Do We Have the Ethical Guardrails for What’s Next in Tech?


Opinion March 2022 •  Paul W. Taylor

As technologists continue to introduce bleeding-edge ideas like the metaverse that could change how we work, live and play online, is government prepared to regulate those new spaces?

Historian Robert Hughes coined the elegant phrase “the shock of the new” to describe the influence of technology on imagination. Hughes’ original formulation was around the artist, but the shock extends to policymakers, technologists and practitioners of all sorts both in and out of government. The shocks can and do emanate from catalysts as diverse as mobility and artificial intelligence to VR, AR and other building blocks of the metaverse to climate change and nuclear energy.

Nuclear power illustrates just how deep and pervasive the shock can be. J. Robert Oppenheimer, widely regarded as the father of the atomic bomb, a technology that forever changed world affairs, is reported to have said, “The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.” After witnessing the detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, he responded by uttering a bit of Hindu scripture: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” His words reflect a quest for redemption after the U.S. government used his invention to end World War II, killing 105,000 Japanese citizens in the process and injuring 94,000 more. His ethical concerns came to a head in an exchange with then-President Truman, who called Oppenheimer a “cry-baby scientist.”

Some 77 years later, we still do not have sufficient ethics for the nuclear age. 

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