Previous discussions have all led to the same conclusion: based on current patterns of scientific and technological development, human extinction is inevitable and not too far in the future. Combined with our analysis of external threats, we can clearly see that the threat to mankind comes from within, not without. Faced with this grim reality, what option does humanity have?
SECTION ONE: CORRECT TREATMENT AND UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
One: Changing Extinction Views
Since ancient times, mankind’s sense of crisis has been directed towards natural or supernatural forces. Floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, and asteroid collisions have been the focus of natural threats, while doomsdays and judgment days have been the focus of supernatural threats. However, people’s crisis views underwent historic change with the explosion of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Humans started to realize the extent of destruction they could mobilize, and it rendered former natural and super natural threats less fearsome. An unseen force has been moving humanity closer and closer towards extinction. This destructive force is not a force of nature or supernatural in origin. On the contrary, humanity is driving itself into the abyss of extinction.
The concerned parties in this issue include some of our most distinguished scientists and scholars. Known as the father of the atomic bomb, Einstein spent the last years of his life appealing for this matter and co-published the famous “Russell-Einstein Manifesto” with philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell. A total of eleven famous scientists and scholars signed this manifesto, crying out, “Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?” Scientists and scholars like Einstein and Russell believed that with the possession of powerful weapons like the atomic bomb, human existence would be threatened if wars were not renounced.
These were true prophets. They realized the terrible fate that could befall humanity if our irrational behaviors persisted. This was a transcendent view of human extinction; however, these esteemed scholars only attributed humanity’s self-destruction to “war,” because at the time, nuclear bombs were the most destructive weapons in existence and only countries were capable of manufacturing and using them. When the “Russell-Einstein Manifesto” was published, only the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union possessed nuclear weapons. For these scholars, only countries would use such destructive weapons, and only during times of war.
Fifty years have passed, and perhaps it is the fear for mankind’s survival that has stopped the outbreak of World War III and the further use of nuclear weapons in war. However, the terrifying speed of scientific development has only increased our fears of extinction. Genetically modified biotoxins have destructive capabilities that are unmatched even by nuclear weapons; a teenage computer genius can invade the US Department of Defense’s data base and cause millions of computers to crash through one virus; self-aware artificial intelligence could easily eliminate humanity; uncontrolled self-replication of nanobots could swallow the entire planet; further development of cloning technology could even achieve human replication. In short, further development of many technologies could result in either extinction or mass destruction of mankind. Moreover, many of these technologies can be manufactured and operated by a small number of people—or even one individual.
This means that the power to decide humanity’s survival has gradually transferred from a few major powers into the hands of many human individuals. The inherent characteristics of humanity means that even the best social systems cannot stop such extreme means of devastation from being used.
The atomic bomb warned humanity of the potential extinction that could be caused by wars. Seventy years later, our understanding has undergone a major change. We now understand that in addition to war, crimes, laboratory accidents, and even misuse of technical products may also lead to human extinction. In fact, war poses the least amount of threat compared to the other three. War is a group act meant to kill enemies and benefit the victorious party, so total destruction is usually not the goal. Contrarily, psychopathic crimes are usually committed by people who wish to enact revenge by causing as much damage as possible—they would not hesitate to use methods of extermination.
The unintended catastrophes caused by scientific experiments and products cannot be ignored either. Future scientific research will become much more challenging, and extremely powerful natural forces will be used. It is possible that other disastrous forces will be mobilized in the process. Similarly, as science becomes more complex, the products developed from it will become more difficult to control and predict as well. Any little misstep could be the end of mankind.
Upon deeper thinking, the internal threats to humanity’s survival cannot be simply attributed to war, crime, laboratory accidents, or misuse of scientific products. These four can only count as the likely methods for extinction. Their one common root is science and technology. Science and technology are the fundamental forces that will determine the overall survival of the human species.
Two: Restricting the Development of Science and Technology
In most cases, scientific research is to benefit humanity. The negative by products—killing methods—are unintended but unavoidable. Planes were invented to give humans the power to fly, yet they were quickly turned into military aircrafts; genetic engineering started out as a project to improve gene structures in animals and plants, but it was quickly modified to produce agents for biowarfare.
Despite our tendencies to apply science and technology to war before all else, future extinction means will likely not be intentionally created. Means of total extinction would destroy their creator as well, so apart from a few insane scientists and extreme cults, most would not actively seek out such means. It is most likely that means for total extinction will emerge unintentionally after generations of accumulation. In other words, as science and technology continues to accumulate in power, there will be a last straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The only way to avoid killing the camel would be to stop adding more straw. A hundred years ago, extinction would not have been a concern. Science and technology’s power only becomes truly threatening after reaching a certain level. Once this level is reached, this power does not just erupt due to intentional application, but it can also be ignited inadvertently. Therefore, we must strictly limit the continued development of science and technology to ensure that it never reaches the level of extinction capabilities. This is the only way to save humanity.
