Technology Without Ethics

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A part of social development which is rarely brought into the discussion about democracy and freedom is technological development, but in two areas in particular, developments in technology will come to influence the future of democracy radically unless we carefully consider the ethical implications.

Surveillance

The first area concerns the development of new surveillance technologies which in the future will be able to deprive us of any privacy at all. It is precisely the right to privacy and the possibility of meeting up with anyone, anywhere, and talking about anything, without anyone else listening, that is one of the preconditions for democracy and personal freedom.

Designed people

The second area relates to biotechnology. With stem cell research, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, cloning, foetal diagnostics, psychotropic drugs and completely new types of medicine, it cannot be excluded that, within the course of a generation or two, we will be able to design people very much how we want them to be. It can be our children or ourselves, but it can also be police officers and soldiers, who - with or without their knowledge or consent - are given performance-enhancing drugs which make them stronger or more brutal, give them greater stamina or make them easier to manipulate.

Ethical dilemmas

In a free society, it should of course be open for everyone to do whatever one considers best for oneself and one's children, but the developments have a number of dilemmas, not least when possibilities arise of changing other people.

These possibilities could have a fundamental effect on our concept of humanism, even in peaceful context. What will our attitude be to all those who are not perfect if the possibility of perfection exists? Will all lives be of equal worth and have the same demands on health insurance, pensions, insurance, etc., if they could have been sickness-free, more intelligent, less disabled or the like?

New weapons

At the same time, research is taking place into the development of viruses and bacteria for biological warfare on an unprecedented scale. Both in relation to medicine and weapons, the technological development encompasses possibilities that Hitler, Goebbels and Stalin didn't even dream about. Nevertheless, within the next generation, these technologies will be available to anyone with a sufficiently large bank account.

Inequality

The last thing, the bank account, is important, even in a peaceful context; with the huge amounts of money that it costs to develop new medicines, patents on technologies will become concentrated in ever fewer hands. This means that all public health insurance will be economically undermined, and that health insurance that provides access to the most effective treatments will in reality be unaffordable.

"The perfect human" will thus be an attainable dream only for a very small, mega-rich minority. This minority will also have the perfect weapons and the perfect surveillance at its disposal. What rights would this minority give to the rest of the world's population?

Incalculable consequences

In other words, the new technologies encompass unimaginable opportunities and risks, and democracy and humanism are the only things protecting us against there being a new Hitler, Goebbels or Stalin who uses them for his own purposes. But if dictators who succeed in getting hold of these future technologies do arrive on the scene, then we will experience dictatorships with power options we could not imagine even in our wildest imagination.

Finally, there is a problem with technological progress which we are already struggling with today: the new technologies are so advanced and complex that it is in fact only the experts who understand how they work. This makes us and our democratic decisions dependent on experts to an extent that is far more profound than ever before, and it will just get worse in the future, especially because nobody, not even the experts, can foresee the consequences of the use of the new technologies.


Next chapter: Bread and Circuses