engineering, arguing that there is a line in the sand that we will be better off choosing not
to cross. Essentially his argument is that a ‘genetically engineered’ human (say, someone
whose embryo was tinkered with to make them smarter or more atheletic) will no longer
find the same meaning in life that humans have experienced to this point. And at some
point we may find that we’ve created a separate, enhanced, species that has little to do
In the details, he argues that standard medicine and other non-genetic techniques can
solve many of the medical issues that are used to argue for germline technology (for
instance, the ability to test for certain debilitating diseases at an early stage). He feels that
somatic gene therapy, which acts on a single individual, does not threated human
meaning, but that germline activity (changing the DNA that will be inherited) is over the
line. Not to mention human cloning!
McKibben makes a strong argument against the ‘techno-zealots’ like Rodney Brooks,
Hans Moravec and others who claim that all genetic work is ‘inevitable’ - saying that
they are simply interested in shutting down all debate.
I am a bit skeptical about the ability to make changes to DNA to make a person grow up
to be ’smarter’ (since I doubt we can define what this means), but I am sympathetic to
McKibben’s argument. I do think there are some critical thresholds that we are
approaching, and the social impact is massively important. I’d recommend Enough as a
way to think about these issues. The books feels just a little dashed off, but I’d say that
reflects the up-to-the-minute nature of the issues.
"In 1999," writes science author Bill McKibben in Enough, his warning cry against
technological apocalypse, "an artist named Eduardo Kac persuaded a laboratory to rig
him up a bunny whose DNA contains genes from a phosphorescent jellyfish. If you hold
Alba up to a black light, she glows green from every cell in her body."
If this story gives you a creepy, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, then McKibben
has done his job. Though his 1989 bestseller The End of Nature warned us of the
potential catastrophe of global warming, he believes we face a far more immediate peril
from exploding information in the field of GNR (genetics, nanotechnology and robotics).
"If we aggressively pursue any or all of several new technologies now before us, we may
alter our relationship not with the rest of nature but with ourselves."
McKibben believes human germline genetic engineering carries the potential to strip the
human race of its identity. Think of it: soon we will be able to tinker not only with bodily
traits like physical strength and attractiveness, but with mental, emotional and even social
traits. No more shy kids. No more badly-behaved kids. And certainly, no more autistics
or schizophrenics, no one burdened with the baggage of "otherness." (Are hypersensitive