In the hypothetical scenario of a doctor attempting to procure a patent for the development of a new organism – a neo-organism if you will – for the purposes of biotechnological human enhancement, it is probably most advisable to grant the patent. However such a patent should have a limited term. Effectively speaking, this means it is not renewable and prevents the inventor-doctor from placing his technique into perpetual ownership. This in an important consideration to bear in mind as copyright and patent terms that receive continuous extensions are shown to generally impede progress and inhibit creativity.
However, the ultimate purpose in legitimizing the inventor-doctor’s methods is that it places it under the scrutiny of the law. The most rational approach to any emerging technology, whether it is welcomed by the most technological skeptics or rejected by technological libertarians, is accepting that such technologies will eventually see use in some form or another. This is because technologies can ripple beyond the confines of governments that would criminalize them entirely.
In the 21st century, college professors in the remotest regions of the world can unleash discoveries that can be in your hands in the span of a week, rendering any attempts to extinguish it rather ineffectual at best. Rather, the best way to regulate technological innovations, no matter how suspect, is to recognize its inevitable emergence. Doing otherwise would place such technologies in the hands of people who care little for international or domestic laws, let alone scrutinize and question their application. Opposition towards technologies of any kind has its place in vigilance and critical and responsible engagement.
In execution, this means ensuring that such technologies are applied in a transparent fashion and with intelligent regulation such that we can best understand their potential drawbacks and benefits. Doing otherwise makes it impossible to craft effective legal and social policy to govern their use. Transparency plays a significant role in this regard. By making the information on the workings of this inventor-doctor’s technology available to others, it permits the crafting of defenses against accidental or malicious use.
It would allow others to analyze these emerging technologies for errors and flaws, just as the open source movement has assisted in the improvement of software tools. Research and information is the means to address the controversies inherent in any technology. Whether this technique is an abuse of technology is not a question of absolutes over ‘new technology’, ‘advanced computers’, the creation of ‘new organisms’ and the extent to which we are willing to further human growth and transplant or embrace technoliberal fantasies of transhumanism, but rather a question of how a society will allow technology run its course.
The ultimate measure of a technology is not how it is used – a nigh uncontrollable thing – but rather, the extent to which we are able to monitor its use. Consider for example, geo-engineering, a source of debate among environmentalists, many of whom have rejected it for its potential to wreak planetary scale damage to systems of immense complexity, all in the name of remediating climate change. Yet, even if we were to ban it all together from our own country, this would not diminish its potential rise in others.
Others oppose the use of nanotechnology for human enhancement, but such opposition would not restrict its use for industrial capitalism. As such, before dismissing the inventor-doctor’s technology as a violation of the law or a deviant act, it is important we study it in order to properly form a unilateral consensus on its potential. Otherwise, the future will hold the same level of uncertainty that has mired the technologies of the past.