Thoughts on rationalism and the rationalist community from a skeptical perspective. The author rejects rationality in the sense that he believes it isn't a logically coherent concept, that the larger rationalism community is insufficiently critical of it's beliefs and that ELIEZER YUDKOWSKY IS NOT THE TRUE CALIF.

Why Must Genetic Enhancement Be Dystopian?

Don't Project Modern Anxieties on Future Tech

I like the idea of this oped series and I’m glad genetic modification is becoming a more mainstream topic. However, I’m very disappointed that the author took the easy (but usually inaccurate) path of projecting our current fears onto future tech rather than carefully trying to work out the novel new effects good and bad (tho the dystopian predictions never seem to get it right).

Shortcomings

Indeed, we can already dismiss some of the core presumptions of the oped as implausible. Like computer tech biotech has economies of scale and continual cost reductions so let’s try not to repeat the mistakes we made worrying about the digital divide rather than what will happen when everyone’s online. Maybe only the rich will get customized babies but once we learn how to perform the procedure the marginal cost will drop very quickly (indeed I’d guess the IVF treatment will be the major cost hurdle but not out of reach of most Americans). An oped that looked into the potential effects of conformity as a result of mass produced genetic packages would have been much more interesting. As would discussion of the potential implications of parents having the option of changing their babies apparent race.

Second, by hypothesis being genetically engineered is a huge benefit to earnings but merely because of employer reaction rather than true talent. But you can’t BOTH claim that’s true, gene modification is the cause of growing caste divides and the public gene enhancement project didn’t raise salaries since either the elites must really have some extra ability or employers are just using gene enhancement as an excuse to hire the children of elites (so it’s not the gene editing that’s driving inequality). Moreover, if private gene editing offers these great economic benefits there should be plenty of financing opportunities along the lines of the education loans that take a fraction of future earnings.

Positive Effects

Finally, either the IQ enhancement really works or it doesn’t. If it creates substantial IQ boosts we know based on what we see now that this makes huge differences in people’s ability to do various jobs and tasks. You’re not likely to see a research mathematician or physicist with an IQ below 120 and these careers have pretty objective measures of success. So people would simply be able to go check if all the major new theorems and breakthroughs in the sciences are all from genetically enhanced or not (whether it’s IQ or the result of better motivation).

If so that means society is much better off (richer, more capable more medical tech) even as a result of elites getting these modifications. Also it makes it more implausible prices haven’t dropped. In terms of changes to society the likely effects of turning one Einstein or Feynman (or even Sergey Brin and Larry Page) every 50 years into 10 a year would pretty seismic. On the other hand if you don’t see this actually making a difference in these objectively measurable fields it will eventually start to dawn on people it’s not really working at all.

This is only the most obvious and easiest to think of positive effect. Personally, I’m a big fan of the fact that it could finally bring about an end to traditional racism. The fact that parents can choose a race for their children turns race into a matter of fashion rather than a matter of ancestry. Of course, parents will often want their children to look like them but this mere possibility puts a limit on how bad the discrimination can be since if it’s bad enough you don’t put your kid through it. Moreover, once we start editing the genome I’d be shocked if we didn’t work out pretty quickly how to couple melanin production to some other uncommon nutrient or add a hook which allows it to be suppressed giving people a choice about how to present themselves. Once people can change their skin color for aesthetic effect or for a concert it will fundamentally end traditional racism.

While a homogenous army of tall men with blue eyes and firm handshakes might seem undesirable consider the benefits of a little more homogeneity in looks. Just tweaking people so the bottom 20% of the looks bracket no longer exists (i.e. now looks better) will make a huge difference in people’s welfare and it will encourage people to focus more on things besides looks once everyone has decent looks. There are so many interesting angles for fiction on this subject to cover so why must it all retread the same ground?

A Moral Imperative

Ultimately, I’d argue that we have a moral imperative to make enhancement available as soon as possible. Yes, the intelligence boosts too but the most important reason is all the unnecessary suffering that eliminating predisposition to depression or back trouble or whatever else. After antibiotics I expect that to be the next great human health advance and putting this off because we feel uncomfortable is like denying a child a vaccine because the idea of them getting artificial chemicals injected into them creeps you out.

