Designer babies. The term means many things to many people. To some it means kids only dressed in Gucci.
Some say that by doing pre-implantation genetic screening, we are already living in the age of designer babies. Others have been holding out for that time when humans edit their own germline offering the new progeny not only disease repair, but also enhancements. It's also argued there’s a third category in the middle there somewhere, a protection against disease in the future. That’s what He Jiankui attempted.
We don’t know yet if Jiankui was successful. But we know that if he wasn’t, he showed us that the next success is just around the corner. And the next.
“This story is getting more sci-fi every minute. Michael Crichton couldn’t have made this stuff up,” tweeted Eric Topol of the Scripps Institute as the He Jiankui saga unfolded.
“That tweet is in many ways wrong. Science fiction of course can imagine it. Michael Crichton could and did make it up. But other science fiction writers who are more skillful than Michael Crichton have been talking about messing with germline for a long time now."
That’s today’s guest, award winning sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson (The Mars Trilogy, Red Moon) at the outset of today’s show. What sets Stan (as he's called) apart from many of those other sci-fi writers, is that he doesn’t think it practical to enhance humans genetically. He’s thought about it his entire career, and like going faster than the speed of light, it’s one of those impractical barriers, he says.
"What would you change? How would you know that was going to make it better without running human experimentation which can't be done. It's not just ethics, it's practicality. We wouldn't know what to do to make ourselves smarter or stronger."
Wait. Did you hear what I heard?! This is a sci-fi writer who specializes in thinking into the future, and he doesn’t think humans can be enhanced!
Well, either he has some mighty big convincing to do, or this was the biggest bomb of an interview ever. I mean, come on, of course humans can be enhanced.