A number of new technologies such as designer babies and chips which boost brain power could soon become a reality, but many Americans are not exactly thrilled at the possibility.
According to the results of a poll undertaken by the Pew Research Center, adults across the United States are wary about the impending arrival of gene editing, brain chip implants and synthetic “superhuman” blood, writes Jacqueline Howard for CNN.
Survey reveals wariness of U.S. respondents
“Certainly, there are some people who are more enthusiastic about these technologies, but when you are looking overall, more people were worried than enthusiastic,” said Cary Funk, Pew associate director for research and lead author of the survey.
“We were surprised by the extent to which we saw the same pattern across the three,” she added, “because they are very different things.”
For example gene editing can be seen as a therapeutic enhancement due to its potential use in reducing the risk of disease in children. In contrast brain chips would be used to boost thinking power, while synthetic blood could be used to increase athleticism.
Emerging technologies developing quickly
None of the techniques are currently available, but the science behind them is moving rapidly. The survey of 4,243 adults and six focus groups of a total of 47 adults revealed that people are not as excited about the technology as scientists.
Around 50% of participants said they would not want gene-editing science used on their baby, even if it meant reducing the risk of disease. Around 48% of participants would be in favor of the techniques and 2% were unsure.
Brain chips were less popular, with 66% saying they would not want to boost their brain power with a chip. Thirty-two percent would and 2% didn’t know. At the same time 63% of people would refuse the offer to enhance athletic performance using synthetic blood, 35% would accept and 2% were unsure.
Researchers revealed that those participants with stronger religious beliefs tended to be less receptive to the emerging technologies. It was also noted that the more extreme or long-lasting the enhancement, less people were happy to accept it. Men were found to be generally more enthusiastic about the technology than women.
Ethical issues abound with all three
Dr. Gregor Wolbring, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine in Canada, predicted that gene editing to prevent disease would have greater support.
“Brain chip implants were offered as improving cognitive abilities in healthy adults, and synthetic blood was offered as improving physical abilities. It seems more like doping,” he said. “So I would have actually expected for the support to be higher for gene-editing because the target is different, it’s disease risk, but if we explained gene editing as improving performance, I would have expected the numbers to be lower.”
Gene editing could be used to give newborn babies special capabilities beyond normal human limits, making so-called designer babies. Max Mehlman, a professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University who was not involved in the survey, is wary about the prospect.
“That raises all kinds of very thorny, ethical questions,” Mehlman said. “One I’m chiefly concerned about is the way that could further divide us into the haves and the have-nots, because it’s unlikely people already at a disadvantage could afford, or have access to, those kinds of changes.”
There are plenty of ethical questions attached to each of these emerging technologies, but the issue of fair competition is an important one.