"I want to state the following moral principle: If a new technology makes it possible to avoid a conflict between legitimate interests, it is our duty to use the new technology."
--Stellan Welin Reproductive Ectogenesis

Sometimes technological effects change is incremental, other times it is transformative. Making an entire section of moral and ethical conflict obsolete is one of the most transformative uses of technology. Beyond the technical limitations surrounding our lives, we are shaped by the moral character of the debates those technologies engender. Welin is speaking of ectogenesis, incubating embryos outside a female womb, and the abortion debate, but similar issues apply with other technologies. Digital media and intellectual property law is a contemporary case, uploading and physical murder may be one in the future.

Do we have an obligation to bypass conflict with technology?


  1. Can you give an example that has already happened ?

  2. ONE: 'You shall have no other gods before Me.'
    -- obviate the need for God

    TWO: 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image--any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.'
    -- obviate the need for God

    THREE: 'You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.'
    -- obviate the need for God, or make the name of the LORD implicitly inexpressible.

    FOUR: 'Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.'
    -- yeah .. what ? Relativity and off-shore colonization destroys the notion of an Earth-day. Can't see any other circumvention

    FIVE: 'Honor your father and your mother.'
    -- Make parenthood obsolete

    SIX: 'You shall not murder.'
    -- Make death obsolete

    SEVEN: 'You shall not commit adultery.'
    -- Make sex obsolete, or make marriage nonexistent.

    EIGHT: 'You shall not steal.'
    -- Make everything free and infinite, or make ownership obsolete.

    NINE: 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.'
    -- Make fabrication impossible

    TEN: 'You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.'
    -- Make equality perfect

    [[ 10 commandments text ripped from here ]]

    yeah, we're not even close to achieving any of that.

  3. in a lighter sense, computational simulation of nuclear blasts in supercomputers has all but replaced active testing, at least for the United States. So, examples do exist.

  4. Nuclear simulation is a good example. If the math was unsolvable, we might still be doing physical tests.

    If we consider political constitutions to be technologies, then democratic representation elided a host of moral difficulties associated with primogeniture and monarchy.

  5. I just realized : nuclear testing is not at all a valid example.

    We have to exclude ethical conflicts that are caused by science. So, while nuclear testing and vivisection might be regrettable practices that we would be glad to see replaced by computers, science gets no points for resolving conflicts it itself created.

    which brings us back to square one : I can't really think of any fundamental ethical conflict that science has help render obsolete.

  6. Alexander6.10.10

    In the past, for anyone to have leisure time to devote to art, science or other furtherance of human knowledge (which seem like a legitimate interest), they had to depend on large numbers of people who were effectively denied such opportunities and leisure (either by direct slavery or more passive systemic means). Technology has eliminated this conflict, such that everyone in areas where modern technology is available has at least some opportunity to pursue education and art.

    For an even more clear-cut case, science and technology have all but eliminated situations where N people have only enough food/water for some M<N to survive, and must choose who. (There is now enough food for everyone; starvation today is almost always caused by malice or incompetence, not legitimate conflict of interest.)

    Regarding commandments: Commandments 1-3 are obsoleted by the discovery that there is no God, so no legitimate interest to be in conflict with (also I thought 3 was dispatched a long time ago by managing to forget the vowels). Commandment 5 is obsoleted by a welfare state sufficient to provide for children independently of their parents and elderly independent of their children. Commandment 7 is obsoleted by condoms. Not clear to me that there was ever a conflict of interests in commandment 10, coveting (like all thoughtcrime) is pretty victimless. Still working on 4, 6, 8 and 9.

  7. I liked your first paragraph, and need to remember this more often. My recent ancestors were farmers, but I get to sit around in front of a computer all day just thinking ( well, for now ).

    I kinda wanted to stay clear of all the commandments mentioning God, since, while God may be obsolete for many people, there is still a really significant fraction of the population, that matter and influence things, that believes in God. So, God seems to be sticking around, either as an emergent effect of our nervous systems, cultural hold-over from the past, or some sort of mind virus. It seems clear that God, imaginary or not, is not yet obsolete. Also we can't even get people in Africa to use condoms. Also, contraception doesn't remove the emotional damage of infidelity. If we have a pill that can cure heartbreak, jealousy, and can reliably prevent suicides related to heartbreak, then I would say we will have solved number 7.