April 10, 2003


I, Clone: The Three Laws of Cloning will protect clones and advance science (Michael Shermer, March 10, 2003, Scientific American)
In his 1950 science-fiction novel I, Robot, Isaac Asimov presented the Three Laws of Robotics: "1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law."

The irrational fears people express today about cloning parallel those surrounding robotics half a century ago. So I would like to propose Three Laws of Cloning that also clarify three misunderstandings: 1. A human clone is a human being no less unique in his or her personhood than an identical twin. 2. A human clone has all the rights and privileges that accompany this legal and moral status. 3. A human clone is to be accorded the dignity and respect due any member of our species.

Although such simplifications risk erasing the rich nuances found in ethical debates over pioneering research, they do aid in attenuating risible fears often associated with such advances. [...]

Instead of restricting or preventing the technology, I propose that we adopt the Three Laws of Cloning, the principles of which are already incorporated in the laws and language of the U.S. Constitution, and allow science to run its course. The soul of science is found in courageous thought and creative experiment, not in restrictive fear and prohibitions. For science to progress, it must be given the opportunity to succeed or fail. Let's run the cloning experiment and see what happens.

Sometimes they make it to easy for you. Here's a recent story we noted about another experiment men have conducted on themselves with disastrous results:
Europe's population will continue to decline for decades even if birthrates improve significantly, researchers have calculated. Trends towards smaller families and later motherhood mean that there are too few women of childbearing age to reverse the decline in the near future, according to an Austrian study. The year 2000 marked a turning point, with the population's "momentum" becoming negative; there will be fewer parents in the next generation than in this one.

The findings come from a study by Wolfgang Lutz, of the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna, and Brian O'Neill, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, using data from the European Demographic Observatory. They show that Europe's population could decline by as much as 88 million people if present trends continue for another 15 years. The population of the European Union was about 375 million in 2000.

The decline made Europe the scene of a significant social experiment, Dr Lutz said. "Negative momentum has not been experienced on a large scale in world history so far," he added.

And today comes word that the experiment that Mr. Shermer, and many others, advocate might well, at this point, be little more than systematic slaughter:
Current technique may scupper key primate egg proteins. (HELEN PEARSON, 11 April 2003, Nature)
Whether or not rogue scientists could clone a human is hotly debated. After 6 years trying, on over 700 monkey eggs, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh says not.

The current technique, his team conclude, robs primate eggs of proteins they need to survive. The 'nuclear transfer' procedure used to create Dolly the sheep "paralyses the egg", Schatten says. Key proteins are sucked out when the egg is stripped of its DNA to be replaced with genetic material from another cell1.

Cloning has worked in mice, sheep and other animals because their eggs contain back-up supplies of these proteins, says Schatten. The conventional technique "will have to be modified" to make it work on primates, including humans, agrees Roger Pedersen, who studies cloning at the University of Cambridge, UK.

The study casts doubt on the latest report that a human clone has been created. Early this week, fertility doctor Panayiotis Zavos of the University of Kentucky in Lexington published a study revealing a cloned human embryo that grew to a size of 8-10 cells2.

It is not clear whether this embryo would survive much longer. The same concerns were raised over a 2001 report from Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Worcester, Massachusetts, showing cloned human embryos of a few cells.

Those who demand that we charge full speed ahead with cloning and other genetic engineering techniques, without regard to the consequences, display a disturbing contempt for life. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 10, 2003 10:27 PM

"Negative momentum has not been experienced on a large scale in world history so far,"

Well, except maybe for the Black Death, which, if I remember correctly, reduced Europe's population by about a third.

Posted by: Regards, Jeff Guinn at April 11, 2003 8:04 AM


That's not momentum, it's a brief artificial crisis. Populations declined during WWI too and likely during many other wars.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 8:32 AM

Shermer wrote, "The irrational fears people express today about cloning parallel those surrounding robotics half a century ago."

Bill Joy (chief scientist at Sun Microsystems) wrote the infamous Wired
article Why the Future Doesn't Need Us
, describing among other terrors, a fear of a certain type of robot (the strong AI type). I dare Shermer to call him
irrational. The point being, sometimes 'irrational' is just a cudgel to swing at your opponent, and the fears may be well-grounded.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at April 11, 2003 9:01 AM


The novel that Glenn Reynolds mentions favorably in the colloquy following the Hawthorne review is especially appalling:


It celebrates the replacement of humankind by AI.

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2003 10:08 AM