Technology Tail Wags the Ethical Dog

Posted by Jesse Reynolds May 7, 2007
Biopolitical Times
Are the technophiles and utilitarians becoming more brazen in their assertion that "There is no alternative?"

I was forwarded an invitation to an online conference discussing the "I was forwarded an invitation to an discussing the "converging technologies" of biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnology, and cognitive science. The starting point for the discussion is a set of eight opening statements, all gushingly adoring of the technologies. One of them is:

CHANGE IN VALUES: Short of total annihilation of Homo sapiens, it really doesn't matter if the converging technologies agenda ends up having substantial negative consequences. By the time those consequences will have been realized, society's value system will have adapted to them. They will then appear as a fair price to pay for the benefits made possible by the relevant advances. After all, the doomsayers 100 years ago turned out to be correct when they predicted that the proliferation of cars and planes would pollute the environment, but should we have listened to them then?
While I tend to be skeptical of claims of universal ethics, the statement's complete rejection of any role for moral guidance - not to mention its faulty logic - is bursting with hubris.

A think tank within The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence recently used similar language. It was proposing potential scenarios [PDF], including this one:
A more permissive R&D environment could accelerate the decline of ethical constraints and restraints. The speed of technological and cultural change could overwhelm society's ability to absorb the ethical implications and to develop and apply national and international regulatory and legal controls. Such a regulatory vacuum would be reinforcing as states and commercial organisations race to develop and exploit economic, political and military advantage. The nearest approximation to an ethical framework could become a form of secular utilitarianism, in an otherwise amoral scientific culture.
Granted, this item is presented in more hypothetical "System Shocks" chapter. While its reversal of logic is stunning, it is not entirely outrageous, given the current discourse.

[ HT to Australian Bioethics Information for the UK item ]