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No Time for That Stuff

Glenn Reynolds observes that the spate of anti-technology statements and publications from a couple of years ago has given way to a more technology-friendly public discourse. Maybe we can improve the human condition (not to mention the human itself) via technology after all.

So what changed?

One could make the case that this is cyclical -- that there's a Kurzweil for every Fukuyama, but that there will be a Leon Kass for every Kurzweil and then a Ron Bailey for every Leon Kass and on and on it goes. But I doubt it. I think something else may be at work here.

Maybe in spite of all the hype and scare stories and just plain bad information, the idea is getting through that we really can expect technology, in the coming years, to make unprecedented changes in what human life is and can be. The recent announcement that a scientist in Korea has cloned a dog is big news, but not nearly as big as we might expect. After all, Dolly the sheep was quite some time ago now. If you can clone a dog, why not a sheep? Besides, the guy who did it has already cloned human embryos and provided the world's first proof of concept for therapeutic cloning.

The world's first dog cloning means that a new industry is about to be born, pet cloning, that may be in some ways as creepy as pet taxidermy, but that is not likely to be much more controversial. There will be some grumblings, but it won't amount to much. (Therapeutic cloning may be argued as an affront to human dignity, but whatever "canine dignity" might be, it's going to be tough to make the case that pet cloning is an affront to it.)

Cloning is on the cusp between the exotic/futuristic and the mundane. It is about to follow such predecessors as computers and in vitro fertilization into the world of the everyday. When full-blown intelligence-enhancing or life-extending technologies become available, they will have followed the same course.

We have seen this transition occur time and time again over the past few decades, even the past few years. Technolgoical change is accelerating, and social change is following suit by adapting to new ideas faster than we have before.

So why the switch from Fukayama to Kurzweil? Well, as Stephen points out, some of these major, world-shattering changes promise to show up right on schedule. We may look for direction from someone like Joel Garreau, who can discuss both the pros and cons of inevitable change. But a Kass or a Fukayama...arguing against change istelf?

Sorry, we just don't have time for that any more.


UPDATE FROM STEPHEN:

Glenn criticized another neo-Luddite this morning over at GlennReynolds.com. Ray Moynihan has just published a book arguing that the pharmaceutical industry is trying to convince healthy people that they are sick.

Glenn:

I'm supposed to be shocked that drug companies...make drugs to improve the function of people who aren't deathly ill? That's not a problem, that's progress.

Indeed. Apparently Moynihan would define (or have others define) what it means to be well and then only allow drug companies to treat physical conditions that somehow fall short of that bright line.

Most Americans would find that kind of thinking a lot creepier than cloned pets. I certainly do. No one person or governmental agency should have the power to limit an individual's pursuit of optimal health (however the individual defines "optimal health"). This is a form of freedom that is too fundamental to limit.

While the neo-Luddites are creepy, I'm not too worried about them. Their ideas are self-limiting. We have no time for these guys and their silly notions because we're busy embracing the ideas that work in a highly competitive world.

Comments

I agree. Why worry about neo-luddites? We are embracing technology as improvements to both life and the species itself. As long as they dont hinder our progress, who cares if they get left in the dust?

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