When the cloning of a human was announced last December, political and spiritual leaders condemned it as an affront to the "dignity of man." That kind of rhetoric is popping up all over the place. Political scientist Francis Fukuyama warns that genetic engineering and Prozac-like drugs augur "a 'posthuman' stage of history." Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, frets over robotics and nanotechnology: "On this path our humanity may well be lost." Even the Economist, a magazine not usually given to apocalyptic predictions, worries that neuroscience could "gut the concept of human nature."
Like their counterparts in earlier ages, these commentators argue that technology is running ahead of our ability to deal with it; although scientific progress is all well and good, we have to rein it in. Such views are often called neo-Luddism, but frankly, that does not do justice to the Luddites. Those machine-smashing textile workers were reacting to immediate threats, such as losing their jobs. Today's concerns tend to be abstract, and that is their problem.
This article was originally published with the title Get Real.