Smarter humans, not artificial intellegence

by wubbles 1 min read30th Nov 201513 comments


I'm writing this article to explain some of the facts that have convinced me that increasing average human intelligence through traditional breeding and genetic manipulation is likelier to reduce existential risks in the short and medium term then studying AI risks, while providing all kinds of side benefits.

Intelligence is useful to achieve goals, including avoiding existential risks. Higher intelligence is associated with many diverse life outcomes improving, from health to wealth. Intelligence may have synergistic effects on economic growth, where average levels of intelligence matter more for wealth then individual levels. Intelligence is a polygenetic trait with strong heritability. Sexual selection in the Netherlands has resulted in extreme increases in average height over the past century: sexual selection for intelligence might do the same. People already select partners for intelligence, and egg donors are advertised by SAT score.

AI research seems to be intelligence constrained. Very few of those capable of making a contribution are aware of the problem, or find it interesting. The Berkeley-MIRI seminar has increased the pool of those aware of the problem, but the total number of AI safety researchers remain small. So far very foundational problems remain to be solved. This is likely to take a very long time: it is not unusual for mathematical fields to take centuries to develop. Furthermore, we can work on both strategies at once and observe spillover from one into the other, as the larger intelligence baseline translates into an increase on the right tail of the distribution.

How could we accomplish this? One idea, invented by Robert Heinlein, as far as I know, is to subsidize marriages between people of higher than usual intelligence and their having children.  This idea has the benefit of being entirely non-coercive. It is however unclear how much these subsidies would need to be to influence behavior, and given the strong returns to intelligence in life outcomes, unclear that they can further influence behavior.

Another idea would be to conduct genetic studies to find genes which influence genetics, and conduct genome modification. This plan suffers from illegality, lack of knowledge of genetic factors of intelligence,  and absence of effective means for genome editing (they tried CRISPR on human embryos: more work is needed). However, the result of this work can be sold for money, thus opening the possibility of using VC money to develop it. Illegality can be dealt with by influencing jurisdictions. However, the impact is likely to be limited due to the cost of these methods which will prevent them from having population-wide influence, instead becoming yet another advantage the affluent attempt to purchase. These techniques are likely to have vastly wider application, and so will be commercially developed anyway.

In conclusion genetic modification of humans to increase intelligence is practical in the near terms, and it may be worth diverting some effort to investigating it further.