Different Technologies VS Morality By Andrew Cumbie  

armyguy141 30M
3 posts
8/11/2006 6:51 am

Last Read:
3/29/2008 7:42 am

Different Technologies VS Morality By Andrew Cumbie


Different Technologies VS Morality By Andrew Cumbie

Over the next few pages I will talk about a variety of subjects. I hope as the reader you can learn something and I hope that my research can provoke thoughts and subjects that you haven’t thought of and if you have I hope that you will se them in a new light. Now lets talk about technology. Technology is rampant, exponentially growing beyond the bounds normally comprehensible by the human mind. Many of these technologies are so fundamentally disruptive that they challenge the very practice of science. Discoveries once unimaginable except in science fiction are appearing at such a rapid rate that there is no time to evaluate their moral and ethical implications in a deliberate and measured fashion. Genetic engineering, human cloning, tissue engineering, intelligent robotics, nanotechnology, suspended animation, regeneration, and species prolongation are but a few that will revolutionize what it means to be human and what the ultimate fate of the species may be. Unless these issues are addressed at this time, we shall face the consequences of an uncontrolled and unprepared future. HERE IS NO denying the astonishing introduction of new technologies throughout the twentieth century. In centuries past, technology had appeared in a slow and measured fashion, with a predictable linearity. Recent technology introduction, however, has been following an exponential growth, as most clearly illustrated by the information technologies of computers, communications, and the Internet. There are numerous other technologies, emerging with the same or greater rapidity, that will have as much, or a greater, effect. Attention is usually focused upon the technologies; however, there is an accelerated growth that is fueled by a concomitant revolution in technology transfer, manufacturing, distribution, and commercialization. At no time in history have new ideas or inventions been brought to product so quickly or distributed so widely. Thus, the impact of any disruptive technology is immediately felt on a global level. Unfortunately, our political, social, and behavioral systems are too slow to respond, and the moral and ethical implications are either ignored or made subservient to a more pressing (commercial?) need. While non-technology issues are difficult or nearly impossible to address in a scientific manner, a discussion is warranted in order to emphasize the urgency of the issues. There have been stirrings of criticism of, and reaction against, the rapidity of the introduction of disruptive technologies, with some advocating immediate "relinquishing" of research efforts until the societal, moral, and ethical issues are addressed .The announcement of animal cloning (Dolly the sheep) resulted in an international "knee jerk" reaction, banning all research on human cloning, and nearly all stem cell research. One conclusion from this experience might be that a total ban on scientific research is unrealistic, and that the best approach is to permit such uncertain research within carefully considered guidelines and monitoring. Yet such an approach requires a concerted, proactive effort to define science developments and their potential consequences, and then to create a consensus on appropriate methodology to cautiously advance the science within moral and ethical bounds. In an attempt to approach the dilemma in a rational and somewhat scientific manner, the first step is to identify what are the "unthinkable" technologies–the naming of names. Until an agreement is reached as to where the danger lies, a realistic response is not possible. There is no taxonomy of threatening science, so it is necessary to start by identifying those technologies that could cause such fundamental moral and ethical discord. Some of the more important and obvious emerging technologies are human cloning, tissue engineering, genetic engineering, species prolongation (longevity), suspended animation, the virtual human (holomer), intelligent machines, nanotechnology, and habitation in space. Each of these will have enormous impact, and create major shifts in the future of mankind, yet little attention has been paid to them by the philosophical community at large. Like so many innovations in the past, such as electricity or the human genome, the revolution is upon us before the more important moral and ethical issues can be raised, such as the consequences of controlled fertilization (the Pill) or the environmental impact of genetically engineered foods. While not all of the implications of the new technologies can be foreseen at this time, it is critical to identify the candidates likely to disrupt our conventional thinking, and investigate their social, behavioral, political, moral, and ethical implications. Although many critics would protest that some of the technologies cannot be accomplished in the next two to three decades, the issues are so profound that even longer time spans may be inadequate to prepare for the consequences. There are numerous implications and consequences of advanced technologies; however, the following examples address some of the known issues. These issues fall into several categories: scientific (is the science really safe?), social (what are the societal implications?), behavioral (how will individuals’ behavior change?), political (how will the legal and regulatory systems react?), and philosophical (what fundamental moral and ethical precepts are challenged?).

