Nautilus

Is Talking About De-Extinction a Moral Hazard?

There’s a saying, in conservation biology, credited to the plant ecologist Frank Egler: Ecosystems are not just more complex than we think, they’re more complex than we can think. With doomsday narratives swirling about nuclear war, the existential threat of artificial intelligence, and runaway global warming, it’s one we might want to constantly bear in mind. We are deeply interconnected with myriad species disappearing from complex ecosystems—and we might be next.

The end may not necessarily be “the end,” though. At least not for our genomes. In case an extinction event ever wipes us out we could theoretically (at some future point) program an artificial intelligence could help us atone for our ecological sins since we (though it is still debated for the mammoth) made those animals disappear. Instead of mourning our loss, they urge us to push on, and use our advanced artificial selection, cloning, and genome engineering techniques to get close proxies of the vanished species back into the wild.

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