Customize Your Child:: Defining “Normal”?

“ So the human race would bifurcate into modified superiors and unmodified inferiors.
Darnovsky: That’s a catchy way of putting it, but many bioethicists who’ve looked at this think it’s the most likely scenario.”

1 The Goal:: How society views those who are different/not normal? What does it mean to be “normal”?
I’ve always had an interest in genetic engineering, genetic selection, and eugenics. After reading an article recently on “Designer Babies”, I decided that I wanted to flesh out a future where genetically modified humans are not only possible, but actually quite normal. I am not thinking about super humans with extraordinary strength, gills, or the ability to fly. Instead, I’m thinking of a future where babies are “planned” by their parents to look a certain way and/or excel in a certain field.

2 The Idea:: “Normal” people are genetically modified.
To depict a future where genetic engineering and selection of embryos is the norm. The genetic makeup of individuals is no longer a game of chance, but rather a highly orchestrated process in which the parent(s) customize their child to great extents, choosing everything from eye color to intellectual strength.

3 The Problem:: A new divide between the “modified majority” and the “natural minority”?
While humans have made many advances technologically to ensure stronger, healthier children, there are still many who are born with a disability, disease, or some other genetic mutation that can take away from their quality of life. Genetic selection and engineering offer a way to ensure that children are healthier. We’d no longer have to worry about diseases such as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, or maybe even cancer. At that same time, this technology would create a new rift in society where those unable to get IVF (or choose not to) are “lessers”, subject to discrimination and potentially persecution.

4 The Audience:: Everyone
Everyone, though I have a particular interest in targeting parents or soon-to-be-parents.

5 The Approach:: A design fiction film that depicts a future where genetic modification is the norm.
I’m planning on presenting my design fiction as a movie. It will be a short film that shows clips from now (talks on genetic engineering and selection), and then take off into the future. In the future the film will show a couple going through the process of genetic selection/engineering for their future unborn child. It will also show interviews with those who are genetic modified (the majority) and those who are natural (the minority).

6 Challenges + Unknowns
Trying to wrap this idea into a cohesive movie that has a natural flow and is easy to understand. I want to get across the normality of this new procedure while also getting view points from those who are modified and those who are not. Are they against this procedure, for it, ambivalent?

For my design fiction project and paper I would like to focus on the social aspects of genetic engineering and genetic selection.

  • How will society view people who are genetically engineered to be “better than the norm.” Nothing fantastical or supernatural, no X-men traits. Rather, I’d like to think about a world where most humans are genetically modified to be smarter, physically healthier, and more “attractive.”
  • Those who are genetically modified will be the majority, whereas those who are not will be the minority.
  • Will parents end up believing that genetically engineering their child gives their child the best opportunity to excel in life?
  • Starts with physical health (the elimination of genetic diseases, genetic propensities), and then moves onto physical traits such as height, eye color, skin, height. And then onto the intelligence, higher IQ scores, specialization in mathematics, literature, the sciences etc.
  • What if individuals who are genetically engineered don’t want their children to be engineered as well? What if they feel they were “robbed” of their right to choose who they want to be.
  • Transhumanism: Those who believe that we should improve the human condition using technology. Smarter, stronger, healthier humans.

My design fiction is informed by a series of articles, books, and videos that revolve around the subject of genetic engineering and genetic selection of human embryos. I’ve looked into the scientific process of genetic engineering and selection, as well as the ethical consequences and current social reactions.

I’m looking to depict a world where genetic engineering and selection of embryos is the norm. In this hypothetical world it started with genetic selection and modification purely for the health benefit of the unborn child. It was intended to eradicate disease, mutations, and disabilities. However, as technology advanced, and the ability to modify a child’s physical as well as intellectual traits became available, parents sought to give their child the best they could. In this future world everyone genetically modifies their child because of the health and intellectual benefits. Children who are not modified are in the minority.

What are the social repercussions of this?

I’ll probably create a video that is a series of quick video clips from now. A look into the selection process. And a handful of interviews from those who are “genetically modified” as well as those are “natural.”


  • How things become normative?
  • Priscilla mentioned college students who sell their eggs. Reminds me of the 60 minute documentary on the subject.
  • College Students Targeted for Egg Donation. Female students get paid $5000 to $25000 dollars to sell their eggs. The better their SAT/ACT scores, GPA, artistic/creative ability, the higher the sell price. Link this with the idea of “trait donors”, in this design fiction.
  • Make a framework! Genre, culture, artifact. My topic is informed by xyz (articles, books, science fiction).
  • Look at science fiction where genetic modification is the norm. Movies. Books.
  • Diversity quota “affirmative action for genetic diversity”
  • “Never let me go” movie about clones
  • Genetic modified kid as backup to other children (think of pig)
  • Less emotional connection to child
  • Naming child
  • Nature vs. Nuture
  • Genetic modification as work in progress rather than a one time thing for an embryo

Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future
^ On Amazon Books

Human Genetic Engineering
Gene therapy. Human experiments. Ethics.
“They include the belief that every fetus has an inherent right to remain genetically unmodified, the belief that parents hold the rights to modify their unborn offspring, and the belief that every child has the right to be born free from preventable diseases.”

Genetically Altered Babies Born
Trying to cure infertility.
Genetic material from donor cell injected into the egg.
Two mothers, one father.
Ethics. This is wrong. It is not proven to prevent infertility.
“Regarding the treatment of the infertile, there is no evidence that this technique is worth doing,” he said. “I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage. It would certainly not be allowed in Britain.

Designer Babies: A Right to Choose?
Clinic goes public saying they can now allow parents to choose their baby’s eye and hair color. Clinic shuts down soon after due to public outrage (or, perhaps, unfounded claims).
“If I’ve got a dozen embryos I could implant, and the ones I want to implant are the green-eyed ones, or the blond-haired ones, that’s an extension of choices we think are perfectly acceptable — and restricting them a violation of our procreative autonomy.”
Interviews with those against and for genetic modification and selection of embryos.

“An international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.”

Couple ‘Choose’ to have Deaf Baby
Deaf lesbian couple in Chicago choose to have a deaf child by selecting sperm from a deaf donor with a history of deafness in his family.
“A hearing baby would be a blessing. A deaf baby would be a special blessing.”

More Women Selling Their Eggs
Quick article and video on women who sell their eggs. One woman has gotten $30,000 for 4 donations.

Inside the Business of Egg Donation


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About yvonnehidle

Yvonne Hidle is a first year MTiD (Master of Tangible Interaction Design) student at Carnegie Mellon University. She has a background in architecture and is interested in the way people interact with the built environment, not only visually, but tactically, acoustically, and emotionally as well. She enjoys creating architectural environments that stimulate the user’s imagination and evoke a broad set of emotions. Yvonne has some Processing and Arduino experience, as well as familiarity with scripting languages such as PHP, CSS, and HTML.

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