The Technologies

Ever since the announcement of the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep, the specter of human cloning has been raised. The immediate response, a call for caution from the scientific community, was positive, and the political will was engaged to form a consensus that human cloning should not proceed until adequate scientific evidence could be acquired, and moral and ethical issues addressed. Unfortunately, the global will of caution, signed by nearly every nation, was ignored by a private, commercial company not legally bound by that legislation, and a human clone was born. Initially, the science of human cloning will be available only to stable couples who have been unsuccessful in every known means of conception and fertilization and still choose to have their own child instead of adopting, or to same-sex families. While this may sound like a noble goal, the lines will blur, or others will choose to offer cloning to nearly anyone for moral or commercial interest. Since the science is not yet perfected, it is inevitable that some disastrous mutations that do not spontaneously abort will be created; who will be responsible for taking care of these individuals? Socially, will a new "class" of people be evolving? Politically, who decides the right to be cloned–is it an individual decision? And will the clones have the same rights as natural-born individuals? Morally, is it "right" to create new life? Should we clone "armies" or breed special types of individuals, as in Brave New World? Regrettably, the world was continuing the debate on these issues without resolution while the first human clones were born. Thus the urgent need to consider the following technologies, which will have lesser or greater impact, before they come to scientific realization. The history of is well established. There are laboratory animals, such as knock-out mice, that have been specificall"designed" with the absence of certain genes in order to accurately study human biology, physiology, and disease, and this technology is extending to more precise methods of design. Certain livestock, such as cattle and goats, have been engineered to produce critical "products"such as coagulation factors, fibrinogen, or spider silk proteins. Many of the forthcoming innovations will be implemented through genetic manipulation of stem cells. A few of the discoveries have been translated into the practice of medicine with obvious success, such as replacing genes in individuals who lack a certain critical gene. While the initial successes do not appear to pose significant problems, more adventurous genetic engineering certainly will. An example of the complicated nature of the issues is the legislation against embryonic or fetal stem cell research. Laws have been enacted to prevent research on human embryonic stem cells as well as the harvesting of the stem cells until evidence becomes available about possible negative effects. During these deliberations, the potential for cure of paraplegia from spinal cord damage through modification of these cells is being delayed indefinitely. What are the implications of "designing" children, and what are the consequences if the parents do not get the trait they expected? Are we on the path to eugenics? Even worse, what happens if an error occurs, resulting in a congenital anomaly with disability, disfiguration, or abnormal behavior? Will there be fads for certain socially desired characteristics, or could the genetic alteration enhance certain properties, such as mental or physical abilities? Who decides what engineering occurs–the parents? What are the problems associated with designing children with advantageous characteristics; will only a select few affluent families be able to afford this advantage, and will it propagate an "elite" class of people or leaders?

