Sunday, December 09, 2007


My morning ritual generally consists of various semi-conscious cat avoidance tactics, followed by reluctant resignation. I get up, turn on the computer, and get some coffee. Then I surf, sip, and slowly grow aware. One of my first stops on the web is, which is where I find many of the weirder stories I relate to you, dear readers. It is a site that catches many stories that are just too strange, too trivial, or too local to appear on the major news sites. This morning I saw one that really didn't make much of an impact, other than 'that's a good idea'; a researcher in Japan is inserting spider DNA into silkworm eggs to try to get them to spin stronger, more elastic silk. Then I read the comments section. One of the first ones said, "This kind of genetic engineering is frightening. Not intrinsically, but because they don't know what the fark they're doing. The Japanese here are behaving like farking Americans, being cowboys. "We'll put some of this spider shiat here into this silkworm shiat, and see what happens! Maybe it'll turn into some kind of new wonderful spider-silk-thread combination that we can use to make a monopoly of new fancy clothes on!!" Have they considered ecological repercussions from their dabbling?"
This reminded me of my ex who's usual reaction to scientific progress was distrust and fear. How is it that in this world of instantaneous communication, MP3 players that hold more music than five jukeboxes yet could be easily swallowed by an infant, and terabyte hard drives people can still be technophobic? I suspect that our popular entertainment has a great deal to do with it. The arcane, unknowable world of science has always been fertile ground for generating fear. Mary Shelley knew this when she wrote her masterpiece Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. If you read the book, which I highly recommend you do, you will find that it is not a tale of a macabre ghoulish doctor with delusions of godhood, and the hideous, inarticulate monster he creates. Rather it is a bold statement on the dangers of science moving too far, too quickly. Then there was 2001 with the homicidal HAL 9000 computer, the Terminator and Matrix movies, and more apropos of this story, Jurassic Park. Most people assume that what they see on the screen is based on hard fact, regardless of how tortured and convoluted those facts have gotten. Mary Shelley took stories of the recently discovered property of electricity to stimulate dead muscle tissues and extrapolated it to reawakening the dead. Arthur C. Clark predicted that computers would be able to think in ways analogous to the human mind by now, when in reality progress in Artificial Intelligence is moving at a snail's pace, and even the most basic spoken word computer interfaces are notoriously snarky. And as for autonomous robotic killing machines, well, let's just say that robots are good at building cars and vacuuming your kitchen, but the T-1000 is still a long way off. And whereas cloning is pretty good at making lizrds and sheep, the process is so complicated, tricky, and expensive that I wouldn't count on giving your kids a ride on a triceratops any time real soon.
People just need to relax and learn what is worrisome, and what isn't. Just because a new technology is developed doesn't mean it's dangerous. Yes, we should be diligent and responsible, but the Large Hadron Collider isn't going to create an artificial black hole that will eat the Earth, genetically modified corn isn't going to destroy the worlds edible corn supply, and KFC didn't change it's name because they have genetically grown a creature that tastes like chicken, but has no head or feathers and has six legs. However I don't think I like the way my computer is looking at me. Uh, gotta go.


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