August 04, 2005

And so we have a new type of clone in the world: this time an Afghan hound named Seoul National University Puppy, or "Snuppy". Cute acrostics notwithstanding, it is far past time to decide -- as independent nations, if not as a united species -- where we do and don't want to go with these technologies: preferably before the hypothetical questions being bounced around religious circles take on immediate, practical meaning. (Do we really want to discover what our own societies are capable of, should a cloned human being be religion-determined not to have a soul?)

Even taking into account the inherent lag in the attempt to codify societal mores into law, legislation around the world has been additionally so far outstripped by technology generally (more so in this particular field, given how rapidly new methodologies have been invented and new possibilities discovered) that it is almost worse than non-existent: and even where regulation does exist, it generally only attempts to restrict what may be funded by public monies. This particular cloning technique, as it stands, is somewhat less than efficient (123 embryo-transfer attempts to produce two cloned dogs; and one of those died young of pneumonia): but efficiency of a new, potentially profitable technique has never yet served as a useful limit in the wider scale. Once it is known that a thing is possible, sooner or later someone will figure out a different way to accomplish the same thing, more reliably, more cheaply.

Nor are we particularly capable of identifying how our ever-changing technologies are re-moulding us. (How was it possible that entire generations before us had managed to remain "out of touch" for entire minutes, let alone hours? and still remain sane?) Among those who do have this awareness thrust upon them, some continue to deny, some quickly become apologists for the technology and its effects, some actively celebrate the changes and see them as desirable (and it is worth noting in this context the parallel rise of technologies of convenience and philosophies of individualism); and even those who have their doubts as to whether these technologies are in fact the best thing since sliced bread regularly make use of those same technologies in shaping their thoughts in the matter.

At this point in time, practically the only real restriction -- and simultaneously motivation -- is economic: if there seems to be a potential for significant profits, the research will happen ... somehow, somewhere. In corollary, what does not appear to have market potential will tend to be abandoned, or at least orphaned in terms of any external support given to these lines of research. Are we willing to accept the bottom line as the only relevant consideration determining how far we are willing to allow our drive toward ever more fundamental technologies to shape who we are?

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