Sergey Nivens/

Could genius be genetically engineered?

A fascinating discussion is bound to develop around this topic when your chosen panel includes anthropologist/psychologist Stephen Pinker and two professorial colleagues such as Dalton Conley (social sciences) and Stephen Hsu (theoretical physics). The resulting video, filmed last week at New York City’s 92nd Street Y, would have been more streamlined than its one hour+ if the moderator had actually moderated rather than using the panel as a skittles run for his own theorising, but some key reflections couldn’t help bursting through.

Even the specialist panellists have been surprised at the pace of the science over the last few years, and at the resulting, wider accessibility of gene editing technology as the knowledge spreads and costs plummet. On the basis that nature has won any nature v nurture debate and that any feature of a living organism that has a genetic foundation can be genetically engineered to enhance or diminish the effect of the gene or genes, it would appear that the answer to the headline question will be yes, even if it is not happening yet. More pressing than the “could it” question will be those questions more related to ethics and values than to data and science. These include “will it?”, “by whom?”, and “to what purpose?”

How we manipulate both nature and nurture in enhancing intelligence is familiar to people who make choices of smarter mates, better schools and healthier lifestyles. In considering the viability of genetic engineering as just another choice to be made, we will be considering the same filters of benefit over risk, fairness, accessibility, and the opportunity cost to our species of not taking a significant opportunity if and when it presents itself. Would we hobble ourselves if the price were our own extinction?

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