Tissue engineering, regeneration, and intelligent prostheses

The state of the art in tissue engineering is limited to tissues with a few layers, such as bioartificial skin, heart valves, or blood vessel segments. However, rapid progress is being made in growing bioartificial organs with full, three-dimensional architecture .This is accomplished with bioresorbable scaffolding of vascular tissue, which will then be seeded (in bioreactors) with stem cells from appropriate organs or tissues, such as kidney or liver. Currently, clinical trials are ongoing for bioartificial heart valves, cartilage, and bone. It is anticipated that, within the decade, bioartificial organs will be available for transplantation, generated from the patient’s own stem cells, thereby eliminating the problem of rejection as well as the current scarcity of donor organs. Other research in tissue regeneration has had limited success in regenerating nerve cells, with success in invertebrate models of other tissues. The anticipated long-term goal is regeneration of body parts such as organs and limbs. And finally, prostheses are becoming intelligent, with embedded microsensors, and custom-manufactured for individuals, providing capabilities beyond natural systems. Some prostheses are being controlled by direct connection to the brain, as in the experiment in which a monkey brain implant controls a remote robotic arm. Although tissue engineering may be a welcome solution for the organ transplantation crisis, will this spill over into wholesale organ replacement? Will surgeons of the future simply replace diseased, malformed, or cancerous organs with "new" ones? Will there be growth of organs/tissues, or genetic engineering of tissues, or manufacturing of prostheses that will provide "supra-human" capabilities, such as the ability to see in the infrared or ultraviolet portion of the spectrum (as many birds and animals do) or in the dark with implant ultrasound sensors, or extraordinary strength from muscles enhanced with electro-active polymers? Considerable research is being devoted to neuralimplants or direct brain-machine interface; what are the implications and complications of directly communicating with computers or connecting to the Internet, or, perhaps, of direct brain-to-brain interaction? Who will pay for the expensive bioreactors to grow, and tissue banks to store, the organs? If people receive supra-normal sensory organs (eyes, ears, muscles), will they be treated as anomalies or freaks? Politically, will there be a new class of people who can afford the technology, who will live longer, and who will perhaps be politically more powerful? And finally, what will it mean to be "human" if nearly all of your body is made of replacement parts or if you do not "look" human?

Species prolongation aka long life

The average life span of humans in the advanced nations has slowly been increasing, with the average in the United States now being more than 75 years. But no human has been documented to live longer than 123 years–the total possible life span has not increased. What are the consequences of a 200-year human life span? Socially, will there be a new "class" of long-lived people? And will they be resented? Since there are grave concerns about overpopulation, what benefit is there in exceptionally long life? Will multiple careers become necessary? As for politics, older, more experienced people prefer to keep the status quo–will there be a slowing of progress? Morally, is there really a need to live longer? Will this result in even more of the depression, anxiety, and mental illness that we already see in the elderly? I’ll let you decide which is right.

Suspended animation

The quest for suspended animation has been relegated to speculation and pseudo-science, with commercial "cryogenics" being offered to allow persons with incurable diseases to hibernate until a cure can be found. Until recently, there had been no verifiable scientific evidence that such procedures are valid. However, there has recently been modest success in controlling cellular metabolism. Dogs have been made asystolic, given an intravenous solution to slow cellular metabolism, with mild hypothermia induced, and then resuscitated two hours later, at which time they demonstrate normal behavior. Such an experiment is admittedly brief. But what benefits would accrue from either short- or long-term successes? Scientifically, a short-term suspension lasting a few hours may provide a substitute for anesthesia or heart bypass during surgery, or during emergency treatment in the pre-hospital setting. Since the experiments have only been conducted upon dogs, however, we do not know the immediate or long-term effects on humans. Socially speaking, will the science be accelerated to allow humans to hibernate for years, and, if so, how will these people cope when reawakened ( I’m reminded of Rip van winkle). Is science fiction correct in suggesting this is the only way to explore the solar system and beyond? Politically, if persons are reawakened after years of hibernation, will there be conflict between past and future cultures? Morally, will we need to suspend everyone with an "incurable disease" until the cure is found? Will no one be allowed to die, but rather be put into suspended animation? Who chooses the ones who will receive the treatment? And think about how many years it would take to get through congress I mean with all the legal loose ends and all. But really who would decide who gets the treatment, would it be a local doctor or would it be someone higher up the chain like the commander in chief. Who knows these things only time will tell.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is the world of the small the world of individual atoms and molecules. The promise of nanotechnology is that it is possible to create literally anything we choose simply by constructing it atom by atom. The first success was carbon nanotubes–a material that is ten times as strong as, and one-seventh the weight of, titanium, the strongest known natural material. In addition, because these creations are at the molecular level, new approaches to building computers on the nanoscale will result in computers that are both more powerful and smaller, to a point where they will be so small that they can be implanted anywhere. Today, small nanomotors are being constructed, a hundred times smaller than a red blood cell. Future applications could include nanomachines that are injected into the blood stream; near-term construction will result in simple, "intelligent" drug delivery systems that seek out specific targets, such as cancer or islet cells. The scientific challenge will be to control these processes and to be certain mutations do not occur, especially ones that would promote autoimmune disease, or other unintended consequences. Will such systems eventually replace physicians by simply sending machines into the body to destroy disease or repair damage? Think of the jobs that will be lost if that is to happen. But as in tissue and genetic engineering, will some people be given enhanced capabilities, longevity, or other attributes? The same questions about overpopulation, life span, distribution of benefits, and resentment between haves and have-nots will apply. I think that this issue is one that must be considered carefully because if it isn’t then we could possablly have a large number of people who have enhanced "powers" that could become some sort of super human race. While all the other people are normal, I mean if there was a conflict between the two sects then we could be looking at the extinction of all the normal beings, then all we would have left is a artificially enhanced race and with each new generation there would come a new breed who is stronger than the last.

