The Chennai flood crisis which happened in Nov 2015 brought some harsh realities to the forefront. Whenever nature (be it hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, tsunamis, wind storms, earthquakes, fire) has decided to show its fury, all the latest technological advancements made by humans have been humbled time and again. This gives me a belief that nature is supreme. However, in our quest with technological advancements, we have been pushing our limits with nature on an ongoing basis under one pretext or another. As per some mythologies, the human body is perceived to be a combination of five basic elements of nature – earth, water, space (sky), energy (fire), and air. Probably, this is an indication the amount of importance our forefathers used to attach to Nature. If we were to look back, we will find that the lifestyle of the earlier generations used to be much closer to Mother Nature, but with the passage of time, this connection has become more & more superficial.
In one of my articles, From Fiction to Reality (Also, read here), I mentioned several data points on how works of fiction got translated into reality and are a part of our day to day lives today. M. Night Shyamlan’s movie, “The Thing” envisioned a future where nature starts taking vengeance/revenge back on humans. The movie depicts a kind of a plague, which spreads through wind, and once humans are infected, they start committing suicide. This is one fiction for sure, which I never want to see come to reality.
I recently went through an article which mentioned that some of the common food items like avocados, apples, hops (used for crafting beer), potatoes, grapes, rice, beans, cocoa & coffee beans etc. may cease to exist in future. This means that some of our future generations will not get to enjoy these food items. We all know that due to destruction of ecosystem, changing temperatures, and tampering of nature, several animals and plants have disappeared from the face of earth over different centuries. Increasing acidity in sea water has started wiping out a big portion of sea life.
Enough has already been said/ written about global warming and adverse impact on ecosystem preservation. I wanted to share my thoughts on how we might be potentially overstepping our balance with Nature by intervening in one of the most natural process --- life, its preservation and death. Let’s evaluate impact of technology on nature through some examples.
- Role of technology inside human body. The latest technology CRISPR (Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) promises to modify/edit DNA in a simple, accurate and quick basis. While the initial launch of this technology was to develop therapies for serious medical conditions like HIV, Cancer, Alzheimer etc., in near future, we may see this being used to modify genomes/DNA of human embryos. Ever heard of the concept of parents “building their children to order”? I remember reading an article which talks about China admitting to have experimented this. While it is banned in several countries across the globe, if permitted, it means parents will have the choice to select the DNA combination of their kids and be able to decide in what field their child should excel/succeed, obviously without the consent of the child. Parents who are blind may prefer to have their offspring also blind. This may lead to scenarios, where parents can make choices for their kids which are not in their best interests. I sincerely believe that all these start with a positive intent, but again, there is a very thin line.
- Our quest to induce life in robots and make them equal to humans can really complicated. Recently, there was an experiment conducted where the brain of a worm was implanted in a Lego robot and it moved around like a worm. I am petrified at the thought when/if human brains will get implanted in robots. Earlier, a Hong Kong V.C. firm “Deep Knowledge” named an Artificial Intelligence Tool (Robot) called “VITAL” to its board of directors. While this may sounds funny or a marketing gimmick, VITAL will have full rights on the board as a living, breathing human. For other interesting aspects w.r.t peaceful co-existence between robots and humans, please refer to another article of mine-Robots & Human-Peaceful Co-existence (Can also read here<)
- Genetically modified crops – Preservation of life through Mother Nature’s offerings could be delicately balanced, and the launch of genetically modified crops could be detrimental to this balance. Despite being innovative, enriching, and consumer friendly, if done without proper evaluation, it could be extremely detrimental.
- Human Cloning – Post the successful cloning of the sheep “Dolly”, scientists have been diligently exploring all options to clone humans (creating genetically identical copy). If one of you is thinking that this is a cool idea and you will send your clone to work, and yourself will enjoy & rest, then you may be missing the big picture. Apart from potential loss of emotional equilibrium & identity, some of the other factors which may kick in would be safety, genetic manipulations, disturbing the balance on diversity around races/ethnicity, “genetic programming errors”, hurting religious sentiments/beliefs for certain groups, commoditizing humans, and creating human life with the sole purpose of destroying it, i.e. using human embryo as “spare parts”……Does sound disturbing to me.
So the answer to the question raised in the title of this article lies in our very own hands…….We as a society have to draw boundaries on our scientific/technological expeditions without disturbing the harmony of the laws defined by nature. A more pertinent question to answer would be, whether a particular scientific pursuit is (a) ethical (b) moral (c) correct (d) safe without side effects (e) practical.