Henry, Timothy [faculty advisor, Department of Computer Science and Statistics]
experimental technology, risk management, doomsday theories
Mankind’s collective scientific and technological knowledge has progressed, and is progressing, at such a rate that humanity is now well within its means to bring about widespread devastation by its own devices. The high stakes of many projects in diverse fields of study, including those in nuclear, genetic, and biotechnical sciences, necessitates an analysis of how to decide if risky experiments are worth pursuing. This is not a matter, so much, of what safeguards we put into place in dangerous experimental environments, but rather how to weigh potential loss versus potential gain. Even in the best laboratories, disaster can strike, be it by a fluke of nature, a malignant human entity, or sheer accident, and mankind must choose its avenues of exploration carefully so as to ensure it does not bring about its own downfall. Having evaded disaster thus far, even through the tense years of the Cold War’s nuclear standoff, humanity’s ability to stare down and eventually walk away from its own destruction has given the general public an unwarranted sense of infallibility. As such, any talk of so-called “doomsday” events, particularly manmade, is relegated to science-fiction and widely disregarded by reputable sources of power. Indeed, there is no way to predict man’s likelihood of demise. Gott’s and Leslie’s broad sampling and unrealistic presuppositions in labeling mankind with an expiration date created little of value, and non-mathematical predictions, like McLuhan’s idea that expanding communication technologies would subvert disaster, are both vague and idealistic. Laws can only go so far in stopping unsafe scientific practices due to differing opinions among governments, and a corrupt body could restraint progress too far, stifling creativity. Ultimately, the most responsible approach to balancing scientific restraint and progress is to emphasize shared knowledge and strengthen lines of international communication. A centralized forum should be implemented in which various national governments can converse with scientists and risk management specialists to decide what projects are responsible to pursue.