Thinking about the Road to Follow

In a variety of dystopian fantasies, many writers have questioned how humanity might face its own demise. Enslaved under the boot of Big Brother’s surveillance? Defeated by a revolution of robots we once considered our tools? Perhaps plummeted into a culture of stupidity, where “retweets” and “likes” are a form of currency and people spend all day being entertained into complacent obesity?

The biotechnology field seeks to improve our complex internal mechanics, and is making strides in a variety of industries.DNA sequencing has become cheaper and more accessible – opening the doors to highly personalized medication replacing one-pill-suits-all approach. Wake Forest university researchers are making milestones in the 3D printing of organs and cartilage, hoping to soon cure arthritis and long waits for organ replacements. Mind-controlled prosthetics allows patients who’ve lost limbs or suffered spinal injuries to regain their dexterity through complex robotic arms controlled by microchips in their brain. Researchers keep discovering genes in mice that can be deleted to end obesity – genes that humans also posses. Is the fine-tuning of our genetics not the final frontier of all these repair endeavors? Wouldn’t it be better to avoid disease and illness altogether rather than fight it?

Of course, people fear the possibility of a technological class system, which separates “naturalists” from those who can afford or choose scientific enhancements. These issues, however, seem more related to policy rather than science. You cannot be blamed for discovering fire, if someone chooses to burn a house down with it.

The discussion of any form of eugenics can cause visceral reaction in the public. Forcibly sterilizing people on a basis of poverty, education or health is monstrous. Allowing all parents to choose the healthiest possible outcome for their baby less so. The scientific ability to improve the human genetic stock, and desire to do so, is not inherently evil. It is only how we pursue that path that defines whether we maintain the moral high ground. I once had a Political Science professor who proudly stood left of Lenin on most social issues. But after volunteering at a hospital to treat crack babies, she grew to despise the addicts who were having 5-6 children, and abandoning them with all their health ailments for someone else to take care of. She suggested a policy that would give repeat offenders a choice: if you abandon more than two crack babies, you either go to jail or have your tubes tied. Reasonable, or tyrannical?

It’s perfectly sensible to debate where our pursuits might lead us, and to tread carefully in the shaping of our collective future. But life is the result of complex chemistry, evolving biology and our own will. We should always discuss, monitor and regulate our actions, but not to the point of never moving forward. We’re still debating abortion in this country, while the rest of the world experiments with far more radical ideas. Private, military and government labs around the world are already working on genetic engineering; to think we can stop it is naïve. The best we can hope to do is ensure that it serves mankind’s best interests, and doesn’t leave anyone behind.