CRISPR-Cas9 Genome Editing: the Rise of the Super Elite, China and Personalized Bio-weapons

Continuing from my last post, the Cyprus Experiment:

…However, if you start playing with genes in order to create the perfect society…that becomes another thing alltogether.

Imagine this: genes editing can lead to  a situation in which you can choose from a catalog the physical characteristics and personality type of your offspring. “Yes, I would like to order the Big Blue package please.”

I haven’t chose this name randomly, it’s a reference to the Belgian Blue cow which is a breed of cattle renowned for its muscularity, selective breeding led to “double muscling” due to a mutation in the myostatin gene. The whole process of selective breeding can now be replaced with genome editing.

One pertinent question is: do you want to mess with the free will and choices of your offspring? What happens if you order the athlete package but the future person doesn’t really want to be an athlete? What happens if you order the intellectual package but the future person doesn’t really want to be an intellectual? This can take the meaning of parents living through children meaning to another level: if I wasn’t good at sports in school I can live through my son who will be good at sports.

There is the risk of having a bunch of clones walking around, people looking the same and behaving the same. No parent would settle for the lesser model, every parent wants the best for his child. What if the price is too high? Will parents settle for lesser models? Will the world eventually evolve and split into two types of people solely because there were two types of socio-economic classes at the beginning, the ones that could afford the premium package and the ones that couldn’t?

There is the risk that the upper socio-economic classes might irreversibly detach from the rest of the world due to a upwards self-enforcing spiral of wealth and great genetics. Think about the royalty and aristocracy of the past. What prevented them from taking off and becoming vastly different from the rest of humanity is genetic variance and inbreeding. Greedy royals wanted the power to stay in the family, that’s why they preferred to marry withing the family. Inbreeding led to severely physically and mentally incapacitated leaders like Charles II of Spain. The Habsburg Jaw: Charles had such a severe case of Habsburg Jaw, a mandibular prognathism trait popular in the Habsburg family, that he couldn’t eat. He died childless. Whole royal and noble families went extinct not because of war or some other reason but because of childless heirs. The very powerful and wealthy de Medici family ended in 1737 when Gian Gastone de’ Medici died without leaving any heir.

Well, genetic editing has the potential to solve all these issues and to let happen what didn’t happened before. Of course, there is also the element of chaos that always hides beneath the surface of things. Genetic editing might lead to problems that are not immediately observable. For example, we know that high IQ persons also tend to have mental illnesses. Genetic editing might lead to improvements in one area but might also be a black swan and lead to weakness in other areas.

The black swan theory describes events that come as a surprise, have major effects and after they happen become rationalized by hindsight. Examples of black swan events: financial crises, the personal computer, the rise of the Internet, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the crash of airplanes because of metal fatigue.

Metal fatigue occurs when you apply load and stress to a material causing it to weaken. Is there something similar that can be applied to the genome as a material? We might live to find out that there is something called Genome Fatigue.

Black swan events caused by genetic editing might have a wide series of effects: infertility, the heirs might find that they are the last ones in their lineage and boom, the new royal and noble families go extinct again, neurological diseases at a later age, new exotic genetic diseases that didn’t existed before.

CRISPR-Cas9 editing
CRISPR-Cas9 editing. Click picture for better resolution. Source: J LEVIN W

I’m just riffing here, using my imagination and doing some thought experiments. If I’m thinking this then is very probable that someone else also did it or will do it.  For example, totalitarian governments like China (they are leading the way in genetic editing with crispr/cas9 by the way) can use genome altering to silently mark their subjects with special GTAC DNA sequences. The DNA contains portions of “junk” DNA, noncoding portions that do not encode protein sequences. In other words, they don’t do anything, so it’s quite possible to slip in a few sequences more in the DNA that can go undetected and remain silent.

Why would anyone want to mark someone with a special, unique DNA sequence? Better tracking would be one answer. One strand of hair can lead straight to your address. China is great at tracking, controlling, Internet filtering, censoring and is also leading the world in AI and facial recognition surveillance. The law enforcement in China has now facial recognition glasses. Another answer is that highly personalized bio-weapons can be created in order to target specific individuals: adversaries, dissidents, traitor spies and so on. Russia has a track of doing these kinds of jobs, not long ago it targeted a former defector Russian spy (Skripal) and his daughter with a nerve agent.

