The Ethics of Science

March 31, 2018

As science and technology grow around us, taking over our lives and capturing our attention, we are beginning to face a new set of ethical dilemmas. These dilemmas deal with the amount of importance we should let technology have, and the extent to which science should be allowed to alter our realities.


The John J. Reilly Center of Science, Technology and Values at the University of Notre Dame releases a list of ethical dilemmas and policy issues in science and technology every year. Here are some of the ethical issues that have repeatedly appeared on these annual lists.


1. Gene Editing

This one has been at the top for a while now. With CRISPR, it is now very easy to accurately and inexpensively edit your DNA. However, the ramifications are still unknown. Will editing a particular gene lead to other defects? Will it affect just one person, or will it impact future generations?


 Photo: Medical Xpress Image


A new phone app, Helix, can now sequence a part of your genome for $80, and it can tell you about your sleep patterns, taste buds, and even your ancestry. It can even tell you the best diet that will help you lose weight or get fit. This raises questions about the app’s accuracy of genome sequencing, and it also raises some privacy concerns, since all genome sequences can be shared by Helix.


Think about it… do you want to be informed by your phone that you might have a terminal disease?


2. Privacy

This has always been a big one, and with the recent Facebook incidents, it is even more relevant. Google has introduced Google Clips, a hands-free camera for people with pets and children. It constantly scans the environment, recognizes faces, and snaps up to 16GB worth of photos based on what it “sees” to be picturesque moments. It also lets you monitor your house live through an app on your phone.


On the other hand, Affectiva is a new app that lets you monitor your emotions while you eat, shop, or play video games. Not only does it analyze facial features, but it also uses voice-sensing technology to detect emotions.


This raises privacy concerns about how all the data captured by such technology can be used or sold to third party companies. Additionally, the subjectiveness of these algorithms to choose which moments in your life are worth capturing, or the effectiveness to manipulate your moods, is another concern.


 Photo: Affectiva image


3. Artificial Intelligence

To lower funeral costs in Japan, SoftBank Group has developed a robotic priest, which can chant Buddhist sutras during funerals while dressed in Buddhist robes. On the other end of the spectrum is the FriendBot, which helps you cope with the loss of a loved one by imitating their texting style.


 Photo: Reuters image


Would you really want your rites performed by a robot? Would the FriendBot actually hinder the process of dealing with death and finding closure? Would it eventually be possible for you to customize your FriendBot before your death? Would death even hold any significance beyond the material world?


4. Artificial Wombs

Developed to help women who have trouble conceiving, as well as helping to save premature and high-risk babies, this technology is one of the most controversial ones of all time. How would this change the perception of women in society? Would a baby that has developed completely outside of a human womb even classify as a human? Would such a baby grow up to be different than us? Is birthing a right reserved for women?


My name is Pankhuri Kumar. I'm a 23-year old graduate student, majoring in Journalism and Computer Science. I'm a nerd about technology and hope to make the world a more informed place with data. I'm obsessed with Indian food, The Office, and Harry Potter.

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