I have made very few friends in the time I have lived in Oregon. I am kind of an introvert and have always been socially awkward around people I don’t know. That being said, the few friends I have made are good ones. One in particular I met through my wife. He is incredibly clever, very funny, and just generally fun to be around. He has some really interesting views of the world and when I hear them the always get my brain going off on some tangents. This one is inspired by the fact that he doesn’t believe in stem cel research and genetic engineering…
Show me the downside of stem cel research and genetic engineering that outweighs the benefits. Any conversation prompted by that challenge will end up being hypothetical; however, if you really dig in and think about it, there won’t be any. The worst things that they will bring is perfect and unethical test-tube super humans, bio-weapons, and unintentional/intentional super-plague. Those suck, no doubt about it. The problem is that those are minor problems in the grand scheme of things. If all of those things happened right now, the human race would be wiped out. If they don’t happen right now then something else (sun consuming the earth, whatever) wipes out the human race. The difference is that one of them has so many possible benefits that it completely outweighs the risks. The very technology that could cause those problems could also be the solution to the problems caused if you think long-term.
Let me put it a different way. If you could go back in time and stop the invention of the car, then you could theoretically save every person that died in a car accident. That is millions of lives saved. The problem with that is that the mobility that cars allow itself likely allowed those people to exist in the first place. If cars didn’t exist, than most of those people you might have saved would likely never had existed. Technology always introduces problems, but it also solves them eventually too.
My wife made a comment that I am pessimistic the other day. I really took offense to it. I am the definition of an optimist. I always hope that things will work in my favor. What I don’t do is pretend that life is fair. I try to think of all of the things that can go wrong and I plan for those things. When they don’t happen (which is almost all the time) I have a great time. When they do, I clean it up and move along. Technology works the way I do. It plans for the worst, hopes for the best, and addresses unseen problems as they arrise.
When I think about the future I look forward to the day when diseases will be cured and life extended through technology whether it be stem-cel research, genetic engineering, or any other sci-fi kind of stuff you can think of. I love Ray Kurzweil’s view of the future because it is so optimistic. I look forward to those days. They are coming and they will be here faster than anyone can imagine. There will be people that try to screw it up or use it for evil purposes; however, for every one of them there are more people who will shore it up and make it work the way it was intended. For every person that tries to genetically engineer the perfect human or the perfect virus there are more people who will question the ethics and engineer the cure. For every robot built for military purposes there will be more built to help the elderly get up the stairs or better yet, research to make it so people don’t have to fall apart physically.
You really have to take a step back and think longer term than a few years or even your lifetime. Everyone gets scared when you talk about robots being humanlike. The always think of the Terminator movies. The problem with that is that the Terminator movies are completely one-sided as far as thinking of the future. They talk about building robots that decide to attack humans as if the technology to develop the robots would be limited to the robots. It works both ways. The technology that allows the robots to play the human games would also allow humans to play the robot ones. While Terminators are trying to infiltrate human bases, the humans wouldn’t be shitting their pants trying to detect them with dogs, they would be injecting themselves into the robot infrastructure. It eventually ends in stalemate and moves on in a way that benefits everyone. Enslavement of the human race by robots is pretty unlikely and it is a dumb reason to be scared of the future. Anyway, Back to reality…
My point is this. You have to think past the first problem that technology will cause and think about all of the solutions that it is ultimately capable of. Humankind is intolerant of abuse of power which is why revolutions happen when power is abused. That will always be the case. Refuse to be scared of what a few bad apples might do with technology and embrace the direction that millions will move with it, forward.