There is already a huge increasing gap between the wealthiest and the rest of the world: the top 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the world’s population since 2015. The rise of biohacking, genome editing an AI has the potential to take this gap to another level.


The Cyprus Experiment

The Cyprus Experiment
Map of Cyprus

What happens when you take a bunch of high IQ individuals, send them on an island and let them organize themselves? Will they become a superpower, solve the world’s problems? Seems like an Utopia isn’t it? In one of my previous posts I was writing about how high IQ individuals tend to think over the long term, have higher incomes, to be more cooperative and to be better informed citizens.

Well, this thought experiment was carried out by Aldous Huxley in his book Brave New World: the Cyprus Experiment. Let’s see how Aldous Huxley imagined such an experiment would go.

“Well, you can call it an experiment in rebottling if you like. It began in A.F. 473. The Controllers had the island of Cyprus cleared of all its existing inhabitants and re-colonized with a specially prepared batch of twenty-two thousand Alphas. All agricultural and industrial equipment was handed over to them and they were left to manage their own affairs. The result exactly fulfilled all the theoretical predictions. The land wasn’t properly worked; there were strikes in all the factories; the laws were set at naught, orders disobeyed; all the people detailed for a spell of low-grade work were perpetually intriguing for high-grade jobs, and all the people with high-grade jobs were counter-intriguing at all costs to stay where they were. Within six years they were having a first-class civil war. When nineteen out of the twenty-two thousand had been killed, the survivors unanimously petitioned the World Controllers to resume the government of the island. Which they did. And that was the end of the only society of Alphas that the world has ever seen.”

Note: in the book the Alphas were the high IQ social caste of the society and they usually had positions of leadership, they made the decisions and exercised control over the other classes. The population growth was controlled and “modeled on the iceberg-eight-ninths below the water line, one-ninth above.” The Alphas were males and females and the term alpha isn’t exactly the same as the one used to describe a group with a hierarchical structure in which the alpha male – the stronger, more dominant and aggressive male – is at the top of it.

This is quite an interesting thought experiment. Would it work in real life?

Even though higher-IQ people can better understand the minds of others and tend to cooperate they might end up squabbling: “If an entire group of individuals with higher IQs are together for a reasonably long period of time, we should expect them to find more win-win outcomes, growing a bigger pie that they can squabble over later.”

Resentment – because some will get the short end of the stick and end up doing menial and trivial tasks – big egos, low agreeableness, and the Peter Principle can lead to conflict situations. The Peter Principle is a concept in management that states that the selection for a candidate is based on the success in his current role rather than the intended role, candidates are promoted until they reach a level of incompetence.

Peters Principle
Peters Principle. Source: Nevit Dilmen, CC0.

Possible solution: initial rotation system which should determine if the candidate is fit for the role and also likes his new job – this should improve the level of work satisfaction. Some people might discover that they love working with the land, with animals, to work in factories, to work outdoors, to work with people instead of working with machines, to work with machines instead of working with people. Some people might actively want to change their demanding, stressful jobs with something less stressful and demanding. Some people might want a professional reconversion and to learn new skills – high IQ people usually need to be intellectually stimulated and learning new skills is a great way to do that. Menial and repetitive tasks will almost certainly be replaced with automated processes.

Another possible solution: better control over the initial parameters and variables in the experiment. Instead of letting the folks battle over jobs and job titles, let them be established beforehand. After all, intelligent people can be found in all walks of life. Take Christopher Langan for example. He is considered one of the smartest men in the world yet he has a humble CV: he took labour-intensive jobs, worked as a construction worker, cowboy, Forest Service Ranger, farmhand and bouncer. He is now living quietly happy on his ranch in Missouri. I’m sure that he is not the only intelligent individual content with his lower socio-economic status, not all people want to be in high paying stressful, leadership positions.

