Tuesday, August 14, 2007

William Gibson on emergent technology

blog.bioethics.net: By Greg Dahlmann
At the end of an otherwise ordinary 'so, you have a new book' interview in Salon, sci-fi author William Gibson drops this remarkable take on emergent technologies: I think what scares people most about new technologies -- it's actually what scares me most -- is that they're never legislated into being. Congress doesn't vote on the cellular telephony initiative and create a cellphone system across the United States and the world. It just happens and capital flows around and it changes things at the most intimate levels of our lives, but we never decided to do it. Somewhere now there's a team of people working on something that's going to profoundly impact your life in the next 10 years and change everything. You don't know what it is and they don't know how it's going to change your life because usually these things don't go as predicted. ... I find that both dreadful and exhilarating.

This is precisely the story of assisted reproductive technologies, and to a lesser degree other developments in biomedicine. Maybe even more so, since cellular telephony requires a system, a network, and some planning (even if not governmental or with other forms of democratic accountability), while many innovations in biomedicine (outside the sphere of FDA regulation) just kind of happen, and spread. My own view of bioethics rests largely on the recognition that we can (and sometimes should) buy time to think some things through a bit better than might otherwise be the case, even though it is rare that scientific development can be halted by public or governmental fiat.

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