Why Wait for Designer Babies? Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Increase Your Child’s Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence. Nanobots. 3D printing of organs. Prosthetics that read your brainwaves. Virtual Reality. Mars colonies. Gene editing.

Of all the technologies on our horizon, I think gene editing is the one that will come to the table first. Essentially, this technology is already ripe for use in our daily lives. From cancer cures to designer babies and cloning, we’re just a legislative breath away from inserting into the human genome the next evolution of the human species. Rather than continue to wait millennia for nature to run her course, we have at our finger tips the ability to change the human in very specific ways. And of all these options, the one that send most people into philosophical debate is the idea of designer babies.

IVF has become a normal part of the adult world. I personally know at least seven babies born this way. Already testing for genetic diseases within these embryos is becoming common practice. Why then, wouldn’t these tests reveal other genetic information—the sex of the child, and any markers for intelligence, IQ and perhaps metabolism? And once we know where these genes are located, the next step would be inserting the specific genes for intelligence in embryos to ensure that all children, regardless of their parent’s pedigree, are given the best in life.

We call this the era of the Super Baby.

Part of me cringes at this. We all know that once those who can’t conceive naturally are offered the ability to order up their child, the rest of us will follow. Or will we? Personally, I’ve always held out that I would never do such a thing. I’m a purist. Why would I take control over something as personal as birth? It seems like the most intimate of manipulations known to mankind. We already don’t get to choose our parents, country, religion or name, now even our genetic makeup will be in the hands of others?

And yet, if I look back on how I raised my kids, I absolutely manipulated the environment they grew up in in order to gear towards higher intelligence. It wasn’t at the genetic level, they were granted whatever my egg and their father’s sperm cobbled together. But once they were in my arms, no even before that, I read up on how to encourage intellectual prowess, and implemented those techniques within my childrearing that seemed to have the most data behind them.

Yes my dear sons, I manipulated your environment for my own ends. I guess that’s what parenting is all about.

Seventeen years later, I have my own personal data. Here it comes, my braggadocios Donald Trump moment when I toot my own horn—they’re really pretty smart. Academically they’re thriving. On test measures they’re also scoring off the charts. In addition, they’re great at math, science and music. They can sing, read music, and each plays several instruments. Perhaps it’s in the genes, however most research has shown that even if you’re blessed with the goods, the environment still matters when it comes to how genes express themselves.

So if you consider yourself a futurist parent and would like to begin raising Super Babies even without genetic editing, here are five things I did with my boys that you might want to try. Because Transhumanism is the belief that with technology and effort, we can transcend our human condition and create something more robust, resilient and intelligent. Thus parenting is key to the evolution of our species even if we never order up our embryos.

NOTE: None of these are 100% proven. Studies abound that discredit as well as many that do support them. However in my very small experiment within my family, I’ve had great success with each.

  1. Playing classical music in utero.
My natural parenting friends would cringe, but yes, I am “that Mom” who played Mozart’s Piano for Four Hands to my son while he was in utero. I was put on bedrest due to early contractions at 25 weeks and had nothing else to do but lay on the couch. My husband bought the CD after hearing an interview on NPR about the Mozart Effect and figured, why not? I placed the headphones on my belly every day for an hour. And later I did the same for my second son when I was 25 weeks along. The Mozart Effect has since been debunked, sort of, but both boys play several instruments, have had an effortless time learning math and have a special awareness of their surroundings that is fairly impressive. Oh, I did sometimes play the Grateful Dead Cornell 5/8/1977 show as well, so maybe it was Jerry and not Amadeus that worked!

  1. Reading to them daily.
Those first months after my second son was born are a blur. A toddler and a newborn are an insane thing to do to yourself. I felt like I was nursing all day while my two y.o. would run around destroying the house. One day I told the older boy to sit on the couch with me while I nursed his brother. I had a copy of the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and I read it to him. Two hours later, he was still on the couch, listening to every word, while the baby slept in my arms. A new activity had been born! From there I would read to them every day—we covered the Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter—basically books I enjoyed as well as picture books that they chose. Sometimes, I still read to them, just because.

Studies have shown that one of the key indicators of success in school is how often a child is read to by their parents.

  1. Fish oils.
Research has shown that Omega 3 fatty acids, and fats in general, are good for the nervous system. Essentially the myelin sheath that covers our nerve cells is a layer of fat. When that fat is depleted, the ability for the neurons to pass information slows. This made sense to me when I read about it thirteen years ago and when my boys were 4 and 2, I began to give them cod liver oil every day. They still take it. And they have great memorization skills. Honestly. Of course, other studies debunk this and I only have a sample size of two, but they’re healthy (they rarely get sick) and they can look at something once and have it committed to memory. I’ll admit, there are a lot of useless facts stores in those brains, addiction to YouTube channels will do that to a person, but I wouldn’t ever go against them in a game of Magic the Gathering.

