“It’s not exactly news that China is setting itself up as a new global superpower, is it? While Western civilization chokes on its own gluttony like a latter-day Marlon Brando, China continues to buy up American debt and lock away the world’s natural resources. But now, not content to simply laugh and make jerk-off signs as they pass us on the geopolitical highway, they’ve also developed a state-endorsed genetic-engineering project.
At BGI Shenzhen, scientists have collected DNA samples from 2,000 of the world’s smartest people and are sequencing their entire genomes in an attempt to identify the alleles which determine human intelligence. Apparently they’re not far from finding them, and when they do, embryo screening will allow parents to pick their brightest zygote and potentially bump up every generation’s intelligence by five to 15 IQ points. Within a couple of generations, competing with the Chinese on an intellectual level will be like challenging Lena Dunham to a getting-naked-on-TV contest.
Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist and lecturer at NYU, is one of the 2,000 braniacs who contributed their DNA. I spoke to him about what this creepy-ass program might mean for the future of Chinese kids.
VICE: Hey, Geoffrey. Does China have a history of eugenics?
Geoffrey Miller: As soon as Deng Xiaoping took power in the late 70s, he took the whole focus of the Chinese government from trying to manage the economy, to trying to manage the quality and quantity of people. In the 90s, they started to do widespread prenatal testing for birth defects with ultrasound, and more recently, they’ve spent a lot of money researching human genetics to figure out which genes make people smarter.
What do you know about BGI Shenzhen?
It’s the biggest genetic research center in China, and I think the biggest in the world, by a considerable margin. They’re not just doing human genetics; BGI is also doing lots of plant genetics, animal genetics, anything that’s economically relevant or scientifically interesting.
Are you in touch with them?
I just got an email a couple of days ago saying that they’d almost finished doing the sequencing for the BGI Cognitive Genetics Project, the one I gave my genetics to, and that the results would be available soon.
What was their selection process?
They seem mostly interested in people of Chinese and European descent. They’re basically recruiting through a scientific conference, through word of mouth. You have to provide some evidence that you’re as smart as you say you are. You have to send your complete CV, publications you’ve produced, standardized-test scores, where you went to college… stuff like that.
How will the research be applied?
Once you’ve got that information and a fertilized egg that’s divided into a few cells, you can sample one of the cells to figure out the expected intelligence if it’s implanted and becomes a person.
What does that mean in human language?
Any given couple could potentially have several eggs fertilized in the lab with the dad’s sperm and the mom’s eggs. Then you can test multiple embryos and analyze which one’s going to be the smartest. That kid would belong to that couple as if they had it naturally, but it would be the smartest a couple would be able to produce if they had 100 kids. It’s not genetic engineering or adding new genes, it’s the genes that couples already have….”