Genetically Engineered Intelligence

by Jordan 1 min read5th Dec 201027 comments


There are a lot of unknowns about the future of intelligence: artificial intelligence, uploading, augmentation, and so on. Most of these technologies are likely a ways off, or at least far enough away to confound predictions. Genetic engineering, however, presents a very near term and well understood possibility for developing greater intelligence.

A recent news story published in South China Morning and discussed on Steve Hsu's blog highlights China's push to understand the genetic underpinnings of intelligence. China is planning to sequence the full genome of 1000 of its brightest kids, in the hopes of locating key genes responsible for higher intelligence. Behind the current project is BGI, which is aiming to be (or already is) the largest DNA sequencing center in the world.

Suppose that intelligence has a large genetic component (reasonable, considering estimates for heritability). Suppose that the current study unveils those components (if not this study, then likely another study soon, perhaps with millions of genomes). Then with some advances in genetic engineering China could quickly raise a huge population of incredibly intelligent people.

Such an endeavor could never be carried out on a large, public scale in the West, but it seems China has fewer qualms.

The timescales here are on the order of 20 years, which are relevant compared to most estimates for AI and WBE. More, genetic engineering human intelligence seems to be on a much more predictable path than other intelligence technologies. For both these reasons I think understanding, discussing, and keeping an eye on this issue is important.

What are the ramifications for

  • AI research? FAI? In particular relating to enhanced humans speeding further development
  • Whole Brain Emulation research?
  • Other technologies that may pose existential risks (nanotech, biotech, etc, especially in light of the fact that it may be China leading the way)?
  • The potential for recursive feedback? (Smarter scientists engineering smarter scientists. Less worrisome due to timescales)

Of course, there are a host of other interesting questions relating to societal impact, both near and long term. Feel free to discuss these as well.