How long should a person live, and is there a right (obligation?) to die?

With the advances in understanding the proteins, structures, signaling molecules, and cellular functions involved in cell death and aging, humans will have longer life spans. Perhaps the children of the next generation of surgeons will have a life expectancy of two hundred years or longer. How do humans cope with this extended life span, how do we determine when a person is dying, and should there even be consideration of a right, let alone an obligation, to die?

How do we implement suspended animation

Success in sustaining vital cellular functions at a remarkably reduced rate of physiological activity raises the question whether this can be a revolutionary replacement for anesthesia, and whether it will be possible to extend such a state beyond minutes or hours to years? Can it be possible, and is it practical or ethical, to prolong the existence of terminally ill patients for years in hopes of a cure for their diseases? What are the incredible social, financial, political, and other implications of reawakening decades in the future with little if any biological increase in age? I think that by doing this we are playing god, I mean if we have people who are ill and its there time to go well then its there time to go. But if we do find a cure years down the line then great but we shouldn’t prolong someones life for years just so we can cure them.

How will humans interact with intelligent machines (e.g., computers, robots)?

While it is not certain, there is high likelihood that the next two to three decades we will see computers or robotics with capabilities vastly superior to those of humans, not only in a single area but in a large array of human activities. In addition, research in neural and brain prostheses and interfaces points to the possibility of direct connection to the brain, initially in some minor way. Will our children rebel by "plugging in" to the Internet or each other, as rebelling children today are fascinated with body piercing? Will these machines be "intelligent"? How will humans control them, or will we interact with them in a form of man-machine direct interface? As we understand and program more and more emotion into the machines, will they assume human-like characteristics? Will it be ethical to unplug or kill an intelligent machine? Over a greater time, will the machines even need us any more? This is really scary to me as I reread what I wrote I think about the matrix were humans are no longer born but grown, dosent that scare you too?

What is the direction of nanotechnology?

As we embark on creating new materials, objects, machines, and perhaps life forms by initiating the assembly of them atom by atom, will we be able to control the results of this self-assembly process? Will we create materials that cannot be destroyed or recycled? What will it mean to be able to create literally anything you want, including life forms would this endow humans with God-like characteristics? Will we need to redefine the attributes of God, perhaps removing some properties (such as the ability to create) from the purview of a divinity? Would god allow us to even get that far? I don’t think so god has given us many gifts but the whole creating life that is a god thing ya know from dust we are made and to dust we will return. Over these last few pages I hope as a reader you have learned something I have, and I hope that if you didn’t learn anything that my paper has at least raised an eyebrow or two.

CB_2 52F

8/11/2006 7:17 am

Can you please put in paragraphs of reasonable sizes (say, no more than 4 lines each), and then I might be able to digest it? Thanks

Blogito ergo sum.


Dom4YngBDDSfun 58M
112 posts
3/4/2007 4:03 pm

Excellent thesis. I'm not sure I agree with some adjectives in your sentences, but I get the point very well.

Remember history. Mankind has always questioned the wisdom of unleashing technology upon the world, as well as anything new in science and as well as art.

Has it always been good? no

Has it all been bad or made things worse? no

People must use good practice, control must be able to 'govern' release and access with oversight of the control. Public discosure and sunshine of the industry to separate fact from scare tactics are also important.


Become a member to create a blog