As part of my preparation for attending Cape Town 2010 I’ve been reading the advance papers. The latest is Emerging Technologies and the Human Future by Nigel Cameron and John Wyatt. Below are a few highlights and then my comments.
They start the paper by explaining how:
there has always been a clear distinction between “natural” beings, derived from the natural order, and those that were “artifacts,” a product of human ingenuity and craft. For many centuries our embodied human nature was the last frontier of the natural order. Although human beings could modify and instrumentalise every other aspect of their environment, they could not escape the “given-ness” of their own humanity.
Very quickly they highlight how this isn’t a debate about reproduction and abortion:
But we make a big mistake if we see discussion of the human future as mainly concerning reproductive and embryo issues, for the most sobering scenarios lie ahead and elsewhere. In the field of neuroscience the emerging technologies are enabling us to monitor, control, manipulate and enhance our brain function. It is becoming increasingly possible to manipulate perception and memory, whether through neuro-pharmacology (including what has been termed “cosmetic neurology”) or cognitive prostheses.
This is a really positive comment, for too long Christianity has focussed on, in effect, old technology, discussion around abortion, for example, is important, but is now seen to have been finished, instead we need to engage with new technology and influence policy around topics such as commodification, eugenics and enhancement which they define as:
Whether through genetics or nanotechnology and cybernetics, it is likely that we shall see the development of human enhancements, especially in cognition – in effect blending human and machine through such means as the implanting of brain chips for memory, skills or communication. The logic of such developments is far-reaching, since while they would begin incrementally and through dual-use devices with genuine medical applications (for example, for stroke victims), they would have longer-term impact through compounding both the intelligence and the wealth of a small segment of society, perhaps leading ultimately to a new feudalism in which power of all kinds is concentrated in the hands of “enhanced” persons.
Cameron and Wyatt are correct in asserting that
While policy must address a wide range of questions, at the heart of the agenda for the 21st century lies the need to build a policy framework in which ethical principles set the ground-rules for our use of these new powers.
This is the critical thing, I’m grateful for Christian scientists who engage daily with these difficult issues, although I hope they don’t feel as negative as the article comes across, ending with the Brave New World question of at what cost do these improvements come.