Cloning: Not a viable business model

There has been a bit of talk over the last few decades about cloning technologies and the idea that we are technically capable of human cloning at the present time. One way of generating public interest in the mass media when there isn’t much to talk about is to resort to the scary-technology-future schtick. While the achievement of human cloning is noteworthy from a technical standpoint, visions of a eutopian/nightmare scenario in which vast numbers of human clones are produced to further a societal, military or economic end are simply not based in reality.

Humans have evolved the unique ability to adapt our environments to ourselves. This is the opposite of what other organisms have evolved to be capable of. That capability is built on the back of a number of significant human traits. To name a few: opposable thumbs, high intelligence, conscious imagination, multiple-layered memory, the ability to codify and classify our imaginings, complex inter-organism communications, high-order emotional responses and memory, and the critical ability to self-organize into super-organisms. It reads a bit like a product feature list, or more interestingly, a list of Unix-style package dependencies. There is no single trait which can grant the ability to do what humans spend most of their time doing, and there is no magic formula which can accurately model and explain human behavior.

The evolutionary pressures necessary to produce humanity in its present form are varied, complex and largely unknowable at the present time. That humans have ultimately come out of the process is nothing short of miraculous — at least by our present understanding. (On the other hand, strict observation of the anthropic principle forces us to abandon the notion that what has happened on Earth could not have happened elsewhere — and carrying this to a logical conclusion, if the universe is in fact infinite (or, stated another way, if the multiverse is infinitely multifaceted), then it must have occured somewhere else any number of times. Whether the universe/multiverse/innerverse/whatever-verse is infinite is, of course, a subject of debate.)

Cloning, in essence, locks in whatever changes have occured in the target organism indefinitely. This sets the cloned product outside of the world of evolutionary pressure and places it directly into the world of pure economic product — which is subject to the forces of supply and demand. At the present time people enjoy reading emotionally charged imaginings about mass clone scenarios, and yet the same people enjoy reading emotionally charged imaginings about the supposed over population of the Earth — in both cases produced and marketed by the same media organizations (whose business is marketing their product, not understanding applied technology).

If the world is overpopulated then we have no need for clones, because the expense of cloning will not provide a benefit any greater than that of recruiting existing humans who were produced at no burden to whoever the employer is in the scenario. Leaving the burden of (re)production, rearing, education, etc. on a family model (be it nuclear, polygamist, polyamorous, broken home, hooker bastard spawn, whatever) provides available humans at an enormous discount compared to any commercial cloning operation and is therefore the correct market option. This leaves the only commercial viable cloning options to be niche in nature at best. Rich men who really want to buy exactly 5 copies of their favorite shower girl may provide a tiny market of this nature, but there is no guarantee that all five clones will agree with whatever the job at hand winds up being, that the purchaser will be alive and remain interested in the project long enough to see it come to fruition (over a decade), or that the nature of the market will not change enormously before completion. (The ready availability of multiple-birth natural clones (twins, triplets, etc.) has not produced a similar market in any case outside of a very small niche in adult services, and that market already apears to be saturated. It turns out that variety tends to be the greatest male aphrodesiac anyway.)

So this leaves what? Very little market for one of the few proposed uses of clones.

The military has no use for clones over what use it already gains from mass human screenings of naturally evolved humans who do not come with the large overhead of a human cloning program attached. The idea that the military wants identical soldiers is flawed to begin with, however. The U.S. Army has a deep recognition of the benefits of having a hugely diverse fighting force and would not want to sacrfice those advantages in exchange for another budgetary drain the institutional burden of becoming Dad for a large number of clones — who may decide that they have better things to do than serve Washington once they have all the big guns anyway. War is a highly emotional experience and the support provided by soldiers between soldiers and the culture that has evolved within the military because of this is almost as complex to understand as the phenomenon of humanity to begin with. Trying to successfully replicate or replace such a complex system that already exists, works well and is free with one which does not yet exist and might fail at enormous cost would be a very difficult thing to pitch to taxpayers.

One again, this leaves very little potential market where the imagination has a fun time seeing one.

The only viable cloning market for the forseeable future would be in organ production and harvesting. There are a few reasons in this market why human clones will never be viable products as well, however. Once again, the expense and time required to clone a human is already equal to the human who is in need of a bio replacement in the first place, the primary difference between the clone and the natural human being that the existing human would already be rich and well enfranchised to be in a position to order a clone from which to harvest his needed spare parts (and the clone, obviously, would not). This conjures up images of a really fun movie from a few years ago, “The Island”, which told the story of two clones produced for the purposes of organ replacement suddenly realizing what they are and deciding that such a short future wasn’t really for them. But that is the movies. Back in the world of reality we already have the technology to clone human organs, and these organ clones do not require fully human hosts. It is possible to grow a human ear on the back of a lab rat, a human heart inside of a pig, and likely other parts on other hosts which are faster and far cheaper to maintain and harvest than human clones would be.

Once again, no market here, either.

Medical testing is another area where I’ve heard talk of mass human cloning. Perfect test subjects, so some claim. But these are only perfect test subjects on the surface. Identical people are not perfect test subjects in the slightest when it comes to medical testing. The most important aspect of drug, allergy, ergonomics, althetic tolerance, etc. medical testing is the statistical significance of the test group. The word “group” here is everything. Testing clones would merely provide the same person for testing a number of times, which amounts to just testing the same person ad nauseam at enormous expense for no gain. Humanity is a varied and evolving thing, and medical advancements must take that into account or else those advancements themselves become useless and thereby unmarketable.

Sorry sci-fi fans, no market here, either.

For the same reasons that medical testing on clones is useless so is an entire society created from clones. A clone society is instantly susceptible to lethal mass epedemics from every vector. It is very likely that a flu that kills one person would kill them all, whereas natural humanity tends to be largely resistant to every pathogen in nature (and even engineered ones) when taken as a whole. Though humans may suffer to vary degrees independently of one another due to individual variations, those individual variations when combined and spread across the masses of humanity provide an overwhelmingly powerful insurance against the mass extinction of humanity. A cloned society removes this ultimate protection at its root and leaves the population totally naked as a whole. Contemplating these realities means contemplating one’s own mortality and relative insignificance, and I imagine that is a likely reason why people don’t think about such things when they see scary stories on TV or the internet about future dystopic scenarios of a planned Earth-wide all-clone society (a la some Illuminati conspiracy variants).

So all-clone society? Just not workable. Not just economically unviable, a downright unsafe way to try to manage humanity.

So why all the fuss? Mainly because there is a big market in generating public drama around new technologies which the general public does not yet fully understand or have any practical contact with (yet). The technologies required to achieve a human clone are significant, but they will manifest themselves in the market (and already do) in very different ways than current popular media proposes.

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