The news broke the same day the most of us were occupied with “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”, but I’m sure most of you were eventually made aware of it.
By “it”, I mean the news that scientists in the U.S. constructed the first artificial genome. Some would go so far as to say that we have created artificial life.
I am greatly interested in seeing just how far humans can go with this whole thing. At the same time, I admit to feeling a bit uneasy. It’s not the technology that bothers me…not at all. It’s the fact that the ones controlling this technology are humans. Fallible, corruptible humans.
Of course, there are and will continue to be those who will protest the technology, calling it the work of the devil or proof of man’s arrogance or inherently evil nature, etc. All newly developed technologies have received the same or similar treatment from the socially backwards and conservatives with an investment in the status quo.
The potential for abuse or unknown dangers lurking around the corner are brought up, and historical texts abound with examples of predictions of doom. On rare occasion, they are right, but progress cannot occur in a climate of timidity or close-minded fear. “No pain, no gain.”
The more cynical among us have been critical of the fact that the man who led this team, Dr. Craig Venter, is in this for the money. I personally have no issue with this. Free enterprise is what has produced all of the benefits of modern technology that we enjoy today with no exceptions. Even innovations that initially had a military application were borne of a desire for profit. At the end of the day, somebody somewhere made a buck. Why should anyone begrudge Dr. Venter the opportunity to turn a profit for his investment and efforts?
If it were not for being motivated by the potential profit by printing indulgences for the Catholic Church, Gutenberg would most likely have never considered developing moving type. As far as he was concerned, if he wasn’t going to make money from his investment of time and money, why bother?
There is a huge potential for good to come of this technology and yes, there is also a potential for bad to come of it as well. But, to paraphrase PZ Meyers in his post on the subject, it’s much too early to tell what the future has in store for this technology and we should just patiently wait this out, enjoy the ride and keep our eyes peeled.
However, as I think about the long-term implications of this new technology for creating life, I also wonder about its potential for indefinitely preserving life and whether we, as a species are ready for such a gift, or if we ever could be ready. It’s one thing to create beings; it’s another to become gods.
I can only hope that our emotional and social development will quickly catch up to our technological prowess.
I’m compelled to quote a passage from one of my favorite books:
…A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these reflections, I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption. – Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley