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Technology

Technology that brought down civilization

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJune 27, 2012 7:58 AM

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The IVF Panic: 'All Hell Will Break Loose, Politically and Morally, All Over the World':

For many, IVF smacked of a moral overstep -- or at least of a potential one. In a 1974 article headlined "The Embryo Sweepstakes," The New York Times considered the ethical implications of what it called "the brave new baby": the child "conceived in a test tube and then planted in a womb." (The scare phrase in that being not "test tube" so much as "a womb" and its menacingly indefinite article.) And no less a luminary than James Watson -- yes, that James Watson -- publicly decried the procedure, telling a Congressional committee in 1974 that a successful embryo transplant would lead to "all sorts of bad scenarios." Specifically, he predicted: "All hell will break loose, politically and morally, all over the world."

The past is not always prologue, but it's very instructive to look at newspapers from a given time period and see what the public mood was. Fear is a natural human reaction to new technology. My general bias is that technology itself usually isn't as disruptive as social innovation. That being said, when technology is genuinely revolutionary it can have a much bigger impact than social or institutional shifts.

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