September 19, 2019

A Note from the Year 2059

“Editors’ note: This is the first installment in a new series, “Op-Eds From the Future,” in which science fiction authors, futurists, philosophers and scientists write op-eds that they imagine we might read 10, 20 or even 100 years in the future. The challenges they predict are imaginary — for now — but their arguments illuminate the urgent questions of today and prepare us for tomorrow. The opinion piece below is a work of fiction.

Last week, The Times published an article about the long-term results of the Gene Equality Project, the philanthropic effort to bring genetic cognitive enhancements to low-income communities. The results were largely disappointing: While most of the children born of the project have now graduated from a four-year college, few attended elite universities and even fewer have found jobs with good salaries or opportunities for advancement. With the results in hand, it is time for us to re-examine the efficacy and desirability of genetic engineering.

The intentions behind the Gene Equality Project were good. Therapeutic genetic interventions, such as correcting the genes that cause cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, have been covered by Medicare ever since their approval by the Food and Drug Administration, making them available to the children of low-income parents. However, augmentations like cognitive enhancements have never been covered — not even by private insurance — and were available only to affluent parents. Amid fears that we were witnessing the creation of a caste system based on genetic differences, the Gene Equality Project was begun 25 years ago, enabling 500 pairs of low-income parents to increase the intelligence of their children.”

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