Craig Venter advocates cognitive enhancement

At Wired, filmmaker Ridley Scott discusses the forthcoming remastered final cut of Blade Runner. This classic 1982 film depicts a dystopian futuristic society based on artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, and was recently voted as the best science fiction film ever made by 60 top scientists

The interview includes quotes about the film from various people, including this one, in which Craig Venter, the billionaire geneticist who has just had his genome published, gives his views on cognitive enhancement:

The movie has an underlying assumption that I just don't relate to: that people want a slave class. As I imagine the potential of engineering the human genome, I think, wouldn't it be nice if we could have 10 times the cognitive capabilities we do have? But people ask me whether I could engineer a stupid person to work as a servant. I've gotten letters from guys in prison asking me to engineer women they could keep in their cell. I don't see us, as a society, doing that.


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They already have engineered fake women you could keep in a cell, but they come deflated.

Man, I really hope this isn't the 500,000th comment.

By Matthew L. (not verified) on 28 Sep 2007 #permalink

Aldous Huxley already went there. What frightens me, is that I could see us, as a society going there. I mean we have Orwellian notions coming into being, why not Huxley's of a similar sort. Not that I don't find the idea repugnant, in the extreme, I just don't have that much faith in the human race.

It's occurred to me before that Downs people come darn close to a potential laborer caste. If we could only prevent the internal malformations....

The problem with engineering a slave/servant caste is that you'd have to take care of them in at least some ways. (Slave == dependent!) A lot of those people imagining engineered servants or houris probably wouldn't be responsible enough. Consider how often we see reports of dogs being mistreated!

By David Harmon (not verified) on 30 Sep 2007 #permalink

Frankly, I don't think people would end up creating a slave class of genetically engineered idiots, just because idiots aren't terribly useful. Remember, stupid doesn't imply compliant, nor does being smart guarantee resistance to bad authority.

Overall, designing a slave class would probably not be worth it. The sorts of jobs that were best carried out by slaves in the past are the sorts of jobs that are best done machines today. Why bother genetically engineering a drone person to do my dirty work when a laundry machine is cheaper and far less likely to stage an uprising and murder me in the night?

I'd be less worried about attempts to make a slave-class, and more worried about techniques to create obedient compliance among the more influential people---doctors, lawyers, academics, local leaders, etc.

By Matthew L. (not verified) on 30 Sep 2007 #permalink

Surely the slave class will be robotic, not biological? Much easier to keep, because you can just turn them off (or can we...).

After all, doesn't robot mean 'servant'?