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There was so much more I wanted to talk about's a hard subject for 4 minutes. Obviously the bad thing being glossed over in the beginning is "Well, so we're going to create a race of smart people to 'help' everyone else? Yeah that sounds like it will go fine! DEFINITELY NOT DYSTOPIAN AT ALL"

But that's so obvious on its face that I wanted to take look at it from the deeper perspective of what the heck we think intelligence even is. If you want to hear more good thoughts, this episode of the Ezra Klein Show with Tressie McMillan Cottom is amazing:

Another thing is that it seems likely that identifying traits that result in them being smart, is much more about what traits result in the the ability to acquire the mental tools and systems that we call "intelligence", rather than /having/ intelligence. Because I don't think intelligence is a thing on its own, I think it's a skill.

Which leads me to the last thing, which is that we might have really good systems for helping people with certain traits acquire intelligence. That's not the same thing as the traits being "intelligence." If there were different systems, different traits would lead to the acquisition of intelligence.

And ALSO humans are just not as individual as we like to imagine...we build systems out of people, and our focus on the power of individuals is much more about cognitive bias than it is about reality.

And, of course, we know so little about any of this that everyone talking about it is bound to be wrong, including me, about the eventual impacts of gene editing, especially with regards to intelligence.

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Good Morning John, First, your video make everyone.

I know laugh very hard. So good job on that.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of conversation I think because of the release of the book Code Breaker, about Jennifer Doudna, one of the pioneers of CRISPR gene editing, about whether and how and should we edit the genomes of people. And also of people who don’t even exist yet. Usually the conversations go something like this, should we edit people so they don’t have diseases?

Yes. And then we continue down the path as it’s getting hairier, what about height? Should we allow people to edit their children to be taller so they can be better at sports?

But then at some point you get to intelligence. And often times the defense is, well we all benefit if there are more super smart people to solve hard problems. That sentence doesn’t make sense and I want to talk about why.

It is not that intelligence is to some extent genetic. Studies show that it is. I just don’t think that we have wrapped our brains around what the heck it is we mean when we say intelligence.

I’m not even sure if I have blonde hair. We’re arguing about whether a hot dog is a sandwich. Do you think we can figure out what intelligence is?

But here’s a thing we know. Two identical twins are more likely to have more similar scores on intelligence tests than two fraternal twins. We’re talking about two people who share the exact same environment, they were born at the same time, raised by the same parents, they were in the same womb.

And the ones that are genetically the same have closer together intelligence scores than the ones that are fraternal or less similar. But environment versus genetics is a really hairy thing that’s kind of hard to continue to wrap your mind around. So, an example.

Let us imagine a precocious, over confident young man who has ADHD and sensory processing issues and will never in his life read faster than an 8th grade level. And let’s assume that all of that stuff is 100% genetic, if that child is born at the right moment, and with the right support, all of those things might influence each other in a way that will result in the acquisition of intelligence. And if identical twins share those traits, grew up in the same house, and had all that same support, they would test similarly on the same test.

But if any one of those traits was a little bit different, and I’m talking about 5 traits here when really there’s hundreds, or if their environment was different, if they had less support, if people indulged in their overconfidence a little less, those same traits, instead of helping a student, might hinder a student. The potential was genetic though complicated and reinforced by lots of different factors. The ability to capture the potential was environmental.

But here’s what I think is the most important thing here. Environment isn’t just across an individual society. And it’s not just across various cultures.

It’s also across time. We don’t know right now what traits are going to be useful to the people of the future because their world is going to be different from ours. I would have had a very different path in life if it were not for computers.

I have a sensory processing disorder, I have ADHD, I do not read as fast as the average 9th graders, but with a combinations of luck and being born at a time when the right tools existed and support, what might have been liabilities at another time at another place, turned into assets. Intelligence really is more about what we need right now from people than it is about any particular innate thing. I think of it as being well suited to the world in which you happen to have been born into.

Not, as some people seem to imagine, some kind of on-off switch that’s genius, not genius. Genius, not genius. As a species we do not yet understand the genetics of eye color.

The idea that we could genetically modify a child to be more intelligent isn’t just, wild hubris. It is also, I think, a dangerous misunderstanding of what intelligence is. If we design people to be good at living in the world as it is now, we do 2 things.

First, we deny the reality that the world needs lots of different people with lots of different kinds of abilities. But worse, if we’re designing people to be good at living in the world as it exists in one moments, we’re depriving ourselves of the diversity that will allow us to have people that will be good at living in the world as it will exist in the future. And that is not just a lesson we need to before genetically engineering new humans, it’s a lesson we need to learn for educating, enabling, and appreciating humans now.

John, I’ll see you on Tuesday.