Innovation or Disaster?

Technological innovation ignites economic growth feeding further innovation. But, has our relentless progress irrevocably tipped the balance from a virtuous circle of innovation and growth to a downward spiral of disaster and decline?

Effective and informative tools, such as Artificial Intelligence and Genetic Engineering that lead to the development of better products and services with the hope of improving the quality of life for many appear to have an increasing dark side.

  • Artificial Intelligence, which can lead to unprecedented and previously unimaginable products and services, is feared to be the catalyst to an apocalyptic loss of jobs and control of our lives. Skynet and robot armies are not far behind.
  • Genetic Engineering, which may enable us to fight previously insurmountable disease and suffering, can also generate designer babies and Gattaca-like dystopian population planning and control.

Then There’s the Planet

But even these potential apocalypses pale in comparison to the actual looming apocalypse from climate change and humankind’s waste and disregard for the environment. Melting glaciers, arid conditions generating infernos and firestorms destroying plant life and animal habitats, the collapse of bees and other essential components of our planet’s ecosystem from pesticides and an attempt to control the environment – and so much more – all seem to have all been caused through our relentless pursuit of progress and development. Now it looks like the only antidote to counterbalance this End of Days cycle is that very progress and development. Technological development that led to this mess perhaps offers the only real solutions to these apocalyptic conditions. We are increasingly using technology to fix the problems that technology itself has created.

Should We Really Be Doing This?

Tiny drones can pollinate crops so it’s okay if bees die off because of pesticides, right? Global warming is already generating plans for geoengineering: seeding the stratosphere with reflective particles to limit the sun or filling the ocean with crushed limestone to reduce its acidity. That will solve things, don’t you think? Such practices can feel like a high-tech version of introducing rabbits to keep down the weeds, and then foxes to keep down the rabbits, and so on – all leading to one larger seemingly intractable problem after another. Perhaps we should just stop meddling.

Nature Should Stay Natural, Right?

Nature, after all, is supposed to be natural. Altering our environment on a massive scale permanently affects our idea of nature and our world. There is no returning to an unspoiled world, but we can still determine the world we want. It seems that altering our environment to such a significant degree should not be the right answer. But, since we will never again have an unspoiled world, we must consider these options as we understand our true impact. We cannot go back and restore some lost Eden – and certainly appear unwilling to try.

Even if we could, would it make sense? We have made real progress that has helped humankind, in spite of some negative consequences. After all, the rise in antibiotic resistance doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have invented antibiotics. Yet innovations inevitably change how we behave, and those changes have consequences.

Technology Will Save the Day…Isn’t that Right, Dr. Frankenstein?

We’re going to continue to drive, fly, throw away plastic, and tear down the rainforest. If we aren’t going to solve the problems we’ve created by regulating ourselves, we’re probably going to have to use technology — whether that’s to save species, or human lives, or to make sure that certain plants or coral reefs survive climate change. We don’t know the consequences of these future actions. But we seem to have a blind faith that inaction on our part can somehow be remedied easily.

That is the painful and unavoidable conclusion. It’s not just a question of whether we should, but it’s coming to grips with our failures showing us we really have no other option. We have no idea if our intervention will succeed, but we have left it as our only choice.

 

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