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Techno-Ethics- Dealing With Ambivalence of Advancements

Techno-Ethics- Dealing With Ambivalence of Advancements

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Published by Yanuar Nugroho

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Published by: Yanuar Nugroho on Aug 01, 2008
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The Jakarta Post, Year-end Edition, 30 December 2002
Techno-ethics: Dealing with ambivalence of advancements
Yanuar Nugroho
Director, Business Watch IndonesiaResearcher, Uni Sosial Demokrat Jakartayanuar-n@unisosdem.org In the field of science and technology, globalization will contribute significantly to mark 2003 as the yearwhen technological advancements would explicitly bring about ethical problems regarding most aspects ofhumanity. The whole history of human beings might be rerouted to new paths that we never would haveimagined before.At least three aspects would be affected extensively, thus raising new challenges for this globalized world.First, the ability to change the molecular cell structures of individual human beings to alter who we are, willraise the knottiest questions of 2003, as Alun Anderson from
New Scientist 
has predicted. The HumanProteomics Organization (HUPO), previously known as the Human Genome Organization (HUGO), wasreported to have nearly completed mapping the human genome.In related news,
ran an article (Nov. 28, 2002) on Dr. Severino Antinori, an Italian fertility expert,who spoke at a press conference in Rome on Nov. 26 and revealed that one of his patients would give birthto a cloned baby in January 2003. He said that the cloned fetus was healthy and weighed roughly sixpounds, and two others would soon follow. Many are skeptical of this news, however, as Antinori has notproduced any evidence so that the case of these cloned babies remain entirely speculative.Yet, let us assume that he is telling the truth and the cloned baby would be born in January. What, then, willthis bring to our history as mankind? One of the problems starts here and obviously, will not stop here.Second, Bill Gates has indicated 2003 as the starting point for the advancement of the so-called "ubiquitouscomputing era", when humans will be surrounded by computers essential to almost every part of our dailylives.Gartner Dataquest has provided information that the world computer industry shipped one billion PCs in2002, and that another billion are expected to be built in Indonesia over the next six years starting nextyear. According to the World Bank, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) expendituresreached more than US$3.54 billion in 2002. Regarding the Internet, more than two million of the Indonesianpopulation are Internet users, and this number will increase in 2003.ICT is not just about PCs, though, and in 2003, the number of mobile phones worldwide (1.47 billion) willoutstrip the landline (1.14 billion) for the first time. In Indonesia, the increase of mobile phone usage overthe past seven years was also dramatic, with statistics rising from one mobile phone per 1,000 people in1995, to more than 17 mobile phones per 1,000 people this year. Clearly, developments in ICT will keepchanging the way people communicate and live.However, the main ICT issue will stay the same: is it computation or communication? It is the long-standingissue of "privacy vs. piracy" -- something difficult to assess.
Source : ICT at a glance – Indonesia, The World Bank Report, 2002 
The Economist 
reports that the world's first crop of genetically modified (GM) rice will be planted inpaddy fields across China in 2003. In addition, over 150 million acres of transgenic crops will be grownworldwide in 2003 -- most comprising soya beans, corn and cotton.The beginning of genetically modified crops for general consumption can be trace to May 19, 1994, whenthe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) gave its final approval to Calgene, Inc. to put itsgenetically engineered tomato, the
Flavr Savr 
, on the market.
Flavr Savr 
had a gene added from a foreignsource, a bacterium (or other), which is used to keep track of the genetic changes. Organisms of this sortare classified as transgenic, an organisms that contains gene(s) "transplanted" across biological boundariesbetween species or even biological kingdoms, such as the plant and the animal kingdoms.Of course, as it can be foreseen even now, the progress in transgenic crop-farming in 2003 would raisemore controversy not only among environmentalists and NGO activists, but also for bio-ethicists, regardingthe "natural" or "non-natural" characteristics of such crops, especially when they are our source of food.In the arena of GM food, the transgenic crop is merely the beginning: In 2003, milk from cloned cows willarrive on supermarket shelves once it passes USFDA testing, and cloned pigs will trot out in 2004,
The Economist 
adds. This will escalate the debate, for sure.
YearArea oftransgenic cropsworldwide(million acres)Transgenic seedsales worldwide(US$ million):SoybeansTransgenic seedsales worldwide(US$ million):CornTransgenic seedsales worldwide(US$ million):Cotton1996
