Magazine article The Futurist

Let's Broaden Our View of Cloning

Magazine article The Futurist

Let's Broaden Our View of Cloning

Article excerpt

New technologies such as cloning are best evaluated in a larger context of technological changes.

Michael Mautner's article, "Will Cloning End Human Evolution?" (THE FUTURIST, November-December 1997), certainly raises some interesting caveats to the coming availability of cloning humans. Unfortunately, the author makes two mistakes common in attempts to evaluate the future impacts of a technology: First, he postulates that cloning will universally replace older technologies, and second, he considers the issue in a vacuum, disregarding the influence of other developing technologies.

Mautner describes the possible perils of human cloning very well, such as the prospect that cloning may remove biological and psychological benefits from the reproduction process. But I would argue that this could occur only if the new technologies of cloning were to completely replace older "technologies." In fact, new technologies rarely do completely replace their predecessors, and in this case, I find it very doubtful that human cloning will replace sexual reproduction for the vast majority of people. Most parents do not want to bring a clone into the world, but rather someone novel who still reflects familial traits. Also, how many volunteers could be found to give up sex in favor of cloning? Cloning will fill some niches, mostly niches that artificial insemination is filling now, and will benefit many people: couples who cannot conceive on their own, single people who want children, and parents seeking the very best DNA for their child. But it will not replace physical sex or biological reproduction.

Examining Mautner's second common mistake, to consider a technological advance in the absence of other innovations, dispenses with the rest of his dire warnings. Mautner claims that the cloning of geniuses would reduce the gene pool, and human evolution will halt. Indeed, human evolution could theoretically be stopped if cloning were the only technology considered. The gene pool could fall to dangerous levels if we begin the mass cloning of great people from the past. The population could become highly susceptible to disease or even extinction. However, evolution takes tens of thousands of years to produce small changes in a genome. Most human advancement, if not all of it, has been accomplished through social and technological innovation. …

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