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VIEWS FROM THE CHALK FACE

In February 1997 Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist Joseph Rotblat uttered a warning. Experiments in the cloning of human beings, he said, represent science out of control: such genetic engineering could result in a ‘means of mass destruction’.

All the same, says Jonathan Van Blerkom, genetics professor at the University of Colorado, ‘it will be done. Some people are self-obsessed enough, and some scientists unscrupulous enough, to do it. From the catapult to the long-bow to landmines and nuclear weapons, mankind has NEVER managed to control dangerous weapons. Why should genetics be any different? People will not give up, because they are driven by greed and desire, and because they know that other people will do it if they don’t. It’s like nuclear proliferation: how can you control it?’ Many scientists may be motivated by the desire to push knowledge to the furthest frontiers, but others are under orders from the state, the military or big business. ‘There’s always the potential for abuse.’

Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University is interested in the development of robots. ‘We will come to the point where the machines will take over,’ he said in March 1997. ‘I think somebody has to stand up and point out that we may be going through a very exciting period, but the dangers will emerge. People have to wake up. This is the future of humans we are talking about.’

Dr. Jacob Bronowski’s question, back in 1951, still needs an answer. ‘Why is it the business of no-one in particular to stop fitting science for death? Warlike science is a by-product of a warlike society; science has provided the means for good or ill. But what are we going to do about it?’

 
   

     

     
         
 

 Fri, Jul 13, 2001

 

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