  1. A low sugar, hot breakfast before school.
Simple as it is, childhood hunger is a HUGE reason for lowerIQ scores. If you don’t have the nutrients, then you can’t focus, regardless of your genetic makeup. In addition, brain growth in those critical toddler and teen years is hampered by a poor diet. Sugar will also lower test scores. I once read about an experiment where children were given a hot breakfast of eggs and oatmeal then tested. The next day they were fed pancakes with as much syrup as they desired, and then tested. Their scores dropped by 20%! Same kids. Same genes. One brain on fat, one on sugar. If I’m sending my kids to school, why would I send them hungry (they’re not very nice when they’re hungry) or full of sugar? If I have the time, I make them a huge, healthy breakfast with all the nutrition they need to get through a morning of school.

  1. Sleep
From the beginning, I’ve let my kids sleep. When they were babies, they were in bed by 6:30 pm. They took two naps until they were three, then one nap a day until age 6. Yes, they’d nap after kindergarten and then still go to bed by 7:30. Now that they’re teens, I don’t have that sort of control of their schedule. But for those formative years, I encouraged sleep and everything that goes with it—no TV, phones, loud music, etc. after dinner. They get to put themselves to bed now, but on school nights, they actually still go to sleep by 10pm, which is pretty good for teens. Key to this is turning off all wireless devices and leaving them out of the bedroom. Why? Because texting and gaming can make you lose track of time, and the next thing you know, it’s two am! Even the adults in the house follow this rule. Studies have shown that aloss of an hour of sleep can turn a sixth grade mind into a fourth grade mind! Sleep is the maker of minds.

So there you have it, five things I’ve done for over a decade with my kids in order to create an environment geared towards their intellect. They could just be smart because their parents are both engineers, however I wasn’t about to leave it all up to genetics. As scientists go further down the rabbit hole of genetics, neurology and the inner workings of our brains, a few things still hold true—in the end it isn’t nature VS nurture, it’s nature AND nurture working cooperatively with one another.

Book Review: Prospects for Human Survival by Willard Wells

I recently read one of the latest releases from the Lifeboat Foundation titled, Prospects for Human Survival by Willard Wells. As a member of the Lifeboat Foundation Advisory Board, I was asked to review the book. While I’m not one for doom and gloom, alas I always hold out hope for humanity, I found Prospects to be an interesting read.

This is a very casually and yet carefully written treatise based on a formula that the author, Willard Wells, has been working on for some time. A Ph. D. in Physics from Caltech with a minor in math makes Wells quite qualified in his research into an equation that can predict the half-life the human species. For those of you who enjoy math, the time spent describing the logic behind his equation is very thorough. In addition, the appendices are filled with proofs and other research to back up his thesis, which is essentially that the our technological civilization has a half-life of only 20 – 50 years, unless we implement appropriate interventions.

The major reason Wells believes this to be a possibility is the invention of AI, which he claims has a destruction potential so great that this alone may spell our doom. He assumes in this book that AI will basically ruin us unless we begin to create a kind AI, one that’s programmed to love and serve humanity. Interestingly, he calls this the Nanny AI. I’ve seen this argument before, that the only way to stop a bad AI is a good AI. However, while I understand that AI has the power to destroy us, I also don’t think truly independent thinking machines are as much of a danger as we think. First, the technology to reproduce Artificial Consciousness or Sentience hasn’t even been invented yet. And it’s not even considered possible by most computer scientists. To base our future survival rate on something that may remain in the realm of science fiction is unrealistic. At a minimum, the value it’s given in Wells’ equation is at best exaggerated.

However this book isn’t only about the threat of AI. Wells does a great job covering many other scenarios, from the gray goo nanobot takeover to nuclear war/winter. He includes global warming and biological warfare as well. He’s created a fairly complete list and has taken the time to give some conspiracy theories some thought. While many of the hazards he lists may also seem like science fiction, the exercise of thinking about them is important. At a minimum, a science fiction writer could use this book to get some great story lines, which is something Wells encourages!

And to me, that’s one of the most interesting parts of this book, the author’s encouragement that we continue to use storytelling as a way to both awaken us to the dangers technology brings to our race, as well as the solutions. Wells rightly suggests that storytelling has a purpose in our learning as a species and allows us to delve deeper into scenarios in a way that mere mathematical formulas and data crunching can’t do for us. When we tell a story, we look at the danger from the perspective of many characters, and the plotline can reveal not only solutions, but touchpoints or places where decisions must be made, or else our chance to save ourselves will pass us by. To me, Wells is brilliant to encourage such exploration in storytelling, but then again, I’m a science fiction writer for that reason—I want to look at technology from all angles and see where might be headed.

