Ed Hudgins

Public Opposition to Biotech Endangers Your Life and Health

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Public Opposition to Biotech Endangers Your Life and Health
By Edward Hudgins

July 28, 2016 - Do you want to be smarter, healthier, and live longer? Remarkably, a new Pew survey found that most Americans answer “No!” if it requires using certain new technologies. This is a wakeup call for scientists,

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, transhumanists, and all of us who value our lives: we must fight for our lives on the battlefield of values.

Worries about human enhancement

We all understand how information technology has transformed our world with PCs, smartphones, the Internet, and Google. Nanotech, robotics, artificial intelligence, and, especially, genetic engineering are poised to unleash the next wave of wealth creation and improvements of the human condition.

But a new Pew survey entitled U.S. Public Wary of Biomedical Technologies to “Enhance” Human Abilities found that “Majorities of U.S. adults say they would be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ worried about gene editing (68%), brain chips (69%) and synthetic blood (63%),” technologies that in years to come could make us healthier, smarter, and stronger. While some say they “would be both enthusiastic and worried … overall, concern outpaces excitement.” Further, “More say they would not want enhancements of their brains and their blood (66% and 63%, respectively) than say they would want them (32% and 35%).”

Simply a reflection of individuals making decisions about their own lives, as is their right? Not quite. Their concerns about technology are already causing cultural and political pushback from left and right that could derail the advances sought by those of us who want better lives.

The Pew data reveals two ideological sources of opposition to new technologies.

Religion and meddling with nature

The survey found that 64% of Americans with a high religious commitment say “gene editing giving babies a much reduced disease risk” is “meddling with nature and crosses a line we should not cross.” Are you stunned that anyone could prefer to expose their own babies to debilitating or killer diseases when a prevention is possible?

And 65% with such a commitment have a similar opinion of “brain chip implants for much improved cognitive abilities.” Better to remain ignorant when a way to more knowledge is possible?

Obsession with inequality of abilities

When asked if “gene editing giving babies a much reduced disease risk” is an appropriate use of technology, 54% answered “Yes” if it results in people “always equally healthy as the average person.” But only 42% approved if it results in people “far healthier than any human known to date.” Similarly, 47% approved of synthetic blood if it results in physical improvements in individuals “equal to their own peak ability,” while only 28% approved if it results in improvements “far above that of any human known to date.”

Here we see the ugly side of egalitarianism. Better for everyone to be less healthy than for some to be healthier than others.

A disappearing digital divide

We saw this inequality concern in the 1990s when desktop PCs and the Internet were taking off. Some projected a “digital divide.”... (Continue reading here.)

 

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34 minutes ago, Ed Hudgins said:

When asked if “gene editing giving babies a much reduced disease risk” is an appropriate use of technology, 54% answered “Yes” if it results in people “always equally healthy as the average person.” But only 42% approved if it results in people “far healthier than any human known to date.”

There is a real weirdness about the results when you ask it in a collective context (for everyone), as opposed to asking it like this, "If gene editing would save your baby, or grandchild, from getting a serious disease, would you be willing to do that?"  Then the matching question is, "Would you stop someone else from doing gene editing for their baby if it would save their baby's life?"

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I fear that the description“meddling with nature and crosses a line we should not cross” as "we'll get the state to keep you from crossing."

Also, the report shows 42% have heard "not at all" about gene editing while 48% have heard only a little. And 61% have heard "not at all" about brain chips while 32% have heard a little. And 77% have heard "not at all" about synthetic blood while 19% have heard a little.

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11 minutes ago, Ed Hudgins said:

I fear that the description“meddling with nature and crosses a line we should not cross” as "we'll get the state to keep you from crossing."

Yes, I agree.  The point I was trying to make is that people find it too easy to say "we shouldn't do this" or "the state shouldn't let people do this."  We have become a nation where it seems natural to prohibit almost anything.  The government should not allow the use of lightbulbs that aren't energy efficient.  The government... blah, blah, blah.  There ought to be a law....

If they phrased the questions to make them about the personal liberty of the person being asked the question, when it would matter, the answers would be totally different.  Ask someone, "How would you feel if someone would not let you take the medical action you needed to take to stop your baby from getting a serious disease, even though it wouldn't have any effect on anyone else?"

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"The Forbin Project" was an interesting movie. A computer mind takes over national defense. Should a person set up a self defense system at their home that can shoot, electrocute, or otherwise harm intruders? We now have finger print and iris recognition systems, camera systems, and even electrified fences to keep cattle penned up but SHOULD IT be legal to harm an intruder just because they are trespassing? In the movies they portray guns being set up inside safes with valuables to shoot anyone who cracks the safe, but doesn't un-cock the gun. Is that responsible? I think there is a moral principle involved if only to not be negligent.
Peter

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