Beware the Myth of the Noble Researcher
While cruising futurist news today, I came across an article from 2012 which stated:
“Neuroengineers at MIT have created a implantable fuel cell that generates electricity from the glucose present in the cerebrospinal fluid that flows around your brain and spinal cord. In theory, this fuel cell could eventually drive low-power sensors and computers that decode your brain activity to interface with prosthetic limbs.” (MIT creates glucose fuel cell)
That’s the only thing this monumental technology will be used for? How noble a cause.
Let’s consider for a moment what else besides prosthetic limbs that glucose fuel cells might be used for:
- Fueling cognitive enhancements for millionaires and their ivy-league students. You think there’s an education gap now? Wealthy people will buy intelligence. Think about the implications.
- Fueling forbidden enhancements available on the black market.
- Fueling the virus that some antisocial nanohacker finalized yesterday, which infected your cognitive enhancements this morning. Now your enhancements are operating undetected at 110% their safe operating capacity, which is draining power that’s needed from other parts of your brain. (According the above article, the only physiological effect on you would be that you probably won’t notice and you might find yourself growing hungry sooner. Hmmm. Not words that instill confidence.)
Of course, the above scenarios may not happen. This article is not intended to be doomsday preaching. I just want to raise what I think is a serious issue:
Why are articles about emerging technology overwhelmingly positive? Where are the negative articles which consider how a technology might hurt us, articles which would empower humanity in deciding if it should proceed with development of that particular technology?
It’s kind of out-of-whack with reality. People should be more apprehensive than they are. You, sitting in that chair, should raise your voice and ask more questions, like, “Uhh…. Hi everyone, I know you’re all really excited about X technology, but what if Y happens? It seems to me that Y is a significantly possible outcome. Is no one else concerned?”
Stand tall and proud. Ignore the glances of disapproval.
You are one of humanity’s last lines of defense against technologically-created catastrophe. All you have to do is raise your voice.
However, the first line of defense against such catastrophe, the most influential gatekeepers, are the developers of new technologies themselves!
…Which is scary, because the publicly authentic researcher is really rare.
When was the last time you heard a researcher say:
“This is really powerful technology we’re developing here. To be honest, I’m scared shitless half the time while creating it. Sometimes I doubt whether to proceed, because in the wrong hands, my technology would be pretty dangerous to humanity. In any case, that’s not going to stop my team from continuing, because a) we’re getting a crapload of funding, b) it’s really exciting to be at the forefront of something, c) I want to be remembered for changing the course of history. Forever. (Or until my technology bestows upon a single person the power to eradicate humanity… and, ahem, humanity is eradicated.)”
I understand why researchers don’t publicly say these things. Their funding will dry up.
But still. What can we do today to prevent a future where an egomaniac researcher unleashes a dangerous technology?
We should consider regulation of research and development.
I know, this seems like blasphemy, but come back tomorrow and I’ll explain how R&D, how innovation itself, can be regulated successfully and to humanity’s benefit.