Lastly, Wells spends a decent amount of time discussing Wall Street and their technology, specifically stock traders and their quants, Wall Street’s name for their computer finance geeks. Rarely do I see this aspect of our technology mentioned in a list of dangers to humanity, but it is one of the most nefarious aspects of our society right now. Quants are designing AI that will, “know as much as possible about human nature so they can exploit human biases in their evaluation of stocks.” Wells points out that this is a powerful AI already and unfortunately resides in the realm of Wall Street, a place where lawmakers are indifferent to risks or enacting legislation. Take the 2008 economic meltdown, caused by our “too big to fail” banks. It was a disaster and those responsible were barely held accountable. Instead they were rewarded with a HUGE bailout. Quants have already created a computerized money making scheme—high frequency trading (HFT), which allows traders to exchange millions of shares on a time scale of milliseconds that no normal investor can possibly track. As Wells puts it, “It is a parasitic activity that destabilizes the system without performing any useful service to anyone. By acting on price fluctuations milliseconds before anyone else, they essentially levy a tax on everyone else.”

Why include this in our list of hazards for the human race? One, the HFT technology can completely destroy our economy which can lead to widespread disease, hunger and social meltdown. Second, our Congress doesn’t care. Spread Networks, a telecom provider recently built a high-speed fiber-optic cable between Chicago and New York, shaving 3 milliseconds off the communication time between the two cities. Who wanted this? High-frequency traders, and they were willing to pay $300M to create it, most likely knowing that Congress has no plans to shut down or legislate HFT at all. Over time, as quants develop more and more sophisticated software, without any oversight, one can only imagine where it will lead. Combined with the accumulation of immense wealth in the hands of a few, Wells is right to point this vulnerability out, because of all the threats humanity faces, economic meltdown at the hands of an AI designed to exploit us in order to make money is probably the most likely disaster that will strike us. In fact, it's almost guaranteed unless some sort of regulation on the part of our government takes place.

Overall Willard Wells has written a very readable book for those who think about the end times and want suggestions on how to prepare. His writing style is both casual and chatty, as well as mathematically rigorous. If you’re wondering what your best next steps are in the face of potential technological devastation, then I think you’ll find Prospects for Human Survival a worthwhile read.

The book can be purchased at http://amzn.to/1P4ibiE

The Imperative of Asking “Why?"

A few days ago, I found myself at the dentist’s office discussing my son’s wisdom teeth. From the x-rays taken last summer, you could see them coming in strong and straight. The doctor asked me if I wanted to take them out. I asked, “Why?”

“Because that’s what we do.”

I have a lot of quirks, but one of them is the instant desire to do the opposite of anything suggested merely because it’s, “what we do.” The moment I hear those words, I probe further.

“Well,” I said. “Why do we do it?”

“Because there isn’t always room in the mouth for this set of teeth.”

“Does my son have enough room?”


“Will they come in straight?”


“Then why should we remove them?”

Pause. Smile. Finally, “Because they’re hard to clean. Keeping them healthy will require good dental care.”

“Don’t we need good dental care to keep all our teeth healthy?”

Still smiling, “Of course.”

I turned to my son and said, “It seems that if you want to keep your wisdom teeth, you’ll need to take care of them.” Which is exactly what’s called for to keep any of our teeth.

“Because that’s what we do.” There’s a lot of this in the world. So many systems, customs, conventions and procedures that we put up with simply because we don’t bother to ask why. Why do we have only two political parties? Why do we only allow marriage in pairs rather than trios or more? Why do we circumcise our sons? Why do we need to take a dozen standardized tests to get into college? Why are bombing Syria? Why is marijuana illegal? Why do we have single sex bathrooms?

Children always ask why and are often told to stop asking. To that I ask, why? Why do we tell our children to stop asking the only question that really matters in this world? Why is vital to learning. You can memorize something, but unless you ask why, you don’t own it. To ask why and then follow the path to the answer is learning at its purest. When my kids ask why, I often reply, “I wonder, I wonder.” Sometimes I give them an answer, other times I just let them wonder.

To ask why is to wonder about the world around you. Those who ask why are often seen as trouble makers, but really these are the change agents. If someone asks you why you do something, and you take the time to answer them, then discussion occurs. And it may very well be that at the end of the day both the questioner and the one being asked the question learn a lot.

Creatives are those who never stop asking why. Even though their parents and teachers might have tried to beat it out of them, they must ask the question often. This is what it means to be curious. Why often leads to how. How would it be to ride on the back of a particle of light? How would it be to live in a building one hundred stories high? How could we build it in a safe and sturdy manner? Then how can lead to what. What would it mean if we could communicate using radio signals? How can we transfer electricity throughout a city? Why do we use fuel that pollutes, and is difficult to mine without hazard, to heat our homes? How could we use the sun, or wind or water? Why do we still keep our account data in regions, like we did back when we were a telephony company, when now we’re a nationwide cable company running on an elegant, seamless fiber optic network? (That last question is for Comcast, who still doesn’t allow the Central Division to have access to customer data in the Western Division even though data by its nature essentially exists everywhere at all times.)

And now, as the Information Age completely threatens to overtake industry and bring us to the next evolution of living on this planet, it becomes even more important for all of us, creators and users alike to ask, WHY???? Because if we don’t, then we’ll find ourselves in a strange hybrid of a civilization where technology is stunted due to our fear and our society is a mess of industrial surfdoms.  And if we wait until then to ask why, we all know the answer will be…

“Because this is what we do.”