Artificial Intelligence (AI), gene editing and robotics. According to author Kazuo Ishiguro, these three areas of science are on the verge of transforming the way we live and interact with each other. And we can expect to see their effects and impact in the coming decades.
He isn’t the first to make this thought-provoking forecast.
A little over a week ago, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) wrote a public letter to President Obama warning him about the imminent threat of potential biothreat terrors like the CRISPR gene-editing tool. The PCAST specifically called for the establishment of a new government body that will focus on studying, containing, and preparing against all kinds of biothreats — those already existing, as well as those that are still hypothetical.
A few weeks before that, Stephen Hawking warned us about technology going too far, too fast. Aside from the danger posed by worsening climate change and the coming of a second nuclear age, he also repeated his prior warning about AI having the potential to pull us up, or push us all the way to the bottom. It’s almost the same grim vision being predicted by Jürgen Schmidhuber — that AI will eventually be the cause of our extinction.
Now here comes Kazuo Ishiguro’s warning. There’s utopia — the perfect and ideal world. And there’s dystopia, the exact opposite of utopia — the most undesirable world imaginable. Kazuo says that if we continue to be mere observers about the direction that technology is driving us to, we might suddenly find ourselves living in a dystopian world. Where people with God-complex personalities are the rulers, the superhumans they create using gene manipulation tools like CRISPR are their armies, and the normal humans (those who remain in their natural form, with no enhancements physically or intellectually) are their followers.
So instead of going forward to a better world, we might be taking steps backward. And the equality between races (or even genders) which we haven’t even gotten close to achieving will just turn into a different kind of struggle. Basically, the enhanced humans will tend to dominate as the superior race, while the un-enhanced humans will be the inferior ones.
It’s hard enough dealing with someone who believes he/she is superior to you in some way. At least then, the feeling of superiority is just a matter of perception. But what if you’re dealing with someone who is literally superior to you in some way, like maybe have some modified genes that truly makes him/her physically stronger? What chance do you have against someone like that?
On the other hand, we do have the option to be optimistic about CRISPR and other gene editing technologies that will emerge. Admittedly, gene manipulation can be used to reduce, if not eliminate all kinds of pain and disease, as long as it is used the right way. But who will say what the right way is? That’s where our dilemma lies.
Should we really just sit by and watch where technology takes us? Or should we, as a society, start getting more involved so that we can also have a say on where technology should go and how it affects our lives? Let’s all think hard while we still have time to act.