We aren’t ready to start o humans yet but for us to get there we need to start a focused effort on learning how to manage safe and effective genetic enhancement of lower animals, primates and ultimately humans. Even if you disagree with me on the desirability of this technology you’ve got no choice. It’s inevitable and the question the world needs to answer is whether they prefer it done by third-world doctors in back rooms or safely researched by the world’s best scientists and offered in our best facilities. I don’t plan to have children but if I was and I knew I could give them an advantage by having some illegal gene editing done in some clinic I’d give it a serious thought and there are lots of people who would take it way farther even with the risks (think beauty pageant moms). So let’s get cracking.

Opinion | It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning

DNA tweaks won’t fix our problems. By Ted Chiang Mr. Chiang is an award-winning science fiction writer and the author of “Exhalation.” Editors’ note: This is the first installment in a new series, “Op-Eds From the Future,” in which science fiction authors, futurists, philosophers and scientists write op-eds that they imagine we might read 10, 20 or even 100 years in the future.

Team Rittenhouse

Or Why The Heros In Timeless Are Idiots

I just finished the first season of Timeless and I can’t help but feel the characters, and especially Lucy, are being irrational. (Some spoilers but only serious spoiler is in bullet 3 at the very end).

What they know about Rittenhouse is that every generation is initially totally horrified and appalled at the thought of it, wishes it was destroyed and eventually comes to see it as important and necessary once they have sufficient time to think and evaluate the evidence yet this gives them no pause as to whether they themselves might be in the wrong.

Indeed, the only defensible reason to be an ardent support of a democratic system is that the evidence of the past few centuries makes a super strong case that democracies are good places to live and produce far more utilities than dictatorships but if you found out that US had secretly been an oligarchy the whole time the evidence would actually point the other way and suggest skepticism of non-oligarchical rule (or well influence).

The show writers try hard to make sure we see Rittenhous as evil by making hereditary and talking about good strong bloodlines but once you’ve decided on a dictatorial system (or I guess technically a very small oligarchy) hereditary rule is probably not merely desirable but a necessity as otherwise the subsequent set of rulers will conflict with the children of the last. By having 50+ members they can smooth out the ups and downs of monarchical hereditary rule and even work expel the less able members creating positive selection pressure. As far as being from ‘good families’ well every government needs a mythos to legitimize themselves and inspire its members even if its small.

As far as the supposed bad acts that Rittenhouse is supposed to have committed in the show I have three comments.

  1. Those bad acts actually pale beside the genuine injustices and horrors the legitimate democratic government of our country committed at the same times. I mean WWI was basically a pointless slaughter of 400k US soldiers or more then there are thinks like Tuskeege, Japanese detentions etc.. etc..

    Even the recent ‘bad acts’ like killing Flynn’s family in the name of some kind of national necessity (or was it just impunity by some elements) doesn’t seem out of line compared to the (IMO often justified) use of drone strikes even given the occasional civilian casualties to protect our national interest. If that’s the price we have to pay to get the kind of America we have then it doesn’t seem particularly large.

    Especially when you compare that to the acts taken by the supposedly misguided but ultimately forgivable/noble Flynn in his campaign against them including attempts to assist nazis, commit massive terrorism with huge death tolls etc…

  2. Rittenhouse is (as I understand the extent of its power) is essentially analogous to the UK house of lords before the reforms which made almost all the positions non-hereditary and let commons pass laws without approval from lords after a 2 then 1 year wait. That always seemed like a pretty good system to me…focus and primary power reflects the people but you essentially (modulo a bit of self-interest) also have to convince a bunch of rando professional legislators who don’t have to please constituents.

  3. But even if Rittenhouse isn’t great at the moment at the end of the season Lucy has cleaned out all the old power structure and is basically being offered the keys to the kingdom. It’s totally irrational for her not just to accept and try and use that power to make the world a better place and turn Rittenhouse into a force for good.