What do Spider-Goats, the Atomic Bomb and Thought-Motioned Robots Have in Common?
Spider-goats have been around for some years now. The University of Utah is where the concept of spider-goats was turned into reality, under the leadership of Professor Randy Lewis. “Lewis uses transgenic goats, E.coli bacteria, transgenic alfalfa and transgenic silk worms to produce the spider silk proteins used to create spider silk.” (http://sbc.usu.edu/htm/silk/). To make a long story short, the spider silk is farmed and extracted out of the goat’s milk (which was genetically modified to hold the specific protein to create the spider silk).
Spider-silk has many great qualities. It is extremely strong, thin and also biodegradable. With this in mind, many people are interested in the further development of products made from it. For example the medical field can use it in surgeries; it can be used for construction (i.e. cables), or simply for making stronger parachutes and outdoors equipment. Obviously, the Military Industrial Complex is interested in this product as well because it is stronger than Kevlar. Body Armor can suddenly be much more resilient.
At this point, I thought about Einstein and the invention of the Atomic Bomb.
“In his biography of Einstein, Walter Isaacson dramatically tells the moment when the scientist first understood the possibility of the bomb:
Sitting at a bare wooden table on the screen porch of the sparsely furnished cottage [on Long Island], [Leo] Szilard explained the process of how an explosive chain reaction could be produced in uranium layered with graphite by the neutrons released from nuclear fission. "I never though of that!" Einstein interjected. He asked a few questions, went over the process for fifteen minutes, and then quickly grasped the implications.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/11/ive-created-a-monster-on-the-regrets-of-inventors/249044/ - my Italics).
Scientists are intelligent people; creative, daring, inventive … amazing people, in my opinion: always in search of knowledge, something I certainly appreciate. Yet, something seems troubling when I think of how once they create something, they seem to lose all control over their creation. Sort of like the story with Frankenstein … In my opinion, there is a fine line between being helpful and being detrimental, when it comes to the world of science.
For those who did not know, next year (2014) is the World Soccer Cup in Brazil. And even if someone does not like soccer, I think the kick-off to the next World Cup might be something which everyone wants to watch because the kick-off will be taken by a team made up of paralyzed people (http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1303/10/nl.01.html ). Hard to believe but it is quite true.
Scientists are working as we speak, racing against time if I may add (due to the fact that there is only one year left until the Soccer World Cup), to prepare sets of robotic legs which can be motioned by thought. Thus, even paralyzed people will be able to play soccer. An amazing achievement, no questions asked!
Yet, there are reasons of concern for me on the above point as well. The robotic legs, controlled by thought can easily become Mr. Obama’s drones controlled by thought. Maybe a sort of Magneto from X-Men will emerge: one person with a special helmet, controlling the motion of robots … I can even think of thought-controlled robots covered in spider silk … I am sure the Military Industrial Complex is already playing with such ideas.
“I never thought of that”, were Einstein’s words, referring to the Atomic Bomb: one of the many results of his work and creativity. With that in mind, I must say that all these creations are the result of hard-working scientists – that is the commonality and that is fine. My question is: are we going on the same road with all these new inventions (like the road of the Atomic Bomb)? How can we be sure they will not be used detrimentally? Do we have any guarantees, or do we just like playing God (“Playing God” is a BBC documentary which talked about the Spider-Goats and other similar inventions)?
I am not one to fight against inventions, or scientists but when I see the potential risk of shooting ourselves in the foot, I feel like I should say something … at least that. From here on, it is up to everyone to make-up their minds on how things should be approached. As long as we at least all know what is going on, I am happy.
All the best to everyone!
Note: My photograph, Toronto, Canada, November, 2012