I don’t think that the experiment would work if you have a bunch of high IQ, dominant, ambitious, Machiavellian, disagreeable,  conditioned and brainwashed to believe that they are the top dogs and rightful rulers; you take them, put them on an island and hope for the best. Huxley wasn’t aware of DNA or genetic editing with CRISPR-Cas9 at his time, his characters were made after an industrial, chemical process but I think that his thought experiment has a lot of substance and reveals the potential perils of having a race of Übermensch with the traits that I mentioned earlier.

“Because we have no wish to have our throats cut,” he answered. “We believe in happiness and stability. A society of Alphas couldn’t fail to be unstable and miserable. Imagine a factory staffed by Alphas-that is to say by separate and unrelated individuals of good heredity and conditioned so as to be capable (within limits) of making a free choice and assuming responsibilities. Imagine it!” he repeated.

I don’t know of any Cyprus Experiments carried in real life and until such an experiment is carried out we can only speculate. My opinion is that a high IQ society would have better chances of survival and success than Huxley thought it would. In order for that success to happen the condition would be to have some variance in the personalities of the candidates, variance in their Big Five Personality Traits: extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.  Natural genetic variance does a great job in this regard.

This is not an exhaustive analysis by any means, I might come back to this thought experiment and write about it in some other post.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Economi Hit Man
Hit Man in Amsterdam

While working on yesterday’s post – Why your Nation’s IQ matters more than yours – and while checking my notes that I have on the book Hive Mind by Garett Jones I came upon some eyebrow-raising stuff:

“And that brings us to why countries—high-average-IQ, low-average-IQ, and in-between—might actually want to run up massive international debts: it’s a way to commit to having a strong economy in the future. This may sound absurd, but corporations seem to do this all the time.”

And then the author proceeds to write about financial economist Michael Jensen and his “Nobel-deserving” theory.  This reminded me about the tactics that “economic assassins” use in order to enslave a country with debt. They go in, make exaggerate economic growth projections and based on those inflated growth projections they convince – through one way or another – the leaders of that country to receive loans from the World Bank or IMF (International Monetary Fund). Of course that the projected economic growth doesn’t happen and the country becomes stuck with having to pay interest and to offer other kinds of perks to the “master” such as voting in the UN Council with whatever policy the master says. Note: much of that borrowed money goes back to American companies that build the infrastructure, companies like Bechtel.

These economic hit men have gone to great lengths in order to make those fabricated projections, they hired skilled economists and mathematicians to come up with bogus yet convincing economics:

“I brought a young MIT mathematician, Dr. Nadipuram Prasad, into my department and gave him a budget. Within six months he developed the Markov method for econometric modeling. Together we hammered out a series of technical papers that presented Markov as a revolutionary method for forecasting the impact of infrastructure investment on economic development.” The New Confessions of An Economic Hit Man (John Perkins)

“I thought about the core tools we EHMs used in my day: false economics that included distorted financial analyses, inflated projections, and rigged accounting books; secrecy, deception, threats, bribes, and extortion; false promises that we never intended to honor; and enslavement through debt and fear. These same tools are used today.” The New Confessions of An Economic Hit Man (John Perkins)

If you don’t have much economic education their arguments might be convincing and you might end up being enslaved by debt. Always be skeptic about raising up debt. It’s not only countries and corporations that the bankers are after, it’s you too.

“We use the same tools as you EHMs — on our own folks.” He proceeded to tell me that in recent years bankers had convinced clients to purchase houses that were beyond their means. “A young newlywed couple comes in,” he said, “and asks for a mortgage on a $300,000 home. We convince them to buy a $500,000 one.” He swished the wine in his glass and studied the residue. “We say, ‘You may have to tighten your belt a little, but soon your house will be worth a million dollars.’” He shook his head sadly. “They’ve been told to trust their banker”.”

Don’t trust your banker, he is not your friend.

Reading The New Confessions of An Economic Hit Man  by John Perkins was quite informative and a good reminder of the underlying reality. We tend to get sidetracked with our daily problems and worries, with politics, little wars and cheap entertainment while in the background there is a group of people whose number one preoccupation is to constantly think on how to exploit and make a buck out of you.

