Can genetics make animals smarter?

Achievements in the field of neural implants and genetic engineering suggest that in the not too distant future we will be able to strengthen human intellect. Let's assume. If we succeed, should we take the younger brothers with us? Improving the human brain is becoming an increasingly discussed topic. The neuroscientist at Duke University, Mikhail Lebedev, said in July that it could take several decades before neurointerfaces that strengthen the brain could be used outside the medical field. However, he is confident that these technologies, as well as pharmacology and genetic engineering, will almost certainly allow us to improve our mental abilities.

Whether cognitive improvements are good or bad and how we manage them – these questions have to be answered by philosophers, futurists and bioethics. A separate question is whether we should use cognitive improvements in relation to animals. The possibilities are astounding.

MIT researchers found that mice that were genetically modified to express the human FOXP2 gene, responsible for learning and speech processing, quickly passed the labyrinth. Another group from Wake Forest University, studying Alzheimer's disease, found that neuronal implants can increase rhesus macaque estimates during intelligence tests.

The concept of "lifting animals" is best known in the movie "Planet of the Apes". But the proponents of the concept are less pessimistic about the results.

Fiction writer David Breen popularized this concept in a series of novels "Rise" in which people share the world with other animals and all lay out unique skills, perspectives and innovations on the table. "After a few hundred years, the benefits will be amazing," the author told in an interview.

Others, such as George Dvorsky of the Institute of Ethics and New Technologies, believe that there is a moral imperative. He says that the rejection of the use of improving technologies on animals will be as unethical as banning their use for certain groups of people.

There are third parties who do not think so. Alex Napp of Forbes notes that the development of technologies for raising animals will require a lot of invasive research on animals that will bring immense suffering to the same animals that we want to help. This is also a problem with ordinary animals, but what about the ones whose cognitive abilities have already been improved?

The whole concept can also be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the mind. People view intelligence as a single, self-contained metric that develops linearly and has a man-crown on top.

Kevin Kelly and Wired argue that science does not have a single scale by which to evaluate the intelligence of different species. Each of them combines a set of cognitive possibilities, some of which are much lower than our own, and some are much higher. The squirrel, for example, can remember the exact location of thousands of acorns for many years.

Attempts to strengthen the intelligence of animals can ultimately not result in giving our brothers less reason, but to make them more human. This is a kind of benevolent colonialism that implies that humane means good, says Paul Graham Raven, a futurist from the University of Sheffield.

There are also fundamental barriers that can make it difficult for animals to achieve cognitive abilities similar to human ones, regardless of whether how far the technology of intellect strengthening will be developed. In 2013, Swedish scientists selectively withdrew a small fish-guppies with large brains. The fish became smarter, but the appearance of an energy-intensive organ resulted in guppies developing small intestines and producing fewer offspring.

Raising animals may require more than just brain changes, it may be necessary to completely rework physiology that can be technically more complex task than an increase in the human brain.

Our intellect is closely related to our evolutionary history – our brains are larger than those of other animals; opposing thumbs allow the use of tools; vocal cords make possible a complex communication. No matter how much you increase the brain to a cow, it still can not use a screwdriver or tell you an anecdote because it does not have the right tools.

Finally, from a purely selfish point of view, even if we manage to create equal game rules for us and other animals, for humanity this can be an unreasonable step. There is no reason to believe that animals will be more benevolent than we are.

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