The good news is, we took a huge leap forward in our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. The bad news is, don't expect to see the benefits of that leap for another couple of decades at least.
Advanced technology almost always works that way. Profound breakthroughs lead to promising new directions for research, which lead to, at first, modest gains, then, over time, exponentially greater gains.
Sorry, but that's just the way this kind of thing typically works.
Here are a few essential points to remember:
- "Simple Solutions" Thinking - People seem to think that simple genetic enhancements can be made with few, if any, resulting effects on other systems. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nature has shown us already that extremes can carry radical effects which are both positive and negative. So, we engineer a smarter baby, but they all die in the first five years of life from the common cold. That scenario is far more likely than the rosy one painted by Mr. Garreau.
- "Intelligent Design" vs. "Engineered Evolution" - Mr. Garreau seems to think that we are now poised to "self evolve." But examples like the one mentioned are a better argument for "Intelligent Design" than for any form of evolution. That's what we are talking about here, manipulating our genetic makeup with a special plan or design in mind, which is exactly what some scientists are now calling Intelligent Design Theory. I love debating on this issue because, almost invariably, people will say something like, "by manipulating genes and other structures in certain organisms, or even by breeding out special populations of dogs, horses, cows, sheep, etc., we demonstrate how evolution works." My reply? "Ummm... Actually, you are demonstrating how Intelligent Design works. All those changes occurred solely because they were manufactured. So how does manufacturing an outcome prove that a blind, mindless process could create similar changes?" Funny, I never seem to get a good answer to that question.
- Simplifying the Complex & Vice Versa - People LOVE to make simple things complex and complex things simple, don't they? Our genetic makeup is enormously complex, yet we think we can tweak a gene here and there and get EXACTLY the results we want. Dream on! On the other hand, with simple issues, like the First Amendment, which is all of one sentence, we have created enormous complexity. The press should get unlimited freedom, and pornographers too, but people of faith can only express their views at home. We all have the right to express our point of view, unless it offends someone, then you've crossed the lines of free speech.
Overall, I think we need to avoid both the kind of arrogance that has led to ecological disasters throughout the world as well as undue optimism regarding what the short and long-term benefits of new genetic technologies will bring. In the end, it's more likely that most of the benefits we realize won't be what we had intended in the first place.