The strict restriction of scientific and technological development should include the following aspects: firstly, the study of natural sciences should be most strictly limited. Any theory without absolute safety assurances must be banned altogether. Any breakthrough within one theory would trigger multiple breakthroughs on complex levels in other fields; the power of such enormous breakthroughs would be impossible to regulate. Atomic weapons would never have been created without the mass-energy equivalence theory, and genotoxins would never have been possible without biogenetic theory.
Secondly, the further technical application of existing scientific theory must be restricted. As long as the situation is not 100 percent certain, further research should cease. After all, one technological breakthrough could produce a domino effect that would be impossible to predict.
Thirdly, when it comes the development of new technology, if potential harms are uncertain, it should be treated as potentially harmful. The survival of humanity outranks human happiness. It is much more important to ensure human survival than it is to strive for marginal enjoyment.
Fourthly, products that have already been developed should be strictly researched before going to market. Existing scientific theory should also be assessed in-depth. If further excavation could bring disaster to humanity, the theory must be permanently shelved.
Fifthly, the gradual nature of scientific and technological development must be taken into account. Means for total extinction will most likely emerge in very accidental circumstances, so we must be constantly vigilant. Scientific and technological breakthroughs cannot progress in leaps; it relies heavily on earlier accumulation. Without Galileo and numerous other physicists, Newton and Einstein would never have produced their theories. To prevent more destructive means from emerging, we must start controlling science and technology immediately and in detail.
The restriction of scientific and technological development must be a consistent long-term process. In the future billions of years of human history, one minor lapse in control could result in the destruction of the human race.
If we look back on the past two hundred years of scientific and techno logical development, we will be shocked by how much we have achieved. Based on this, it is entirely possible to ascertain that a few centuries more of development would lead to human extinction.
Three: A Dialectical Understanding of Science and Technology
The restriction of scientific and technological development is a holistic approach; it is a last resort in the fight against extinction. Restricting scientific and technological development is not negating its positive effects; rather, it is merely a necessary action meant to restrict the corresponding negative threats that may ensue. We are not completely against scientific research and application; in fact, the rational development of science and technology is crucial to human survival and happiness. A dialectical understanding of science and technology is necessary. We must vigilantly guard against potential threats while also exploring possible benefits.
1. Science and Technology Are the Cornerstone of Humanity and Human Civilization
To a certain extent, humans would not exist without science and technology. It is our pursuit of science that evolved us from primate into man. The primitive discoveries of stone tools and fire greatly stimulated the brain’s capacity of our ancestors and led them to evolve into the intelligent beings humans are now.
Our ancestors once faced the tests of nature naked like other animals. As they began to sew skins into garments, they not only learned how to keep warm but also began to understand the concept of dignity. Additionally, our ancestors also learned to make decorations out of animal teeth, shells, and other materials. These primitive inventions were an expression of their pursuit of beauty, and they further stimulated a longing for beautiful things.
In essence, science and technology is, in itself, a carrier of civilization. The domestication of animals and plants marked the beginning of agricultural civilization; the use of steam engines and the improvement of textile machines foretold industrial civilization. Without the numerous creations produced by science and technology, there would be no human civilization and no development of humanity.
Primitive humans were interested in music and art, but that was merely a simple pursuit. With the discovery of metals and other non-metallic materials, as well as development of finer processing technologies, a variety of instruments were created. Today, the performance of such instruments is a truly transcending experience.
Scientific discoveries also led to the production of gouache, acrylics, oil paints, and other materials in countless different colors. These varied pigments further expanded the way art was practiced and resulted in some of the greatest masterpieces in history.
The development of science and technology has distinctively separated humans from all other animals in many aspects. We eat, wear, dwell, and act the way we do because of how science and technology has impacted us. It is the reason humans can be known as not only intelligent life-forms but also civilized life-forms.
Science and technology has also served as a messenger for human civilization. The convenient and rapid means of communication, media, and transportation were all fruits of science and technology.
It was science and technology that enabled us to break away from primitiveness and emerge into civilization. Without science and technology, humans would not be the intelligent and civilized species we are today.
2. Science and Technology Are the Cornerstones of Human Survival and Happiness
The significance of science and technology can be found in all aspects of humanity. At present, the human population is seven billion. A species of such huge scale has enormous consumption demands. Just in terms of food, Earth could not have sustained us naturally. Without science and technology, humans would experience extreme food shortages. There would be no happiness to speak of.
