Every once and a while, we stop marveling at the speed and breadth of technology advancement and ponder a machine uprising. But so far, our most advanced technology isn’t making our world into a dystopia, it’s making it into a bizarre science-fiction adventure. Before things look like Terminator, they’re going through a phase more like Hitchhikers’. Let’s consider some possible outcomes.
Genetics-Based Medicinal Data Is A Privacy Nightmare
There’s been an upswing in the theft of medical data lately. Unlike financial data, which allows thieves to directly steal your money, medical data is often used to indirectly steal your money, via blackmail. And it’s getting more sinister, as DNA testing becomes a routine part of healthcare. Knowing someone’s blood type is already quite intimate; knowing someone’s genetic predisposition to Angelman syndrome is even more intimate. Your genetic code could tell someone how likely it is you’ll get cancer or develop alcoholism. That’s the sort of information most people will feel uneasy about their doctors having, never mind a criminal. Imagine being blackmailed with the knowledge that you’ll be prone to dementia in your later years.
It might not just be cyber-criminals illicitly getting their hands on your most private biological data. Once that information is available, would it be reasonable for employers to ask to see the DNA scans of a potential employee, in order to avoid investing in a person who might be prone to these complications. This occurred when the Chicago Bulls tried to make Eddy Curry take a DNA test to prove he didn’t have a heart defect before they would extend his NBA contract. He refused and was traded, and that was in 2007. Since then, technology has improved, and the questions have become tougher. Who has the right to know the secrets of your genetic code? Hospitals should probably know before they accept your donated organs, right? This sounds like a high-brow science-fiction concept, but it’s an ethical issue we’re already facing today. Some lawmakers are introducing bills to give away your genetic rights before you even understand what they are.
Rogue One CGI Means Actual Fake News
Many people were devastated by the passing of Carrie Fisher in late 2016. Tragic as her death was, it quickly moved into the realm of creepy, thanks to her appearance in Rogue One. The appearance of her face, we should say, since Fisher herself did not shoot scenes for Rogue One, and was instead replaced by a younger version of herself, digitally grafted onto the face of another actress. This is a scenario that has ‘Nicolas Cage movie’ written all over it. Fisher’s premature death left fans debating the morality of digitally resurrecting her for the remaining Star Wars sequels, a conversation they felt perfectly comfortable having before her funeral had even occurred because … they respected her so much?
The debate over the ethics of resurrecting dead actors for movies about space laser-fights is undoubtedly an important one. But the ability to create a convincing video of someone doing or saying things they didn’t might have some implications beyond the star wars. Peter Cushing was brought back to the land of the living through a near-replica of his face and voice, gleaned entirely from old footage and new technology. This tech is only getting better, with recent advancements promising to reproduce the full spectrum of a person’s voice from a limited sample of them speaking. This sounds cool and all until you realize that anyone with the right equipment could produce a clip of anyone saying anything at any time.
This issue has already entered the political scene in Canada, where mayor Rob Ford was under fire for a video that showed him in a negative light. His supporters produced videos showing how a convincing forgery could have been made.
Healthy People May Choose Amputation
The advancements in prosthetic and cybernetic technology have helped disabled people achieve a higher quality of life. Technology has been called the great equalizer, and that’s most true when it’s put to work, giving the paralyzed the ability to walk, or the blind the gift of sight. However, at some point, we’re going to have to ask ourselves if this is the kind of tech we want everyone to have. In some areas, prosthetic technology is quickly outstripping the abilities of our own stock limbs, so it’s feasible that having a fake arm or leg will soon be equivalent to having superpowers. So, what happens when people start wanting to augment their perfectly functional limbs with bionic parts?
There are some social implications to consider here. If it’s an open market on bionic limbs, then they’re probably only going to be available to the super-rich, at least at the start. Batman and Iron Man notwithstanding, the idea of a society divided between the poor and the literally superpowered rich elites doesn’t sound great to most of us. If this becomes prevalent enough, the split between mech-enhanced people and “normies” will become the big societal divide of the century.
The sporting world is where this hits first because humanity has odd priorities. Will cybernetics be allowed in professional sports or the Olympics? The easy answer is no, but there’s actually some room for debate. What if robotic enhancements are the only way for an athlete to recover from an injury that would otherwise keep them out of the sport? Baseball already has Tommy John surgery, which is basically the restructuring of one’s elbow in order to let them whip a baseball with superhuman speed once again. Advances in nutrition, training, and medical technology have been pushing the limits of human ability for generations, and the line between those and upcoming enhancements may grow less clear-cut as they get closer. If there were a technology to minimize the long-term health effects of being a professional boxer, who would deny athletes that protection?