The hubris of technology is most discernible in the fact that when people talk about technology, they talk about 'when' and not 'if'. In other words, there is a certain inevitability attached to technology.
Given that “there is no safety in unlimited technological hubris” (McGeorge Bundy), how do we take measures that allow for a better thought out evolution of technology? Especially when the rapid pace of technological change allows us little time to pause and reflect. Dr. Eugene Skolnikoff, a professor at MIT, notes:
One of the most interesting implications for governance that accompanies technological change is the greatly enhanced significance of time in the policy process. That is evident at both ends of the spectrum, as the time available for consideration of complex decisions, sometimes life and death decisions, can be vanishingly small, while concurrently governments have to make policy decisions for material issues with time horizons extending to many decades and, in some cases, thousands of years. Both phenomena are essentially new as significant factors in the councils of government; both have proven to be exceedingly difficult to accommodate in policy processes.
Ramifications of unfettered scientific exploration have long found a voice in books, with writers ranging from Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, to Robert Louis Stevenson, author of The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, exploring the issue in their works. Modern advances in genetics have brought us to a point where the scenarios envisioned in the books don’t seem as improbable. These advances have brought the legitimate ethical questions at the heart of such scenarios to the fore. We must make time to discuss these scenarios before we embark upon further exploration in the questions.
The recent uproar over cloning and stem cells has once again brought into focus the issue of putting controls on further research in science and technology. The heated debate over the issue points not only to the narrow politicization of the issue but also to the multiplicity of interests that underpin it. There are tangible economic, political and ethical questions surrounding the issue.
Stem cell research has an important economic aspect and there is real concern that any efforts to limit research in the area would hobble vital economic interests that rest upon making the technological advance first. The issue gains more credence in a globalized world with inconsistent controls. For example, while reproductive cloning is outlawed by virtually all countries, therapeutic cloning is allowed in the UK and China while it is banned in Germany. The economic aspect of the policy has given rise to hectic lobbying on the issue and has resulted in significant policy changes in biotechnology-heavy states like Massachusetts and California, with each passing bills appropriating billions of dollars in research funding. Real US economic interests are at stake as companies finding the policy regimen too restrictive may move elsewhere to do research.