Dominic Cummings’ support for ‘designer babies’ is telling

Photograph: James Veysey/Rex/Shutterstock

Dominic Cummings seems to understand as little about parental love as he does about intelligence (Cummings supported selecting embryos for IQ, 20 February). Most parents do not want children who will vanish to a posh university, only to reject and belittle them. Of course, we don’t want our children to be sick or disabled. That apart, we want them to be as much as possible like ourselves, to love, understand and reflect us. The idea that selecting for IQ, even if it were feasible, would set off a global stampede to Mensa reflects only his limited understanding of what makes humans lovable – and intelligent.

I have spent the past three years researching human and machine intelligence through the MIT Media Lab, which he would no doubt consider the smartest place on the planet (it shares that view). Contrary to what Cummings and apparently Priti Patel believe, many people – including the chief economist of the Bank of England – have told me that jobs like theirs, which only require abstract calculation and “bandwidth”, will be lost to automation long before those of nurses, carers, mechanics or hairdressers.

Our human intelligence takes many forms: we have brains in the gut and the heart, we cannot develop neurologically as babies unless we are cuddled as infants, and in old age the right kind of touch from a skilled and empathetic carer doesn’t just feel good, but objectively speeds healing and reduces pain.

Isn’t it time we threw out these old definitions of intelligence, based as they are on outdated science and worse humanity, and began to cherish – and reward – those irreplaceable qualities that only “stupid” humans can offer?
Sheila Hayman
Director’s fellow, MIT Media Lab

• People who place such emphasis on intellectual intelligence don’t seem to realise how incomplete it is to human function. It’s not that important what you know as to what happens when that knowledge passes through filters of emotional intelligence and is shaped by experiences of empathy, compassion and understanding.

There doesn’t seem to be much awareness of this, which is why we seem to be often governed by people with so-called high IQs but with the emotional resonance of children.
Catherine Dornan
Llandrindod Wells, Powys

• If Dominic Cummings’ appalling thoughts on designing babies for high IQs on the NHS were to become reality, we would presumably be cursed with more advisers like him and politicians like Boris Johnson. Though I believe Johnson’s degree is of the second class, so perhaps he does not count? High IQ doesn’t necessarily produce desirable qualities like common sense, kindness, proportion – or, indeed, political savvy – as was shown by the Brexit referendum launched by a PM with a first in PPE.
Jane M Card
Harwell, Oxfordshire

• If Dominic Cummings really wants to improve the life chances of children from the poorer sections of society, perhaps he might advocate funding local authorities to reopen the 500 or more Sure Start centres that have closed since 2010. Early years interventions are a proven way to improve children’s later school performance, at a fraction of the cost of hit-and-miss embryo selection.
Sue Davies
Soham, Cambridgeshire

• In her illuminating article (Eugenics: the flawed pseudoscience that won’t die, Journal, 20 February), Angela Saini is of course right to say that “eugenics was the driving force behind the modern-day selective schooling system”. But educational selection goes back much further than that.

Plato’s foundation myth for his Republic sets out a similar classification, where children are created by “God” with different admixtures of gold, silver and bronze, which will determine their place, influence and function in society even if it is different from their parents’.

The Republic was a fundamental text in the classical education, especially at Oxford, of many of the Englishmen and women who came later to construct and refine educational structures from the 19th century on, including the Butler Act of 1944. Who knows how far the notion has extended, even without eugenics?
Rachel Moriarty
Chichester, West Sussex

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