Biotechnology Gets The Philosophical Question


Our lifestyle today is racing against illusory clocks that seem to dictate our mortality and directly affect our need for 'time'. Can we pause a moment and take a philosophical look at what is going on around us?

One would hope that the true value our 'history' can provide for us is in the idea of learning from our past mistakes. If a mistake can take us through a process of discovery and growth then it really isn't a mistake but a valuable lesson, right?

The industrial revolution, to date, is one of the single greatest catalyzing occurrences for mankind's progress. Whereas it has given so many of us the opportunity to climb up out of hard labor employment and has apparently given us more time to do things we enjoy; our environmental health has paid a hefty price that we are only just now realizing.

For the 21 century, we are in the technology revolution which includes biotech and nanotechnologies. Nick Bostrom, PhD. Professor and Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University posted this idea:

Perhaps we are so irredeemably inept at thinking about the big picture that it is good that we usually don’t. Perhaps attempting to wake up will only result in bad dreams. But how will we know unless we try?

In another paper he discusses the existential risks of nano and biotechnology. Below is an excerpt that was published in the Journal of Evolution and Technology, Vol. 9, March 2002. First version: 2001. Please visit www.nickbostrom.com/existential/risks.html to read his entire paper.

ABSTRACT

Because of accelerating technological progress, humankind may be rapidly approaching a critical phase in its career. In addition to well-known threats such as nuclear holocaust, the prospects of radically transforming technologies like nanotech systems and machine intelligence present us with unprecedented opportunities and risks. Our future, and whether we will have a future at all, may well be determined by how we deal with these challenges. In the case of radically transforming technologies, a better understanding of the transition dynamics from a human to a “posthuman” society is needed. Of particular importance is to know where the pitfalls are: the ways in which things could go terminally wrong. While we have had long exposure to various personal, local, and endurable global hazards, this paper analyzes a recently emerging category: that of existential risks. These are threats that could cause our extinction or destroy the potential of Earth-originating intelligent life. Some of these threats are relatively well known while others, including some of the gravest, have gone almost unrecognized. Existential risks have a cluster of features that make ordinary risk management ineffective. A final section of this paper discusses several ethical and policy implications. A clearer understanding of the threat picture will enable us to formulate better strategies.

To follow his thoughts a bit further we would like our readers to consider this:

We must consider a couple of vectors that can threaten us. One is the deliberate misuse of nanotechnology as reported in a higher profile incident that involved a prominent USA plague researcher jailed on charges of lying to federal agents about the fate of plague samples, mishandling laboratory samples, and illegally importing plague samples into the USA.
http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/publications/disease_emergence/Chapter6.pdf

Furthermore in this report is stated:
Differences notwithstanding, the combined list of pathogens of concern is long. This list is subject to change because of the continued emergence of new infectious diseases; the emergence of treatment-resistant strains of established pathogens; and social, technical, and ecological changes that allow new opportunities for diseases to be introduced as weapons. The connectivity for many of these diseases across species groups is an important dimension to consider, regardless of whether an individual’s interest is human, domestic animal, or wildlife health.

Secondly, we must consider the potential mistake where one of these advanced nano materials 'escapes' from the lab. This is not a new idea, it has already happened despite efforts to protect us from this inconceivable event. Under that spotlight is one of our most challenging diseases, Lyme. There is substantial evidence supporting the emergence of this disease from the WWII experiments of the Japanese. Carroll, Michael "Lab 257- The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Germ Laboratory"
Harper Collins 2004

It is difficult to predict the consequences of these technological revolutions for the 21 century. But we can say that the revolution for bio and nano technologies will have a major impact on all life, that there is no turning back from these advancements, and they will cause both opportunities and problems that we are already behind the eight ball in understanding.

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