It’s not the strangeness of new technologies that frightens us but the way technology threatens to make us strangers to ourselves. In a semi-Freudian spirit, then, I’d like to propose that where Frankenstein and its spawn are concerned, our fear of the unknown may really be about our discomfort with knowing.
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Mary Shelley’s novel has been an incredibly successful modern myth. And so this conversation today is not just about what happened 200 years ago, but the remarkable ways in which that moment and that set of ideas has continued to percolate and evolve and reform in culture, in technological research, in ethics, since then.
The future is on the whole a wonderful thing because it will bring us new things that we haven’t seen before. And that’s why we stick around.
The best justification we have for killing fifty-six, fifty-seven, whatever billion land animals and a trillion sea animals every year is that they taste good. And so, in a sense how is this any different from Michael Vick, who likes to sit around a pit watching dogs fight, or at least he used to?
Solar geoengineering rests on a simple idea that it is technically possible to make the Earth a little more reflective so that it absorbs a little less sunlight, which would partly counteract some of the risks that come from accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When I say technically possible, it appears that at least doing this in a crude way is actually easy, in the sense that it could be done with commercial off-the-shelf technologies now, and it could be done at a cost that is really trivial, sort of a part in a thousand or a part in ten thousand of global GDP.
I think if there are people who are able to take a step backwards, take that proverbial zoom out, and realize that everybody’s kind of doing the same thing in different ways, and be able to step from one perspective to the other and ask different kinds of questions based on where they are at any given moment time, then it just becomes a game. I think it becomes joyful and engaging. I mean, I’m not interested in finding the answer to anything. I don’t think there is the answer to anything.
Some of my artist friends think what I’m doing isn’t art, and I’ve given up on art. It’ll take care of itself. You know. I mean it’s always been there, it will always be there, and we always know that new art never looks like art at first, ever. So why should this be any different? We just have to trust the process. And I would say that must be true for every other discipline.
When the public cannot prove that the oil company is going to cause damage, then we’re not allowed to say, “Nevertheless, the risk is not acceptable.” So we have turned it over, the decision, to the expert. We have taken it out of the hands of the community. And then when we say we want community input, we hold a public hearing, and the experts sit up at a table. And then the grandmother who does not have a graduate degree, she’s not allowed to say, “Here’s what I’ve seen. Here is what’s happened in my community. And that’s not acceptable.” Her view is not taken because she’s not an expert. And so we’ve taken away the right for self determination and for community determination.
Everything we know about biological sciences, medicine, agriculture, disease, whatever, is based on studying one example of life. Life on Earth. Life as we know it. If we find another example that’s different, a second genesis, and independent origin of life, comparing those two might enable us to answer questions that we would never be able to answer if we only had one example to study. That could provide practical benefits for humans as well as better understanding of how to manage ecosystems, etc.
Hacking science and space exploration isn’t just about getting excited and making things. But it’s about getting excited and making disruptively accessible things. Things that really disrupt the current state of science and a lot of the elitism around it, and truly make it accessible for everyone.