The necessity of ethics in modern innovation.
All throughout history, technology and science have been the pillars of human achievement. Creating and discovering our world around us, we are inspired by science, empowered through technology. Thanks to the monumental discoveries of brilliant individuals and teams through time, we are a civilization capable of immense power. Humans have the power to change the world around them, influence all other beings on Earth, travel around the planet, communicate across the stars, look deeply into the eyes of space and time in search for a world beyond our own. Today is a beautiful time to be alive. The world is becoming more peaceful, impoverished cultures are being lifted, we are understanding ourselves and where we come from better than ever before. As we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. But we have been skirting around that reality for quite some time. I feat that it will eventually come to a point where we look back and regret what we have done. In our modern age, our power continues to grow while our responsibility with that power is falling behind.
In a basic nutshell, science and tech has generally operated by the motto of “if it can be done, it must be done, and we will find a way.” We refuse to hold ourselves back from discovery. Fairly, it is this very philosophy that has driven incredible innovations. There have been few times where we look at what we are creating and hold ourselves back for the sake of humanity. For much of history, science and innovation were suppressed by the influence of the early Church. To believers, humans have no business allowing science to contradict the world of God. But other than that, there haven’t been many times where we take a step back and ask ourselves “should we be doing this?” In fact, the only instance I can find is in weaponry, specifically in chemical and nuclear weapons. It took the ability to annihilate entire cities in a fraction a second for us to stop and realize, maybe we had gone too far.
We must ask ourselves these questions again. The time has come for us to question the morality of discovery.
Since the information era, leaps and bounds have moved society further and faster than ever before. It may even be fair to say that if there is money and resources behind a goal, we can anything happen. Concepts like world-wide clean energy, global high-speed transportation, human modification, genetic manipulation, artificial intelligence, colonizing other planets, and more are no longer far-fetched theories. All of these are all possiblities in which we have a strong enough understanding to bring these dreams to reality. The boundaries for these typically only revolve around money and politics. The power we harness is so vast and we aren’t quite recognizing the implications behind them. Let’s take a couple of simple and current examples.
I’ve always been resistant to VR. I had experienced it a couple years ago at a tech tradeshow and it was impressive, but I couldn’t imagine allowing myself invested into another world so deeply from the convenience of my home. During the 2015 LA Auto Show, I visited a booth with Oculus and Lexus. The activity was a fully immersive VR experience of driving the new LFA supercar. Imagine a VR headset taking over your sight and hearing, while sitting in a cockpit with pedals, a steering wheel, and force feedback. The experience was incredible! Feeling the vibration of the engine, the crowd roaring (you were racing in a virtual track), and the acceleration and power of the car. This is what I had always imagined the perfect VR experience to be. Yet, I still don’t think I will ever buy a headset for myself. Even as a recreational gamer, it just doesn’t appeal to me. The mere fact that I am completely unaware of my surroundings is too much.
To me, VR has its place in selective environments. Whether its a virtual roller coaster, laser tag, or an event like the one I experienced, this is where I hope VR continues to grow.
All of this is also only considering the power of current technology. If we take a step back and look where we are headed, we are not far off from being able to create entire virtual experiences using electrodes on our brains, empowering us to live out any situation we want without risk or direct consequences. It is situations like this where I believe our innovation leaders need to take a stance and consider the morality of such actions. Is this really where we want to take society? Perhaps. Maybe not. Discovery now requires much deeper philosophical and moral thought. What makes us human? What is the value of our relationships with each other in a physical world? At what point have we deteriorated our world to where it is destroying our lives rather than enriching? Questions aside, problems are already happening. What industry has been the quickest to harness the power of virtual reality? Pornography, of course. Is this really what we intended from the beginning? It will only get worse from here. Are we reaching the point where technology is destroying our marriages and relationships with each other? There have been debates on this for years. I don’t know the answer, but the question remains necessary.
One of my college roommates is currently completing his dual PhD in Bioethics and Theology. He’s one of those people who is off-the-charts kind of smart. Through numerous conversations with him about his research and studies, I’ve been fortunate enough to understand his world and some of the upcoming challenges in bioethics. But the strongest conclusion I have been able to make while conversing is that the world needs more people like him. Technology innovators are plentiful. Ethicists are rare. But ethicists are imperative for the advancement of humanity.
Of the many things my former roommate studies, he specializes in the augmentation of human bodies through technology such as the use of human embryos for science, gene manipulation, and physical augmentation for soldiers and disabled. We have the ability to make humans incredibly powerful. Through the connections of our brains to computers, we can be smarter and quicker. We can integrate our bodies with artificial organs and muscles. We can live longer, run faster, jump higher, and be the most powerful humans to ever exist. As incredibly fascinating as this is, it again begs important moral examination.
This is just the beginning
We have a bright future ahead of us. Embracing our responsibilities to take care of one another, we are ending hunger, eradicating disease, and empowering individuals around the world to live more prosperous lives. We are fighting to take care of our planet and further understand the fragile equilibrium Earth has established over 4.5 billion years.
But with every discovery, we come to a new crossroads. At what point do we stop enriching humanity and start diminishing it? This is the critical question I ask to all innovators. As our technology continues to advance, it is necessary to press our morality and ask the difficult questions. Will we continue down our path forever until nothing is left of the human experience? Will we all live our lives infinitely, in pods connected to a virtual paradise for our entire existence? What makes life what it is? What connects us to our world, our friends, our spirituality? Are we willing to let technology strip that from us?
I am excited for what’s to come. I couldn’t have asked for a better time to be alive. Let us continue to innovate, continue to grow, and may we do so with a beautiful balance of power and responsibility.
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