In the long run, the rational development of science and technology still has a positive and even decisive role in humanity’s overall survival. We all know that science and technology is not the only force that can destroy humanity, as natural forces can do so too. The need to restrict science and technology is more pressing, since its destruction timeframe is mere centuries compared to the billions of years natural extinction will take. However, natural extinction is only distant due to the high level of scientific and technological advancement we have achieved. Without such methods to prevent external threats, we would be in just as much danger from natural destruction. We are only able to devote our efforts towards the threat of science and technology because they have already provided us with the means to circumvent most natural disasters.
Science and technology have also been crucial in safeguarding the survival of human groups and human individuals. For example, epidemics and plagues would have caused greater devastation without developments in medicine. By guaranteeing the health and longevity of human beings, science and technology also contributed to the overall happiness of humanity. The overall improvement in life expectancy—especially in developed countries—and the improvement in overall human health can all be attributed to science and technology. Science and technology also contributed to the way we communicate, dwell, and clothe ourselves. They have significantly bettered our living conditions and vastly enhanced our happiness levels.
Science and technology not only laid the foundation for human survival, but also for human happiness. Their contribution to humanity is unique and irreplaceable. We are not negating all this when we ask for restrictions on scientific and technological developments; we merely believe that further breakthroughs may be unwise. Though more advanced levels of science and technology may bring even more positive benefits to humanity, their negative effects may also be vast—vast enough to exterminate humanity.
3. Rational Restriction of Science and Technology
In view of the fact that science and technology can both harm and benefit humanity, and that mankind is heavily dependent upon them, a dialectical attitude should be adopted for the rational restriction of science and technology. In principle, when we talk about limiting the development of science and technology, we are merely talking about limiting their harmful side; their benefits should not only not be limited but further promoted. We should observe the following guidelines:
First, existing science and technology achievements proven to be mature and safe should be universally promoted and applied. Today’s world population is huge and still expanding. Without science and technology, there would be immediate survival problems for humanity. Scientific achievements that are assuredly safe and mature should be popularized on a large scale to ensure the overall quality of human life. This can help to ensure that humans will live a long, happy life on this planet.
In fact, if safe and mature technologies already in existence are distributed to all corners of the world, it would be more than enough to ensure the essential needs of humanity. Countries like United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France have built strong, powerful nations based off of these technologies, while smaller countries like Luxembourg, Switzerland, Singapore, and South Korea have also established affluent societies based on technological achievements. Even developing countries like China feel the beneficial impact of science and technology. If we spread such mature science and technology results to Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, the positive results would be abundant.
Second, research in specific fields of science and technology should still be furthered. The strict limitation of scientific and technological development is a general requirement. There are still many major technical problems in the future history of mankind; these problems are related to the overall survival and happiness of human beings. Therefore, under the premise of general restriction, topics that are obviously safe and heavily influence human survival and happiness should be further researched.
A typical example of this would be further research to prevent major natural disasters like asteroid collisions or infectious diseases; however, such research must be conducted with the greatest caution to prevent it from permeating into more threatening areas. There are many natural forces that threaten humanity, such as epidemics, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and hurricanes. If we mistakenly treat all threats as destructive threats, the efforts to restrict science and technology would come unraveled very quickly.
We should also realize that mankind will have to make some sacrifices when restricting science and technology. Not only will some material enjoyments be reduced, but some research projects aimed at enhancing survival crisis for individuals and groups will not be easily initiated. For example, research for some drugs that may relieve pain and suffering for certain patients may be restricted to prevent means for destruction from emerging as by-products. In the face of overall human survival, some individual survival and happiness needs must be sacrificed.
When faced with such choices, we must learn to view everyone’s life and death candidly and as a natural component of life. This is not saying that we should stop pursuing ways to save those in need ... just the opposite. We must always be devoted to helping our fellow human beings within current science and technology capabilities; it is only further research that must be cautioned.
In addition, some other areas of research should be opened up sparingly. For example, alternative sources for non-renewable resources are crucial to continued human survival on Earth; such research should be allowed to carry on under safe conditions. Of course, the utmost caution must be constantly taken.
Third, the restriction of science and technology cannot be flawless. Scientific discoveries and technological creations have often happened accidentally; even the most rigid restriction systems could not stop such accidents from occurring. Once occurred, such accidental achievements must be carefully screened to determine their potential threat. If they are proven to be safe, they should be promoted and utilized; if not, they must be strictly sealed.
As a whole, the restriction of science and technology should be comprehensive and strict, and it must be continuous and uninterrupted. Further development of science and technology can only take place in the most carefully selected areas with great caution. Scientific and technological achievements should be widely used and promoted, but they must be carefully screened and tested first.