Why your Nation’s IQ matters more than your Own

When it comes to the National IQ, nations are not made equal. Let’s see why the IQ of your countrymen is more important than yours.

National IQ
Source: Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences, Lynn/Vanhanen, 2012

Humans are social animals as a consequence of aeons of evolutionary timeline that favored individuals with group selection bias that cooperated with each other in small communities. The reason that you are afraid to speak in public is because the fear of social rejection is innate. That’s why solitary confinement in prison is the harshest way to punish someone. In a survival context social rejection can equate to low chances of survival. That’s why usually animals gather in packs and organize themselves in a hierarchy, zebras, lions, wildebeests, rhinos, elephants and so on are pack animals – no matter where you stand in the food chain you have a better chance of survival when you belong to a group. The lone wolf is an anomaly and not a common occurrence in nature.

The Greeks used to punish the least desirable elements of their society by voting with shards of pottery called ostrakon – hence the name ostracization – and exiling them for a period of ten years.

Since society is formed by people organized in various types of groups, unless you are living by yourself in a lone cabin somewhere deep in the woods being inspired by Henry David Thoreau or due to some other reason, you are largely depended on your group and peers. You are dependent on their skills, their cognitive abilities, their knowledge, their IQ.

There have been many attempts and thought experiments in order to come up with the ideal, Utopian society like Plato’s Republic or Utopia by Sir Thomas More. Philosophers like Plato also tried to imagine what a less desirable society would be like, he did this in the allegory Ship of fools.

There are no Utopian countries – none that I know of – each have their own strengths and weaknesses, their beauty and their ugliness, their fools and their saints. So, it would be safe to say that countries are ships of fools of various degrees, some have some sort of direction and are heading somewhere, others have captains that are a little bit more deaf and have more infirmity in their sights.

“Fools” with higher IQ’s tend to think in the longer term, tend to have more patience, to have bigger incomes, to save more money. Long term thinking, patience, big income and more savings can lead to a more productive ship:

“The “Ramsey growth model” shows that one way for a nation to get richer is for it to build up a bigger stock of machines and equipment—and the way to build up more machines and equipment is for the average citizen to put more of her paycheck in the bank rather than spend it on consumer goods. That way, the bank has money to lend to businesses, money that can be used to rent offices, buy computers and lab equipment, and keep a business up and running until it starts turning a profit.” from Hive Mind – How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own by Garett Jones

I also wrote a post about the benefit of being a capital-intensive economy rather than a labour-intensive economy.

Not only that you depend on your shipmates cognitive abilities and their decisions determined by them but you also tend to mimic their behavior – imitation is another deep innate human trait. It’s called the Veblen Effect:

“Veblen focused in particular on conspicuous consumption, on buying things that your neighbors can see, and buying items—or perhaps vacations to exotic locales—that demonstrate your social status. Cornell economist Robert Frank and Harvard economist Juliet Schor are modern proponents of the view that consumer spending is socially driven. And both say that our consumer decisions—to consume or to save, to work more hours a week or fewer—are deeply influenced by those around us. Our level of debt, our degree of frugality, our efforts to become prosperous, are all shaped by our environment.” from Hive Mind – How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own by Garett Jones

Higher-IQ individuals have a better ability to understand the minds of others: the Keynesian Beauty Contest.

Higher-IQ individuals tend to be more cooperative: Higher Intelligence Groups Have Higher Cooperation Rates in the Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma

Groups of people with higher average cognitive skills build governments that are better at creating long term wealth: the Nobel-winning Coase Theorem.

“Informally, we can sum up the Coase Theorem this way: if it’s easy for two or more parties to bargain with each other, they can bargain to an efficient, win-win outcome regardless of which party has the most power going in to the negotiation. Here’s an example of the Coase theorem, perhaps the most common one. A fishery is downstream from a heavily polluting factory; to keep it simple, let’s imagine no one else lives nearby. In a pro-environmentalist country, the fishery would have a right to a clean river, and therefore it could legally shut down the factory. But here’s what makes it a negotiation rather than an edict: in this particular country, the fishery is legally allowed to sell the right to pollute. The factory would pay the fishery, and they’d strike a pollution-permission deal. For the right price, the fishery could let the factory poison the waters a little or a lot. But if polluting more means paying more, the factory will start to look for inexpensive ways to cut back on pollution, not out of kindness, but out of pure greed.” from Hive Mind – How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own by Garett Jones

Informed voters: IQ predicts short-term and long-term memory, people with higher-IQ are more likely to know more facts about more topics including current events.

