Genetic Free Speech
Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to co-teach a new interdisciplinary class at Stanford with Prof. Larry Lessig. It was called “Ideas vs. Matter: the Code in Tiny Spaces” and we discussed genetics, nanotechnology and the regulatory ecosystem.
We went in with the presumption that society will likely try to curtail “genetic free speech” as it applies to human germ line engineering, and thereby curtail the evolution of evolvability. Lessig predicts that we will recapitulate the 200-year debate about the First Amendment to the Constitution. Pressures to curtail free genetic expression will focus on the dangers of “bad speech”, and others will argue that good genetic expression will crowd out the bad. Artificial chromosomes (whereby children can decide whether to accept genetic enhancements when they become adults) can decouple the debate about parental control. And, with a touch of irony, China may lead the charge.
Many of us subconsciously cling to the selfish notion that humanity is the endpoint of evolution. In the debates about machine intelligence and genetic enhancements, there is a common and deeply rooted fear about being surpassed – in our lifetime. But, when framed as a question of parenthood (would you want your great grandchild to be smarter and healthier than you?), the emotion often shifts from a selfish sense of supremacy to a universal human search for symbolic immortality.