Rewriting Life

Poll on Human Enhancement Shows Divided Public

A majority of Americans oppose futuristic biological enhancements that would make them smarter or stronger.

Would you want surgeons to implant a microchip in your brain that boosted your recollection and recall? What about having a geneticist edit your child’s DNA to delete mutations associated with disease, or edit in tallness, cleverness, and quick-twitch muscles that would allow Junior to dash like the wind?

Right now, none of this is possible. Yet some scientists and futurists think bio-boosting technologies initially developed to help the sick and injured will be available to enhance the healthy within a few decades, forcing society to decide whether or not it approves.

This week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a large online survey asking American adults whether they’re ready to be bio-enhanced. The conclusion: the public remains wary.

The survey asked 4,685 people if they were comfortable with three enhancements likely to be available in the near future: gene editing that gives babies a “much reduced” risk for disease; a chip implanted in the brain that improves cognitive abilities; and synthetic blood that substantially bumps up physical prowess.

The verdict was generally negative. Over 60 percent said that they were somewhat or very worried about these new technologies, and an equal number said that they would not want enhancements to their blood or brains. Opinion was evenly split on whether to enhance children’s DNA, with 50 percent opposed and 48 percent saying they’d do it—possibly because the question suggested that the technology would be used to cure disease, not to improve an already healthy child.

Admittedly, the public is only dimly aware of advances in biotechnology. Some 90 percent of those surveyed knew little or nothing about gene editing, while even fewer knew much if anything about early-stage research on brain implants.

This didn’t stop them from registering misgivings. These included a fear that only the rich will get anything good that comes of these technologies; that the enhanced will feel superior to the unenhanced; and that these improvements are morally unpalatable.

The poll found that religious Americans held the most negative views on enhancement, and that women were consistently more skeptical than men. It also found that the more people knew about technologies like gene editing, the more likely they were to approve of their use, although they felt better about a gradual rather than a radical change and wanted to be able to turn their bio-boosters on and off.

 

 

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.