I recently saw a newspaper headline that mentioned researchers into Artificial Intelligence. They had discovered or invented something remarkable in their field. The issue raised in the headline articulated the scientists’ dilemma: was this new technology too dangerous to introduce to the world? I was interrupted, and never got back to the body of the piece.
While flipping through a Le Monde Sunday supplement a few days ago, I saw a color photograph of 5 monkeys that had been made, cloned, in China. They were identical, of course, and the implications for the world, once again, came into sharp focus.
These two random and almost insignificant encounters with the latest news in science brought me back to a familiar theme: we must retain a sense of morality, a sense of integrity, as we seek to exceed the present limits of our abilities, knowledge, and understanding. We must house within ourselves a secure chamber of restraint.
We can do this, but should we? That is the burning question of our digital, technological age. Ambition and greed will ‘cheerlead’ us on, ‘peer-pressure’ us on, ‘egotize’ us on, if that’s even a word, into creating, discovering, developing, then producing, promoting, and profiting from everything we can think of, get our minds around, or get our hands on. It is, in one sense, the great American way, the American Dream, but it is, in reality, an eternal and global issue.
Yes, we need innovation, but I don’t think we need another chain of hamburger franchises to crop up in every city in the country. As businessmen, politicians, healthcare professionals, and teachers, we need to invest, legislate, treat, and educate with a sense of decorum, a sense of propriety, a sense of ‘we could do that, but we don’t’. Not just because it’s not the right thing to do, but because, after careful consideration, we’ve determined that it’s not the best thing to do.
This requires perspective, the long view, as well as confidence: we must know that we’ll be okay if we harbor inhibitions with regard to our conduct and exercise restraint. We have to accept that someone else may do what we would not do, and they may profit in the short term. Good for them.
We must, in the final analysis, live with ourselves, and be comfortable each morning looking at the man or the woman in the mirror. We can acknowledge that we didn’t do everything we could have done, not for a lack of skill or ambition, but because we held firm to our own moral imperative.