The science of today is different to what it was five hundred years ago. It is a fact that free thinking in philosophy and science during the medieval period was considered as a punishable crime as was the case with Giordano Bruno, an Italian independent thinker, prosecuted for having similar ideology. The science faced the acceptance crisis during medieval times with deep opposition from the clergy that hindered the progress of science. Science was indeed considered as a dangerous business during those times. In the present era we are virtually living in the world of science having all amenities of life. Science is an integral part of modern society and everyone across the globe is benefiting from the achievement of science. As science is unravelling mysteries of the universe and making amazing discoveries, there is a lack of moral obligation and responsibility towards society which has been inherent to human beings. It is worth mentioning that Science has never been in conflict with itself, but the operators of the science are in ambiguity as how to use science without clashing with the belief and value system. In the present scenario, Science is facing twin crisis: one how to differentiate between 'Good Science' from the 'Bad Science', and second how to integrate traditions, customs or behaviors of society with the science, which at times is least important to science. Thus we can say modern science is facing an identity crisis. I will highlight some of the emerging ethical challenges of modern science that need immediate attention of the world of science, and will also suggest some the measures to resolve this crisis.
Let me open up the discussion by the quote of former US President, George W. Bush while speaking on health policy in 2006 warned that, 'In the excitement of discovery, we must never forget that mankind is defined not by intelligence alone, but by conscience'. The human conscience is one aspect which does not allow science to go berserk in the pursuit of new inventions and discoveries. However, there is still a danger that emerging technology like Artificial Intelligence can have the upper hand on various human conscious behaviors that may further escalate the conflict. Furthermore, there is danger that with the launch of 'Artificial General Intelligence' (AGI), the AI operator can virtually become super human being. The artificial intelligence is one of the major challenges to human conscience, nevertheless, machine technology has not reached to that level where it can become self-aware as human conscience is not well defined. Pertinently, three stages of consciousness that have been untraveled based on commutation include facial recognition, global level of information and self-awareness. The bottom line is that conscious 'AI' in action will greatly impact the ethical and moral obligation of science towards human society.
Modern, intelligent machine systems are changing our outlook of life drastically. The tech giants predict future generations will become technology dependent in all spheres. One of the serious questions that can be asked: Can machine technology in future replace important positions in academic institutions, industry and government that require great respect and dignity?. For example, if the AI replaces the role of a doctor', a teacher, a judge or a soldier, then we may find ourselves in a dilemma, devalued and downgraded. It is pertinent to mention that academic institutions, offices and industry need human empathy rather than machine auto control with no real feeling and dignity. As is also rightly argued by Dr. Joseph Weizenbaum German American Computer Scientist (one of the fathers of AI) that incorporating AI in public life could be great disaster to human dignity. Well, on the lighter note we can suggest a smart machine technology where there is no alternative for improvement in the institutions from human side or where it becomes necessary evil.
Modern biological technologies pose major socioeconomic, ethical, moral and legal implications. There are more than 40 areas ranging from genetic engineering to biological weapons that could compromise various ethical and moral obligations. Initial progress in biological science had no major impact on society as it was slow and compatible with the social change. However, after 1950's there was a great surge in technological advancement in different areas that lead to different ethical issues. For examples, animal cloning was long back criticized by various activists for its impact on the natural gene pool. There is general consensus among world leaders not to allow companies or industry to commercialize animal cloning. Altering gene pool through genetic engineering can have great consequences in the near future if not controlled judiciously. In India, however, there is no opposition to therapeutic cloning as against to reproductive cloning. In recent times, there has been religious objections to xenotransplantation by using swine among some sections of the world population. Development of ethnic weapons by some countries for ethnic cleansing of specific population further shows how science can be used for bad means. Assisted reproductive technologies have many ethical dilemmas in many developing and under-developed countries where strict social and economic conditions prevail.
Apart from above challenges of modern technology on various ethical aspects, there are other reasons which need to be taken into consideration while relating science with ethics. The shift of human pattern of thinking towards materialism, and collapse of age old revered values and traditions are some of the reasons for the development of ethics-less science. The present day problems faced by human beings such as economic inequality, deterioration of the environment, habitat fragmentation, development of weapons of mass destruction etc. can be resolved if people acquire original traits centered on values and ethics.
The resolution of conflict between science and ethics is a complex process. Science gives you a solution to societal and environmental problems presently faced at global level through innovative technology and it does not care how society adopts new technology (positive or negative way). Having said that, it is the duty of science to teach its designers (scientists) moral obligations before introducing new technology to the general public. The best way is to integrate science with ethics as rightly suggested by Richard C. Cabot that 'Ethics and Science need shake hands".
Ethics should be part and parcel of science curriculum in basic as well as at the highest academic level. Imparting ethical knowledge, budding scientists will make them aware about their moral obligations towards society. Science education should be framed in such a way that it should discuss all pros and cons of modern scientific technology, and its implications on the ethical and moral obligations towards society. If Science is studied and discussed in isolation, then it will create machines and atheists who will not care about human feelings. Science needs rethink the way it is being operated at present without due consideration to ethical aspects. Let us hope that Science takes care of emerging ethical dilemmas and promote technology for the common good of society.
Dr. Ummer Rashid Zargar is SERB-DST Fast Track Fellow, Department of Zoology, CUK, Sonwar Campus.