It’s not often someone says something that stays in my head for longer than five minutes, let alone five years. But one conversation has beaten the odds and stayed with me for the better part of a decade.
A friend of mine had come back to DC from Chicago and shared with me a funny experience she’d had at O’Hare Airport. Because of her thespian tendencies, she happens to be the proud owner of an impressive collection of wigs. On this particular trip, she was wearing a bob wig, a one-piece jumpsuit, and platform boots. As she stood on the moving walkway listening to the soothing female voice giving directions over the public announcement system, she suddenly felt like a character in one of those 1960s science fiction movies, with her bob hairstyle, jumpsuit, and boots. Then it hit her. She realized that we are capable of realizing only the future we imagine. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that bob haircuts, jumpsuits, moving walkways, and soothing female voices on the PA system were the stuff of science fiction movies.
Her anecdote stayed with me, probably because deep down, I agreed with my friend. From moon landings to space stations and nano-machines, it seems that much of what was once science fiction is now science reality. But these developments have not been without a dark side. From hyper-destructive atomic bombs to new viral strains for biological weapons, scientific advances have come at a tremendous price to humanity. It seems that if a new invention has any destructive potential, there will always be those who seek it out and exploit it to its fullest potential.
So it was with more than a passing interest that I read today in the Guardian that British scientists have created the first human-animal embryo. The scientists hope to use stem cells generated from experiments like theirs to develop cures for conditions like Parkinson’s Disease and motor neurone disease. Normally, I applaud scientific advances. Every time science fiction becomes science reality, I hope that the new discovery will help make this world a better place. Lately though, I’m beginning to lose faith in the ability of scientific advances to improve the human condition. In fact, I’m now convinced that much scientific “progress” has resulted in tremendous human suffering.
In 1896, science-fiction writer H.G. Wells published The Island of Dr. Moreau, a dark tale about “a doctor who plays an evil God and cruelly creates monstrosities of living creatures.” I’m hoping agaist hope that the success of these British scientists doesn’t bring us closer to the day when Wells’ fiction becomes reality.
After all, we have a very poor track record of realizing a positive future for ourselves.