitist spin, absolutely.

I dunno…man and his relentless quest to ‘improve’ on natural design…bah humbug!

WasCy's avatar

Interesting times, @mattbrowne.

I see it as more people being more dissatisfied with more things about themselves. Here’s how: Your parents could have selected for specific traits, and did. You, on the other hand, do not want those traits (kids being kids, how can we expect that to change?). Parents will shrug and say, “We did the best we could.”

Since kids will have been designed to be exactly the way they are, they’ll demand changes to make themselves exactly the way they want to be. That’s where some uniqueness will be factored in – and most will be hacked away. Parents would have been perfectly happy with conformity. I thought this had been demonstrated well enough by now to be a truism of most of humanity. Parents want their kids to “fit in”, so they’ll make them as much like other kids as it is possible for them to do that. Kids who don’t fit in will want to fit in. Of those who do fit in, a few of them will want to stand out.

Few people want their kids to be “too” good looking, or smart or truly exceptional – and regardless of selected physical characteristics, few people want to exercise those attributes in any case.

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