The genetics startup 23andme is wading into some dicey territory: baby design. Billed as a “calculator,” the company’s new patent allows prospective parents to pick desirable features for their baby. These include easy questions, like if you want your baby to have high risk or low risk for congenital heart defects, and weird ones, like high or low probability for the ability to taste bitter things. 23andme denies that this is a tool to actually design your baby, just a predictive tool to guess what a baby between you and a specific partner would be like.
The midway step between baby predictor and baby design may be sperm clinics. Rather than just looking through binders full of men to pick a genetic father for your child, people could get a list of probabilities based on their genetic profile. From there, doctors could begin to “pre-treat” specific diseases.
Is this all headed down a slippery slope to designer babies? Probably. And yes, that’s weird, and the science fiction canon advises against it. However, there are enormous real benefits. The two parts of this I see as legitimately frightening are gender choice and wealth disparity. If we let people choose genders for their kids, they will, on average, pick too many boys. The other problem is that the rich will have genetically superior kids. That said, the rich already have better healthcare, education, safety, mobility…those are probably more consequential than genetic design.