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Cognitive Enhancement as Research Priority
Why genetic enhancement for IQ is one of the most important areas of research
Academics and intellectuals usually have explanations for why their particular area of expertise is consequential to society in some way. These justifications are often reasonable, but they can also be self-serving and distorted by their self-selected environment. Many theories are wrong, vague, or unimportant in the grand scheme. Since we have limited resources and brain power, carefully considering the most critical areas of inquiry would be prudent. We should look to the Effective Altruism movement, which takes seriously the idea of resource-efficient charity.
Perhaps the most important mathematical and scientific discoveries are “meta-discoveries” that facilitate later discoveries. The scientific method, probability theory, statistics, and regression analysis have been invaluable. Without these, we would have a considerably worse understanding of the world. Computers, software, and programming languages have been a massive leap forward in aiding scientists in conducting their work. Perhaps the most important discovery soon will be an artificial general intelligence (AGI) capable of practically unending self-improvement. This AGI might be the final worthwhile contribution to science that humanity ever makes.
For various reasons, many are concerned about AGI and actually believe that we should be hesitant about creating it. A scenario in which there is a rapid take-off to unfathomable superintelligence could be extremely dangerous. A super-powerful AGI could have goals misaligned with human values. If this scenario is likely, alignment should probably be more critical than accelerating AGI. Reducing existential risks of all kinds is actually an incredibly worthwhile and under-considered area of ethics. Assuming we have a long future, we should not mess it up. This sort of future-oriented ethics—longtermism—has recently increased in popularity thanks to philosopher William McAskill's 2022 book What We Owe The Future.
If we are averse to accelerating machine intelligence, the next most important meta-research agenda is improving human intelligence. A significant increase in the number of people with exceptional cognitive ability would facilitate a considerable amount of scientific and technological discoveries. While history, horticulture, philosophy, abstract mathematics, and other research areas might be important, they are less of a priority than creating more people who can conduct better and more research in these areas. Efforts to achieve widespread cognitive enhancement would indirectly contribute to every intellectual domain. If we could create orders of magnitude more geniuses using cognitive enhancement, this is clearly more important, even if we ascribe considerable importance to these domains.
While we should continue investigating environmental and pharmaceutical methods for cognitive enhancement, the most promising form of cognitive enhancement is likely genetic enhancement. The technology is available to use polygenic screening to select embryos for higher IQ during in vitro fertilization (IVF). Couples should not optimize solely for IQ, but it is definitely worth considering. There are various other methods of genetic enhancement to achieve human superintelligence, and there are many steps we could be taking now to bring it about faster. Consider some of the following:
Improve polygenic scores (PGS) for cognitive ability (as measured by IQ) with better statistical methods (less promising) and larger databases (more promising).
Expand access to preimplantation genetic testing for IQ (PGT-IQ) through market competition (i.e., more companies providing the service).
Improve awareness of PGT-IQ through interviews, blogging, social media, and conversations with friends and loved ones, especially those yet to have children.
Correcting misinformation and reducing stigma about polygenic screening and PGT-IQ especially.
Calling on IVF clinics to inform their patients of the possibility of PGT-P (and soon PGT-IQ).
Research the genetic architecture of intelligence and thoroughly examine any unwanted correlates. Also, critique studies suggesting IQ has harmful effects using unrepresentative samples (see Cremieux, Kirkegaard). This will likely quell concerns about antagonistic pleiotropy, but if it does not, we should honestly consider the downsides.
Push against laws that prohibit polygenic screening for non-disease traits, as is present in some European countries.
Advocate for subsidized or free IVF and PGT for any couples.
Research in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), which would vastly increase the number of available eggs and thus available embryos.
Research iterated embryo selection (IES), which would facilitate extremely large returns by going through many generations of embryos in the laboratory. (See Shulman and Bostrom)
Research sperm selection methods (see Kirkegaard)
Research iterated meiotic selection (IMS) (see Metacelsus, who needs funding).
Research gene-editing methods like CRISPR, which would facilitate enormous returns.
Research chromosome selection (see Gwern).
Research genome synthesis.
Research other overlooked methods of genetic enhancement.
Research any process which would improve any other method.
Research how to reduce costs associated with any step of any method.
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I want to start taking submissions. My vision for Parrhesia is to become a sort of think tank or publication for anything genetic enhancement related. If you have thoughts on genetic enhancement, let me know. Thank you!