What If Tinder Showed Your IQ?
The not-so-young parents sat in the office of their socio-genetic consultant, an occupation that emerged in the late 2030s, with at least one practitioner in every affluent fertility clinic. They faced what had become a fairly typical choice: Twelve viable embryos had been created in their latest round of in vitro fertilization. Anxiously, they pored over the scores for the various traits they had received from the clinic. Eight of the 16-cell morulae were fairly easy to eliminate based on the fact they had higher-than-average risks for either cardiovascular problems or schizophrenia, or both. That left four potential babies from which to choose. One was going to be significantly shorter than the parents and his older sibling. Another was a girl, and since this was their second, they wanted a boy to complement their darling Rita, now entering the terrible twos. Besides, this girl had a greater than one-in-four chance of being infertile. Because this was likely to be their last child, due to advancing age, they wanted to maximize the chances they would someday enjoy grandchildren.
That left two male embryos. These embryos scored almost identically on disease risks, height, and body mass index. Where they differed was in the realm of brain development. One scored a predicted IQ of 180 and the other a “mere” 150. A generation earlier, a 150 IQ would have been high enough to assure an economically secure life in a number of occupations. But with the advent of voluntary artificial selection, a score of 150 was only above average. By the mid 2040s, it took a score of 170 or more to insure your little one would grow up to become a knowledge leader.
At the same time, the merger of 23andMe—the largest genetics database in the world—and InterActiveCorp (owner of Tinder and OKCupid), and their subsequent integration with Facebook, meant that not only were embryos being selected for implantation based on their future abilities and deficits, but that people were also screening potential spouses based on genotype. Rather than just screening for non-smokers, why not screen for non-smokers who are genotypically likely to pass that trait onto one’s potential offspring?
But there was a catch. There was always a catch. The science of reprogenetics—self-chosen, self-directed eugenics—had come far over the years, but it still could not escape the reality of evolutionary tradeoffs, such as the increased likelihood of disease when one maximized on a particular trait, ignoring the others. Or the social tradeoffs—the high-risk, high-reward economy for reprogenetic individuals, where a few IQ points could make all the difference between success or failure, or where stretching genetic potential to achieve those cognitive heights might lead to a collapse in non-cognitive skills, such as impulse control or empathy.
Against this backdrop, the embryo predicted to have the higher IQ also had an eight-fold greater chance of being severely myopic to the point of uncorrectable blindness—every parent’s worst nightmare. The fact that the genetic relationship between intelligence and focal length had been known about for decades did not seem to figure in the mania for maximizing IQ.1 Nor the fact that the correlation worked through genes that controlled eye and brain size, leading to some very odd looking, high IQ kids.2 (And, of course, anecdotally, the correlation between glasses and IQ has been the stuff of jokes for as long as ground lenses have existed.)
Parents were lured by slick marketing campaigns that promised educational environments fine-tuned to a child’s particular combination of genotypes.The early proponents of reprogenetics failed to take into account the basic genetic force of pleiotropy: that the same genes have not one phenotypic effect, but multiple ones. Greater genetic potential for height also meant a higher risk score for cardiovascular disease. Cancer risk and Alzheimer’s probability were inversely proportionate—and not only because if one killed you, you were probably spared the other, but because a good ability to regenerate cells (read: neurons) also meant that one’s cells were more poised to reproduce out of control (read: cancer).3 As generations of poets and painters could have attested, the genome score for creativity was highly correlated with that for major depression.
But nowhere was the correlation among predictive scores more powerful—and perhaps in hindsight none should have been more obvious—than the strong relationship between IQ and Asperger’s risk.4 According to a highly controversial paper from 2038, each additional 10 points over 120 also meant a doubling in the risk of being neurologically atypical. Because the predictive power of genotyping had improved so dramatically, the environmental component to outcomes had withered in a reflexive loop. In the early decades of the 21st century, IQ was, on average, only two-thirds genetic and one-third environmental in origin by young adulthood.5 But measuring the genetic component became a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, only kids with high IQ genotypes were admitted to the best schools, regardless of their test scores. (It was generally assumed that IQ was measured with much error early in life anyway, so genes were a much better proxy for ultimate, adult cognitive functioning.) This pre-birth tracking meant that environmental inputs—which were of course still necessary—were perfectly predicted by the genetic distribution. This resulted in a heritability of 100 percent for the traits most important to society—namely IQ and (lack of) ADHD, thanks to the need to focus for long periods on intellectually demanding, creative work, as machines were taking care of most other tasks....MUCH MORE
1. Cohn, S.J., Cohn, C.M., & Jensen, A.R. Myopia and intelligence: a pleiotropic relationship? Human Genetics 80, 53-58 (1988).
2. Miller, E.M., On the correlation of myopia and intelligence. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs 118, 361-383 (1992).
3. Driver, J.A., et al. Inverse association between cancer and Alzheimer’s disease: results from the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ 344, e1442 (2012).
4. Hayashi, M., Kato, M., Igarashi, K., & Kashima, H. Superior fluid intelligence in children with Asperger’s disorder. Brain and Cognition 66, 306-310 (2008)....