The O-Ring Theory of teams: cognitive abilities are a good predictor of skills and “small differences in the average skill of workers across countries can cause massive differences in productivity across countries, and why the richest countries tend to produce entirely different goods than the poorest countries.”

There you go, I think that these are sufficient arguments in favor of having lesser “fools” on board your “ship of fools”. The high-seas of uncertainty and chaos have strong currents and unpredictable weather, your success in life and well-being are strongly correlated to the decisions that your shipmates make and their cooperation, so make sure you are on the right boat.

How to Get Unstuck from Your Routine

Ever felt stuck in a routine? I know I do, sometimes I feel that I’m stuck and I have no options left to do anything else and thus I end up being “bored”. The Germans have a word for this: Einstellung.

Einstellung means installation and the Einstellung Effect refers to a person’s predisposition to act or to solve a problem using the same way even though there are other options. This  effect seems to be common among all segments people without any regard to IQ, age, sex.

People adopt routines for different reasons.  Autistic persons have an innate ability to develop routines and rituals which gives them a sense of structure and order and makes it easier for them to cope with the difficulty of making sense of their surroundings, other people develop routines (addictions) which gives them a kick of dopamines  and makes them feel good, others develop routines to have a better sense of control over their lives.

In the self-improvement literature the ability to develop routines is strongly encouraged. You need 20-30 days of daily repetitions in order to develop a habit. The brain has a propriety called neuroplasticity and every time you repeat a routine the neural network that the brain creates for that routine gets stronger and stronger – the myelin sheath that covers the neuron synapses gets stronger – so that after day 30 it gets easier than before day 1 to get up, put your running equipment on, get out the door and start running. My feeling of einstellung comes from having various self-improvement daily routines, at the beginning is all great and novel but after months or years of doing the same thing it gets…boring.

autovehicle stuck

So, how can we get out from our routines? The simple answer is just to do something different, to solve a problem using another kind of solution, to see things from a different angle.

“Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” Steve Jobs

For example, James Altucher has a routine called ‘The Daily Ten’. Yes, I’m giving one man’s routines as an example of getting out from your own routines. So, when you feel stuck, these are some ways you can use to get unstuck. Quoting:

10 old ideas I can make new
10 ridiculous things I would invent (e.g., the smart toilet)
10 books I can write (The Choose Yourself Guide to an Alternative Education, etc).
10 business ideas for Google/Amazon/Twitter/etc.
10 people I can send ideas to
10 podcast ideas or videos I can shoot (e.g., Lunch with James, a video podcast where I just have lunch with people over Skype and we chat)
10 industries where I can remove the middleman
10 things I disagree with that everyone else assumes is religion (college, home ownership, voting, doctors, etc.)
10 ways to take old posts of mine and make books out of them
10 people I want to be friends with (then figure out the first step to contact them)
10 things I learned yesterday
10 things I can do differently today
10 ways I can save time
10 things I learned from X, where X is someone I’ve recently spoken with or read a book by or about. I’ve written posts on this about the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Steve Jobs, Charles Bukowski, the Dalai Lama, Superman, Freakonomics, etc.
10 things I’m interested in getting better at (and then 10 ways I can get better at each one)
10 things I was interested in as a kid that might be fun to explore now (Like, maybe I can write that “Son of Dr. Strange” comic I’ve always been planning. And now I need 10 plot ideas.)
10 ways I might try to solve a problem I have This has saved me with the IRS countless times. Unfortunately, the Department of Motor Vehicles is impervious to my superpowers.

Also, you can always try and learn new things which will definetly change your daily routine and  give you the cognitive tools to see things from other angles.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Robert A. Heinlein – Time Enough to Love