5 11 15 35
130 1,096 544 480
184 1,550 765 1,110
Source: Freedonia, as quoted in The Economist, “The World in 2003 Edition”, December 2002 
What do these advancements mean? What do they imply? What are the consequences?First of all, we have reached the boundary at which we can no longer believe that science is a neutral,value-free quest for "Truth". In 1962, Thomas Kuhn opened science to scrutiny as a social activity, but nowthe advancement of technology has become ambivalent and caused controversies.In modern biology, it has opened the Pandora's box of bioethics as to whether or not humans are "playingGod". Yet, the implications might differ from one to another.
On the one hand, as
put it, the confusion about human cloning and its complicated ethicalissues prompted the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to organize an international panel of scientists todiscuss the technology and its possible direction. The panel was aimed at helping to decide whether theU.S. should impose a moratorium on human cloning, which the House of Representatives had voted tooutlaw. Under the House bill, violations would be punishable by fines of $1 million or more and up to 10years in prison.On the other hand, the U.S. and a few other governments support the production of transgenic seeds,which can be argued as being basically no different from cloning humans, since in both cases, humansintervene in a natural process.The market for GM crops will grow worldwide: $2.9 billion-worth of the seed will be sold in 2003 and isprojected to rise to $3.8 billion by 2006. Once the USFDA gives its go-ahead for cloned animals to beserved as food, the combined market of transgenic crops and cloned animals will grow even bigger -- andthe resistance to such foods would be seen instead as self-indulgence.The tension between the U.S. policy and European labeling requirements for GM foods will clash whenproduce from GM crops will have already entered the European food chain in 2003.Here we come to question: How are we to understand these contradictory stances to the same issues? Arethe new genetic objects (cloned organisms and GM crops) a fatal invasion or a benign enrichment? Arethey created for ill, or for good? They are, of course, scientific inventions which are aimed at improving ourlives -- but let's not forget that they are also gems of profit.A similar juxtaposition exists in issues of communication technology. With advancements in processor andcomputer manufacturing technology, the problems of ICT in the next year will, nonetheless, remain thebroad arena of the "privacy vs. piracy" issue, inclusive of derivative issues such as software piracy, hacking,alternative operating systems (OS), wireless networks and computer viruses.The area of ICT is a veritable battlefield, which does not look likely to clear any time soon: The fightbetween licensed OS (e.g. Microsoft Windows) and free open-sourced OS (e.g. GNU Linux) has becomemore salient; emulators (e.g.
) emulates, or hacks, the webmail of
so that users candownload e-mail free-of-charge; and peer-to-peer (P2P) technology over the Internet (e.g. Kazaa, IMesh,Grokster and WinMX) have replaced the well-known Napster. It is through such battles that ICT will play amore and more important role in raising the awareness and consciousness of society, particularly in termsof a global culture, global identity and global lifestyle.Yet, it is not a one-way process. As long as Linux is still considered an enemy of Microsoft Windows,Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) a competitor to Intel Corp, YahooPOPs a hacker of Internet applications forYahoo!Mail, and IMesh a thief of online entertainment, there still exists another battle: It is the battlebetween the mainstream and the alternative, and while the latter is unlikely to be known to as broad anaudience as the former, it still provides more choices for us, the users.Now we might confront one of the most intractable problems since science & technology are being utilized,used and exploited as it is incorporated into the pure logic of profit-seekers, that is, business. If the power ofbusiness in this storm of neo-liberalism is beset by the problem of democratic unaccountability, then we canfigure out why the issue on the public accountability of science is more urgent than is admitted by mostfalse prophets of science. This is the center of techno-ethics -- ethics for technological advancement.Technological advancements must be subject to the criteria of democratic accountability. Otherwise, whathappens is precisely disaster since technology is both a locus and an extension of power. The issue ofaccountability concerns the ethical implications of the exercise of knowledge, i.e., technological knowledgeas power. Thus, techno-ethics is not simply about putting users before the experts, but rather in either theexperts or in the way technology has been exploited by business power.

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