Monday, March 16, 2009

Artificial life as a mark of the bankruptcy of our civilisation's moral values

I see a report that researchers from the USA have claimed that artificial life could be "created within five to ten years".

With two billion people (a third of humanity) living on less than $2.50 a day - and a half of that on less than $1.25 a day! - it is clear that our political, economic and social systems refuse to deal with the most basic problems of the real lives that we already have.

And we want to create artificial life? Why? To ensure that we condemn these artificial lives to even worse conditions? Or to condemn existing creations to worse conditions than they already have because we are so busy cosseting and pampering "our own" creations?

Those promoting the research claim that artificial living system could produce everything from new drugs to biofuels and greenhouse gas absorbers. Sounds remarkably like the promises we have heard from similar technophiles in the past about how household gizmos will make us a society of leisure.

The fact is that we already have a living system that provides us drugs, biofuels and greenhouse gas absorbers - and provides all that for free. It is called "nature". We haven't looked after nature, and we seem incapable of looking after it very well. And we want to add to our burdens by creating an artificial system at great cost that may do a few things for the rich. The result will be that lives of the rich may perhaps improve, but the lives of the poor will continue to be wretched - and even more wretched because of seeing the gap grow deeper and wider between the real needs of the poor and the imagined needs of the rich.

Am I an anti-scientific Luddite? No. I do believe that science and technology are worthwhile pursuits and that they have contributed enormously to solving real challenges.

So what am I railing against? What would I like done? What I would like done is what any right-thinking and morally-responsible human being would like: re-orient global spending on science and technology so that it focues on what will benefit not the few who are rich, but the masses who are poor. The diseases of the poor are still hugely under-researched. And there is too little spent on tackling the political, economic, social and cultural factors that create and perpetuate poverty and disease.

However, it is not as if we have no clue about what to do about eradicating disease, promoting health and eliminating poverty. Science and technology have already given us many solutions. But we like to keep pretending that we lack solutions so that we can spend more and more on seeking "new solutions". Meanwhile, we are fooled into spending far too little on applying solutions that already exist.

Prioritising the poor in our science and technology spending would be one mark of a morally-responsible civilisation. Sphere: Related Content

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