The Rich Are Guinea Pigs for Biotechnology

There’s no doubt that there’s going to be an international market for biotechnologies.  And you’re going to have consumers going from one place to another trying to find enhancement technologies.  But the good news for that, I think, is that they’re not very good.  So what’s going to actually end up happening is that the wealthy are going to end up being the guinea pigs. That is, they’re going to go out and buy this stuff.  They’re going to be adopters and then we’re going to perfect those technologies on the backs of the people who can afford them.  

By the time they trickle down to the average person, they’ll be cheaper and more effective.  It’s one of the ironies of these kinds of technologies.  We tend to think that we test everything on the poor, but actually, there are a lot of things we test out on the wealthy because when they first come out they’re too expensive for the poor to get.  

And cellphones were a good example.  The original cellphones were awful.  And the modern cellphone is a thousand times better and it was the wealthy that spent a lot of money on those early cellphones who were the guinea pigs for early cellphones.  And so, there is a kind of justice in some of this.  

But it’s also true that as some of these technologies at least develop, they will be out of the range of affordability for large swaths of people all over the world.  And wealthier countries are going to have them first. Wealthier people are going to have them first.  I don’t really think they confer so much of an advantage, at least the ones we have now.  Our attention enhancing drugs are only moderately effective.  Our mood-altering drugs are only moderately effective.  So I’m not sure that they will confer as great an advantage as people worry that they will.  

But eventually, as they become more sophisticated and more reliable, I think actually the price will come down quickly and they’ll be available to everybody.

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