The Moral Imperative

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.

  • BGT

 


12 thoughts on “The Moral Imperative

  1. Sadly, I fear the kind of decorum and propriety we need when it comes to ethics, morality, and related discourse/legislation eludes too many people and will continue to do so. Cynical and judgemental, yes, but nonetheless less true.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

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  2. Hi Byron. This article parallels everything you have so often espoused in your writing. The belief that just because we can do something doesn’t always mean we should do something. This article references decorum and morality, while many times your writings refer to financial and/or lifestyle decisions. The bottom line is the same, exercising restraint in all aspects of life.

    Byron, a note of deep sadness regarding Notre Dame. I thought about you as I watched the news, wondering if you were in Paris still as this unfolded. I don’t really know you, but I do “talk” to you, as we all do here, and I’m certain we’re all feeling the same. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the Cathedral, but I have returned from Italy this past year and was awestruck at the beauty and majesty of so many historical buildings, churches, monuments, the Vatican, etc. Just profound sadness right now.

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    1. Hi Bev, thank you. Demands on the personal front have prevented me from responding until now. However, reading your kind words–and everyone else’s–was a comfort during this difficult time. Just like the citizens of the city, expats like me always thought we’d wake up each morning to see the cathedral, eternal and unchanging, in a changing world. The reality is now different, but we push on. – BGT

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  3. I am going back to the future with my answer. I will admit I am a Star Trek fan for a long time and whenever I see things like AI and other scientific discoveries in the news, I can’t help but remember excerpts of ‘Prime Directive’. Yes, it was the morality of a tv show, but if you substitute the word ‘man or woman’ for Starfleet personnel’ and delete the words ‘alien’, its words are still applicable in the real world.

    “As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Starfleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.”

    The words ‘society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely’ struck me as a particular good match for your ‘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’. In very simple words,do no harm.

    Oh, and Byron, I was thinking about you as well when CBS was live broadcasting the fire and wondering where you were and if you could see what was happening. As I said in a post to a friend, it is the firefighters and police officers who should be lauded for their heroism in evacuating the cathedral so quickly, saving priceless artifacts, paintings and other things such as the statues and organ, and keeping the fire from engulfing the towers. The physical plant can be rebuilt. People’s lives cannot. Paris, we stand strong with you.

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    1. I couldn’t agree more Kellie. Star Trek had a lot of very sensible messages worked into the series which, like you said, if followed by our leaders and general population, would be for the greater good of mankind and everything else on this earth, universe etc. There was a message in every episode!

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  4. Hi Byron, what about having face-to-face conversation with Anton Parks over (no more than two) Louis XIII and talking about clay tablets and human chromosome number two?

    It does not work the opposite way
    https://academic.oup.com/nsr/advance-article/doi/10.1093/nsr/nwz043/5420749

    Although Boston Dynamics burns hundreds of millions of dollars annually, human being cannot be replaced.

    No one will ever reproduce a soul. To this topic I also recommend checking Melchizedek with really and truly educated people.

    I would certainly stay away form “scientists” and “archeologists” (for instance Newton never shared the source of his knowledge in Principia …. ), they told us that, paintings in Altamira Cave and Lascaux portray Paleolithic people hunting for food, while I can see star constellations.

    And just keep in mind, that “scientists” have not come up yet with explanation how it is possible, that someone is born with IQ 140 and up, someone can compose a symphony at the age 5 ………

    Only real human being can be moral. Do not worry about the rest.
    Good luck with research!

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  5. I couldn’t agree more, Byron.

    I’d add that the challenge of moral imperatives is that they need to come from within. What is Right, cannot be proven. We either see why it matters, or we don’t.

    Which takes us to education. Today, education is approached as giving information to students, filling their brain as if filling a vessel. This common perspective is inadequate, because it undermines engagement with the student’s consciousness. We need to teach them *how* to think, rather than what to think.

    Heidegger wrote: “Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking”. He distinguished between calculative from meditative thinking.

    Calculative thinking is the thinking proper to the sciences and economics, which we mainly, if not solely, employ.

    Meditative thinking, by contrast, is to confront ourselves in a philosophical way. It’s an openness to mystery, letting new ideas come forth. What is Good? How to live well?

    According to Heidegger, if we refuse to think meditatively — and he said this more than half a century ago — we will be at the mercy “of the irresistible superior power of technology”. We will be victims of “radio and television, picture magazines and movies”.

    Moral imperatives? Absolutely. But first people need to understand why, and therefore learn to think properly.

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